Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Groups and Organizations

By Weiner, Myron F. | American Journal of Psychotherapy, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Groups and Organizations


Weiner, Myron F., American Journal of Psychotherapy


OT-ro E KERNBERG: Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Groups and Organizations. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1998, 307 pp., $47.00, ISBN 0-300-07355-0.

Otto Kernberg is one of the foremost proponents of using psychoanalytic theory as a tool for understanding and modifying human behaviors in groups, ranging from therapeutic groups to nations. This far-reaching group of seventeen essays is organized into five sections: Psychoanalytic Studies of Group Processes, Institutional Dynamics and Leadership, Therapeutic Applications, Applications to Psychoanalytic Education, and Ideology, Morality, and the Political Process. All this material except for the last essay, "Regression in the Political Process," was published elsewhere between 1975 and 1996. Kernberg's main thesis is that the functioning of individuals in groups depends on multiple factors, including the leader, the individuals comprising the group, and the structure of the group in relation to its task.

Chapter One begins with Freud's suggestion that members of both structured and unstructured groups derive a sense of intimacy from identification with each other and projection of their superego onto the leader. Kemberg holds that groups of any size threaten individual identity and stimulate psychological regression. Chapter Two deals with the group processes that impinge on adolescents. In Chapter Four, on mass psychology, he points to the simultaneous idealization and persecution that goes on within large groups. He also sets forth criteria for healthy leadership, which include healthy narcissism and "a justifiable anticipatory paranoid attitude (p. 47)," the latter meaning a continuing awareness that group processes often run counter to the work goal of the group.

An important issue in groups is their politicization-the efforts by individuals to defend their personal interests and to extend their sphere of influence. The effects of group processes on the leader are dealt with in Chapter Seven, where Kernberg suggests that the pathogenic outcomes may be paranoid, autocratic, aggressive, self-indulgent, or soothingly narcissistic. In this chapter he introduces Jaques' term "paranoiagenesis" (p. 110). In Chapter Eight, Kernberg suggests that the means to deal with the regressive tendency of groups toward paranoiagenesis be curbed by establishing a bureaucracy to enforce communication and collaboration between individual members and subgroups. …

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