Actualized Leadership: Examining the Framework for Self-Actualization

There is nothing more practical than a good theory.
Kurt Lewin

In my last blog I attempted to “close the loop” on the Transformational Change Cycle by discussing the three elements necessary for sustained growth and change.  These elements, Vulnerability, Responsibility and Forgiveness, create the insight and energy necessary for personal transformation.  At the end of last week’s blog I discussed Jung’s concept of the “shadow” and how this darker side of ourselves often impedes and blocks us from reaching, or actualizing, our highest potential.

Last week I received a message from someone who suggested that that we review the foundational elements of the Actualized Leadership framework before diving into the deep and dark end of the shadow “pool.”  She suggested that much like taking a break from swimming after eating, a pause and broader perspective might be in order before taking the plunge.  I agree.  So, I would like to review the four theorists who provide the theoretical background for the Actualized Leadership framework: Viktor Frankl, David McClelland, Carl Jung and Abraham Maslow.  As we let the content of the first eight blog entries “digest” I would like to briefly introduce (or reintroduce as the case may be) you to them and their work.

In his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Austrian psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl discussed the horrors of his experience as a prisoner in concentration camps during World War II.  It was in these hellish conditions that he came to realize that everything can be taken from us but one thing: our freedom to choose our response to any situation.  With this insight, and his resulting therapeutic approach, “logotherapy” (the process of finding meaning in our suffering), he challenges us with a profound truth: no one can make you feel, think or do anything; you have the freedom to choose your response to any person and any situation.  When we react in anger or fear we give that freedom away.  This insight led Stephen Covey in “The 7 Habits” to coin the term “reponse-ability”: the freedom and ability to choose our response to any situation.  This revelation, along with Frankl’s concept of “paradoxical intent” – the more you fear something the more likely you are to experience it – provides the theoretical foundation for Actualized Leadership.

For a more practical perspective let’s turn our attention to our behavior.  Perhaps no one has been more influential in describing what motivates or drives us to do the things that we do than the late Harvard psychologist David McClelland.  McClelland identified three motive needs or drivers that propel our behavior: Achievement, Affiliation and Power.  Achievers, those with a high need for achievement, are driven for success and accomplishment.  They are detail-oriented, focused and very well-organized.  Under stress, however, they become narrow-minded and rigid, transforming into the classic “micromanager.”  Affirmers, those with a high need for affiliation, are warm and friendly, and are more focused on relationships and harmony than results and outcomes.  Under stress, these individuals become overly accommodating, avoiding confrontation and allowing others to take advantage of them.  Finally, Asserters, those with a high need for power, are candid, decisive and courageous risk-takers.  They are often viewed as “natural” leaders who challenge the status quo and drive results.  Under stress, however, they become controlling, autocratic and condescending, often manipulating or intimidating others to get their way.

The key contextual element related to all of the three styles identified above is stress – that tense and taxing space we so often encounter in our professional and personal lives.  Stress triggers our “leadership shadows,” the dark side of the motive need drivers, and that leads us to our third foundational theorist Carl Jung.  It would be hard to overstate Jung’s influence in society today.  From creating the terms “introversion” and “extroversion” on which the Myers-Briggs personality test is based, to his concepts of the “collective unconscious” and “archetypes,” Jung has influenced everyone from George Lucas of “Star Wars” fame to John Mayer in his song “Shadow Days,” as well as an untold number of psychologists, researchers and therapists.  Jung’s concept of the “shadow” refers to the dark, unconscious part of our being that comprises irrational thoughts (e.g., I have to always be perfect, etc.), unfounded fears (e.g., I am afraid to be alone, etc.) and limiting core beliefs (e.g., I am not worthy of love, etc.).  This is the aspect of ourselves that is triggered by stress and often results in career (and relationship) limiting moves, such as micromanaging, avoiding conflict, or refusing to trust others.  And it is within this vicious cycle that we experience the tragedy of the human condition first identified by Frankl: the more we fear something, the more likely we are to think, feel and act in ways that almost guarantee that we will experience it.  There is more to come here in our next blog.

Finally, out of this darkness came the Humanistic movement in psychology led by Abraham Maslow and his concept of “self-actualization.”  Prior to Maslow, the vast majority of psychologists and researchers focused on human deficiencies: why people act in destructive or neurotic ways, for example.  Maslow turned the field upside down when he began to focus on psychological health, well-being and optimal performance.  Maslow identified a number of characteristics and traits of these “self-actualizing” individuals that allow them to be more satisfied, more at peace, and ultimately, more effective.  And what is perhaps most important to remember is that people aren’t born this way.  Just like the research into what causes or creates healthy cells in biology, Maslow found that there are changes we can make – both internally and externally in our environments – that facilitate and accelerate our growth and development.  There is more, much more, to come on this topic.

Okay, so that’s a quick and dirty download on the four theorists that provide the framework for becoming more self-actualized.  We will spend time reviewing all four of these elements, starting with Jung’s concept of the “shadow.”  Hopefully your food-for-thought has digested; next time we will dive into deep, dark end of the self-awareness pool and examine what shadows lurk beneath.


1 Comment

  1. Dana Anderson

    Excellent summary…thank you.


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