Sigmund Freud was born 156 years ago tonight;  Mike Brearly a hundred years later.  Freud never played cricket and regarded women as the dark continent.  Brearley led several successful test matches against teams from the Dark Continent.  Nevertheless, they were both leaders of men, though Brearley rates his tenure as President of the British Psychoanalytical Society a far more dangerous undertaking than being  England cricket captain.    

It was the night of the general election, and the topic at The Freud Museum was ‘Leadership’.   Leaving aside who might make the best Prime Minister, Brearley  took up the theme that the qualities of leadership depend as much on the leader as those being led.  People tend to get the leaders they deserve; they project their own attitudes onto the leader.  A warlike people will get a warlord as leader.  A narcissistic society will tend to get a celebrity leader.  Televised debates favour the best performers: game show hosts. 

The narcissistic leader may be able to project all the charm and charisma of leadership; he (it tends to be he) is so conscious of how he appears and well able to change his style and presentation to appeal to his audience.  Politicians are so good at this; they have to be.  They must represent a point of view, present an attitude of conviction while making it all seem so reasonable.  They must be people we can trust.  They must be actors.  But espousing a particular cause means not seeing other points of view. This type of leadership encourages splitting, defensiveness, paranoia and ultimately conflict.  It bolsters group identity in a paranoid way.  The narcissist cannot acknowledge ambivalence and weakness, must deny dependence and must project all their fears, their envy onto others. 

But a certain degree of narcissism is important in a leader.  You have to be pushy, confident, to state your point of view and get things moving.      

Situations create certain types of leader.  The aggression of Adolph Hitler needed a robust response.  Winston Churchill was there.  His life had prepared him to lead the country through the threat of invasion to victory.  Clemmie commented that it was what he was made for.  Lord Halifax may have been a much better leader in peacetime, but in war, he was seen as a ditherer, a supporter of appeasement. 

Leaders of sports teams tend to be Churchillian in nature; every match is a war, but they are not always the best.  Kevin Petersen and Ian Botham were disastrous.  Brearley was never that kind of leader.  He was not the best player in the team, but he was the most successful captain, England has ever had.  He didn’t lead by example.   He tried to get his players to work as a team, identifying their individual strengths and bringing out the best in them. He could delegate, be empathic and make his followers feel good.  Leaders are not born; they are made. Their parents instil confidence and self sufficiency, which allows them not to be fearful in the company of others . They hone their skills in the playground.  A recent study in children indicated that those who were accepted as leaders tended to act with generosity.  Brearley was in that mould.  Good leaders get others to do what they are good at.  In that way they get the best out of their team. 

But how does a leader deal with the narcissist, the prima donna who needs special attention, the propagandist who disagrees and evacuates his doubts to pollute the whole team, the sophisticated bully, who undermines with deviousness, or the manipulations of the seductress?  This is the real challenge.  Brearley never felt envious or threatened by the player who was doing well.  He was happy to follow, encourage and support, but when necessary, he could state his views quietly and firmly, without being defensive or sadistic.    The leader who struggles with roles projected onto him, who feels pulled in both directions loses power to think and risks a loss of self esteem.  Leaders must have the self confidence to protect themselves from excessive attack; they mustn’t lose too much face, otherwise the group has to replace them in order to survive. 

Gordon Brown must resign now.  Any thought that he could possibly lead a party of those who had lost the election is a serious delusion.  So who is the best person to lead the country?   I voted Clegg because I wanted to see a real collaboration in crisis, but does Cameron have the maturity to lead a coalition government?

As luck would have it,  Leadership; theory and practice was the most appropriate topic The Freud Museum could have staged on the evening  of the general election – and Mike Brearley the best discussant. 

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