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Psychoanalytic Business Coaching

The neurosis of the boss – or how the personality of the leader shapes the company

Modern entrepreneurs know that the success of a company also depends strongly on the personality of the leader. In this article, we would like to introduce you to a few personality and leadership styles, their strengths and blind spots. Who knows, maybe you will recognize yourself in our descriptions?

Even if we humans react completely different from situation to situation, nevertheless each of us has their own type of personality. That is the way we go through life and thereby also through professional challenges. It is the way we perceive, experience and react to events. Psychoanalysis would add here: it is also the way we deal with unconscious desires and with other parts of ourselves that we are not or not fully aware of. All of us have a more or less differentiated picture of ourselves, but everyone has so-called “blind spots”.

In psychoanalytical thinking, leadership styles are never considered separately from personality. The leadership style is, so to speak, interwoven with the type of personality of the executive. Questions in coaching about an authentic leadership style of one’s own are therefore questions about one’s own personality. Those who know themselves well also understand others better, identify potentials for development and avoid pitfalls. However, such a process often requires reflection and feedback from a qualified second person, ideally by a trained coach. This is the only way to recognize and reflect unconscious or unnoticed personality traits. If it’s successful, then one can think and act more flexibly, accomplish new degrees of freedom and become again “master or mistress in one’s own house”.

Psychoanalytical theory and coaching practice have shown that there are some basic structures and repetitive patterns that have emerged as personality traits and leadership styles. In the following I would like to introduce some of these most important leadership styles to you. In our coaching practice we attach great importance to the individuality and personal development of each individual. We therefore ask you to keep that in mind when reading. These categories are meant as food for thought and very few people can be assigned to just one category.

The paranoid leadership style

The paranoid style of leadership usually works well on the outside. Secretly, however, it is characterized by mistrust and sometimes subconsciously by hostility. People with a paranoid leadership style seem to be constantly smelling threats and are constantly alert. In their biographies, these people have actually made mostly sober, controlling or sometimes even hostile relationship experiences. Now they also experience others as threatening, they fear and suspect to be deceived, exploited and deceived again. They often do not perceive their own disappointment, anger or hostility, but experience themselves as polite and correct. Others, on the other hand, are perceived as hostile, which is ultimately a projection of their own hostility. As a result, they are suspicious of their fellow human beings. In this way, they repeatedly create those relationship patterns that they actually wanted to avoid, or they withdraw themselves from others.

For executives with a paranoid leadership style, this distrustful nature is their greatest strength, but also their weakness. On the one hand, such a leader needs a certain amount of mistrust of possible risks and political action. Their critical attitude also enables them to be highly sensitive to possible sources of error. On the other hand, they usually find it difficult to establish close relationships and useful networks. In addition, their defensive stance sometimes leads to a loss of the ability to make spontaneous decisions and act accordingly.

The schizoid leadership style

People with a schizoid type of personality are loners. They like to stay alone, are rather distant towards others, not very emotional and sometimes seem uninvolved or indifferent. Their strength lies in their ability to think and experience independently. Emotional closeness makes them uncomfortable or even afraid, they ward off the unpredictability of emotionality through technical, mechanical or ideological order.

Schizoid-structured leaders do not think in terms of relationship structures, but like to live and work alone. Their strength lies in their task orientation, autonomy, objectivity and their often original way of thinking. In addition, they do not allow themselves to be instrumentalised and have no difficulty in expressing their opinion if they consider a strategy to be wrong. Their reduced urge to pursue current moods in the team or even big ideas can also be advantageous. Due to their low social interest, they often leave their employees* plenty of freedom and scope for new ideas. At the same time, their low social interest also represents their greatest weakness. They don’t like to spend time with colleagues, communication is difficult for them. For example, schizoid structured managers often avoid conflicts, and they also provide only little feedback or confirmation.

The narcissistic style of leadership

The narcissistic leadership style is characterized by the conviction of one’s own grandiosity and significance. They appear very self-confident, competent and vital, but then also emotionally inaccessible, not very tangible and easily offended. Unconsciously, narcissistic leaders lack warmth, affection and love; in their biographies they have often already as children been used for the narcissistic appreciation of their parents. So they still strive for power, success and admiration, but it never seems to be “enough”; their self-esteem always remains dependent on the admiration of others and is thereby enormously fragile.

The advantage of a narcissistic leader is often their intelligence, the ability to create visions, and their quest for success. They encourage new projects and are not afraid of radical change. This enables them to win others over and inspire them to embrace the planned changes. However, if their needs are not met, they often react angrily and offended. In addition, their relationships can be characterized by a lack of empathy, disrespect, non-commitment and strong instability. For narcissistically structured leaders, it is also often difficult to continuously pursue initiated projects and implement them to the end. In addition, if the frequency of changes is too high, they run the risk of losing their comrades-in-arms. This is also promoted by their lack of empathy and lack of ability to be criticised as well as by their envy of others. Since narcissistically structured leaders also like to marginalize critical employees and tend to surround themselves with people who idealize and admire them, they also lack opportunities for correction.

The depressive leadership style

Executives with a depressive style are characterized by a friendly, cooperative and very caring manner. Unconsciously, however, such leaders are concerned with the fear of losing others from whom they feel emotionally dependent. This results in their passive nature in contact with others, their tendency to avoid conflicts, low assertiveness and frequent depressive moods.

Outwardly, depressively structured leaders often behave in an adapted manner and prefer to direct their anger towards themselves when something goes wrong. They hence embody the opposite of the common ideal of a leader, which is characterized by good assertiveness and strong self-esteem. The strength of depressively structured leaders lies in their thoughtfulness, considering the opinion of others and their strive for consensus. When important decisions have to be made, they often proceed very cautiously and carefully. In addition, they can put themselves in the shoes of their colleagues, employees or customers and adopt their perspectives. Also, team spirit and harmony are very important to them. This is often demonstrated by offering support, avoiding conflicts and initiating joint activities. Their conflict-avoiding nature can, however, also be problematic, especially if constructive conflicts are necessary. Furthermore, depressively structured leaders run the risk of falling into a depressive lethargy in which they find it difficult to work in a concentrated, motivated and interested manner, to make decisions, to take the initiative and to develop and implement new concepts.

The compulsive leadership style

Leaders with a compulsive leadership style always strive to do everything right and keep the situation under control. They are very structured and often tense and irritable. Unconsciously, they fear the influence and power of others, making them feel helpless and powerless. Such a basic relationship pattern can be explained from a psychoanalytical point of view by corresponding biographical experiences. The experience of being overpowered and controlled by others in the biography is experienced by compulsively structured people as so torturous that as adults they have to have control over everything and everyone at all costs.

This often becomes visible in managers with compulsive traits in their affinity for order, planning, clarity and precision. Their greatest strength lies in the creation of structures, the precise planning of action processes, as well as the meticulous observance of feedback loops. Their precise guidelines are also advantageous, which makes their decisions and their delegation of tasks and power clear. On the other hand, there is the danger of falling into perfectionism, excessive bureaucratisation, losing sight of the big picture and being inflexible in reacting to new events. Their tendency to control makes it sometimes difficult for them to endure spontaneity, creativity and impulsiveness. Especially in stress and crisis situations, compulsively structured managers tend to give their employees and colleagues little room for manoeuvre. This can also have a paralyzing effect on decision-making processes and fuel irrational fears of superiors.

The histrionic leadership style

Histrionically structured managers win others over, their appearance is dazzling, lively, but little consistent and reliable. Psychoanalytically, the histrionic leadership style can be understood in front of an Oedipus complex that has not been overcome. In short, this means as much as the fact that histrionic people cannot bear to be excluded or not to be the centre of attention. They are often very outwardly oriented, with strong emotional expression but little inwardness.

The ability of histrionic-style leaders to empathize well with others and thereby seduce them is often experienced by their counterparts as very lively, unconventional and fascinating. At the same time, they are flexible in their views and naive, childlike and creative. This has the advantage that it quickly triggers a sense of familiarity and loyalty among employees and managers. They also have a good feel for the processes on the market and in organisations. In addition, histrionic leaders like to compete with each other and assert themselves with relish. At the same time, however, they are often erratic, dramatic and often lack self-discipline and the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Their constant need for attention puts them in danger of hindering the constructive fulfilment of tasks. In addition, they often fail to take a permanent adult leadership position and make rational decisions.


M.Sc. Julia Perlinger, Coach at Dynamind.

If you would like to trace your own Leadership style, we recommend professional coaching.

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