"In the United States today, there is a pervasive tendency to treat children as adults, and adults as children. The options of children are thus steadily expanded, while those of adults are progressively constricted. The result is unruly children and childish adults.”
“Maturity is when your world opens up and you realize that you are not the centre of it.”
― M.J. Croan
“Youth ends when egotism does; maturity begins when one lives for others.”
― Hermann Hesse
Good leadership is made up of many things. Among them are several personal qualities - these include maturity, self-awareness, and a grounded sense of personal strengths and weaknesses. Good leadership development incorporates plenty of opportunities to reflect upon and learn about yourself in terms of your many attributes which can impact your capacity to lead.
We generally expect that a 60 year-old will be more mature and capable of leadership than a 20 year-old. How might that maturity be understood?
For those men presenting themselves to lead, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette have presented a model of the archetypes of particular relevance in the journey towards maturity for the masculine psyche. Historically, these archetypes are King, Warrior, Magician, Lover. The path to maturity may be seen as (hopefully) a progression from boyhood to manhood, from an immature to a mature expression of each of these key aspects of masculinity. Each journey should involve confronting and moving beyond the immature forms, progressing from boyhood to manhood, to embrace the mature form (never perfectly, but substantively).
Moore and Gillette's framework can help us to step back and reflect upon our personal growth. It also helps us to make sense of the leadership of others, including those in prominent leadership positions - in society, in corporate life, in politics - and to appreciate better the qualities they bring to their work - for better or worse.
I invite the reader to test the model for its application to understanding the men you encounter in your life or work.
First, the king. In its mature form, the king in us brings wisdom, organisation and order to the world. He is reasonable and rational, and brings a deep calmness, security and certainty to events. His judgement is moderated by a deep caring for a greater good – in this case, the good of the realm, now and into the future. His perspective is outside himself, on others and the kingdom. Sometimes, we refer to his quality of grace. He defines and epitomises the realm and what it stands for.
In a corporate aetting, he will be spoken of as a model, people will value his thoughts and counsel. Psychologically, he has the power to 'give his blessing' to people or activities, thereby containing the system in a sense of shared identity. He brings order from chaos. He nurtures others towards their own maturity.
In this context, I think of a client, the CEO of a large government agency, who had earned enormous respect and loyalty from hundreds of staff for his considered, compassionate and strategic decisions, and who always treated others with respect, without in any way demeaning himself.
If, however, a man has not sufficiently confronted and challenged the immature form of the King in himself, he will continue to express this archetype in an immature, or childish, or boylike, form. This may take two forms – the Tyrant or the Weakling.
The first of these, the Tyrant, exploits and abuses others. He is ruthless, merciless and degrading towards others. He furthers himself at others' expense. Or he can be a ‘highchair tyrant’ - like a child in his highchair, screaming and throwing food until he has his way. This is tantrum territory. This is the tetchy and petulant reaction when things don’t ‘go right.’ It has to happen in public, of course.
This is the senior manager I’ve seen, stamping his feet when staff couldn’t ‘get it right’, or impatiently banging on the meeting table, or kicking over his chair, or yelling at staff as they exit his office.
The assumption is that this is the man who inwardly hates beauty, innocence, strength or talent. He exploits his power to abuse and belittle others, and is sensitive to criticism real or perceived. His rage covers an underlying sense of worthlessness.
Seniority is no guarantee of maturity here; I’ve seen company chairs behave this way.
The other immature form of the king is the Weakling. He projects his weakness on to others. In angry outbursts, he attacks and criticises them. His over-sensitiveness may reach paranoia. His life lacks centredness and calm. I once heard of a CEO, in award negotiations, who jumped on the meeting table and yelled as he danced along it, kicking papers off to the side!
The mature Warrior is the vehicle for controlled and aware aggression. He is a hunter, both mindful and emotionally distant. He engages with challenges as a tactician, action-oriented. He is perseverent and yet conscious of imminent ‘death’. To enable his contest, he is both highly trained and disciplined. And the discipline and focus has two important characteristics – an ultimate end which is beyond and above himself; and a code of ‘honour’ to channel that behaviour, moderate it, contain it, and hold it from the brute exercise of power. Winning the contest is never the ultimate goal; the code (think the Knights of the Round Table, or the Samurai code) may even require stepping back, or sacrifice. He destroys only what needs to be destroyed.
A Samurai warrior was despatched to execute an enemy lord. When he confronted the lord, and drew his sword, the lord, seeing his mission, spat in his face. The warrior felt his emotions rise, and immediately sheathed his sword and left, since his code of honour forbade his killing in anger.
In modern corporate life, the Warrior manager will defend his people, ‘go in to bat’ for them and their best interests, will seek and offer loyalty. He will prosecute and defend agreements he has with others. He won’t fight others’ battles for them. He will face the hard decisions and carry them through with detached grace. He will give hard feedback for the sake of the greater good, and follow through on the results of doing so. He will not back off from doing those things he knows are ‘right’, fair and reasonable. When he pursues his strategies, the Warrior will honour the codes of behaviour, whether they are government regulations, the intent of those regulations, or general expectations of ‘decent’ behaviour. He will not take unfair advantage or bully. When he wins, he will not disparage or belittle.
The immature Warrior will be expressed either in the Sadist or the Masochist. The Sadist, who hates the weak and vulnerable from his own deep anxieties, will endure pain, can be a workaholic. His destructive rage will bring cruelty with or without passion. What a perfect profile for the slash-and-burn gun for hire brought in by corporations to enact brutal downsizing and restructure! Or the intensively competitive manager who will 'win' at all costs - I think of the company board which appointed a CEO with a reputation for aggressive takeovers, to meet their agenda of capturing their biggest competitor; who, when he failed to overcome the other company's defences, then became irrelevant and was ill-equipped to give ongoing positive leadership. Or the CEO I met, who seemed driven to treat selected senior executives with calculated coldness to gratuitously create stress for them - the clearest instance I've yet seen of an executive "sociopath".
The other immature Warrior is the Masochist, who, behaving like a "whipped puppy", lacks vigour, avoids pain and discomfort, and turns away from the contest. He experiences himself as powerless, and passively projects his Warrior self on to others. This is the CEO I've heard of, who, finding himself without everything organised "just so" by staff and his spouse, became helpless, totally lacking in personal agency - to the extent of dressing himself. He relies on others, such as politicians and business acquaintances, to advance his profile through association.
The Magician's power derives from expert knowledge - it could be technical, professional, or contextual. In his field, he sees deeply, has special awareness and insight, and connects with inner truths and resources. He may even take the role of ritual elder, confessor and priest. He will become the "go to" person in his particular domain.
The Magician is also the basis of consultant expertise - it's arguably what his clients pay for. This archetype, by definition, usually has more special knowledge and power in certain areas than others do.
The leadership which a good consultant brings to his work is to freely and readily offer his special knowledge to others - ultimately not just to solve clients' problems but to share his special knowledge when invited. A good consultant, CFO, CIO, or technical expert will willingly and openly offer his expertise, but do so in a way which refrains from the possibility of self-aggrandisement or manipulation. He will be generous with his knowledge and pay particular attention to ensuring that he does not create dependency in his clients - that is, become a "guru". Ethical Magicians create open, honest and collegial relationships with their clients, whether external or internal ones.
The immature and polar forms of the Warrior are the Detached Manipulator and the Denying 'Innocent' One. The Manipulator assumes a superior position where he uses his special knowledge as a weapon - he exacts a heavy price for sharing it, and uses his expertise as a political weapon and bargaining chip. He is detached, doesn't live life; he can be cruel from this place, while he looks for advantage in his expertise rather than confronting challenges or people who are challenging. He welcomes adulation for his abilities; he keeps his 'secrets of success' close, so he can impress with his magic. I recall a top manager in a professional services firm who was a very skillful people organiser, and used a diverse armory of interpersonal skills, indebtedness and emotional manipulation to control everybody in his domain. Another senior manager controlled his 200 staff through a combination of staff recruitment, helpfulness and 'empathy', such that the office corridors were filled with thousands of photos to reinforce the shared myth of the 'happy family' in which he played father.
The 'Innocent' One doesn't want the responsibilities that knowledge brings. He holds back from the effort required to build real skill. He hides his inner desolation behind a mask of naivete. Rather than engage directly, he is likely to be elusive, interpersonally 'slippery', sometimes tending to deflate others. I recall a man with a local reputation for high level technical expertise whose 'elite' team operated offsite with a special budget, indulged by colleagues, yet producing little of use over several years. Not surprisingly, his special expertise made it virtually impossible to communicate usefully with anyone outside his own group.
This archetype in a mature form is the seat of a man's passion, physical world and embodiment, aesthetics and sensory experience. He will be comfortable with his body, his sensuality, his feelings, and his primal hungers. He will monitor his inner world. This development in him will find an appreciation and expression of his aesthetic side, in artistic and creative ways - he can be playful in an engaging way, or unconventional in style.
In leadership, the Lover helps enhance our self-awareness and acceptance internally, while externally expressing an easy physical grace and congruence. Others will say they think this man is 'well-sorted', well-connected with himself and able to instinctively feel with others. He will have a 'presence'.
The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano expressed this archetype both in his work and his personal presentation. In his middle age, he had established an ability to combine his political and social stances through stories which showed an empathy with the lives of a wide range of people as individuals and as a collective, along with an unshakeable connection to his values. In person, he could hold an audience with his presence and his words ... an expression of 'gravitas'.
The immature forms of the Lover are the Addict and the Impotent Lover. The Addict lives at the whim of his appetites - thus is a self-indulgent victim of his own sensitivities. His hungers are insatiable, so his life swings between cycles of pleasure and pain. There is no easy, natural, knowing joy or appreciation for sensual experience. Because he lacks a ability to 'step back' from the treadmill of indulgence, he can't maintain personal boundaries, personal space; his identity, his psyche, cannot be defined or contained; where he begins and ends keeps dissolving into his surrounds. For some executives, the large salary and corporate card will never be enough to bring gratification.
The Impotent Lover is a 'mama's boy' whose energy goes into repressing his desires and flatlining his emotions. Socially, he also detaches, alienating himself from others and the challenges that relationships bring. His chronic disconnection from the pleasure and pain of an engaged life brings a bored and listless manner which can be mistaken as aloofness; in fact he actually can't afford to care. I am reminded of an executive who set up his workplace away from the company offices with his small team, who chronically avoided engaging with the wider world, and surrounded himself with a vast collection of soft toys. It helped to feed a wider perception that he was technically a genius.
Kings, Warriors, Magicians, Lovers
Obviously, there are many more archetypes which we meet in ourselves, and which are open to challenge, growth and maturation. We men can do worse than face the challenge of these four for a start. Most of us will find that we still have plenty of growing to do, at any age. This framework gives us a clear and relevant way to 'have a bloody good look at ourselves' from time to time, as well as a model that helps us see what we still have to confront and struggle with, in order to move towards a more positive, self-accepting, generative and useful form of ourselves.
The framework also helps me, from time to time, to make sense of some of the both impressive and infuriating behaviours of men who influence my life - both personally and through public life. The model gives structure to the assessment that ordinary people make of noted men - both respected and loathed - such as politicians, sportsmen, celebrities, corporate and professional identities. Our responses to the behaviour of such people are remarkably consistent; perhaps that is because they are reflecting back to us some of our most mature and immature expressions of our development as men.
And they help me to clarify my personal aspiration.
In a second article, I will briefly explore the expressed behaviour of a couple of politicians through this archetypal lens.