Essays on the Psychology of Leadership

Manfred F.R. Kets De Vries - iUniverse - 2003 - 162 pages

Leaders, Fools, and Impostors

2021 June 15 | by Arduino Mancini Leadership

Each year, many books are published to offer advice on how to be a “good leader”; however, these books struggle to provide fully satisfactory answers to questions about the nature of leadership and the dynamics of power in organizations.

This book is certainly among the most comprehensive on the matter.

Mandred Kets de Vries believes that leadership has a high psychological relevance, deeply dependent on the personal history of the protagonists; to fully understand it, it is essential to enter the subjective world of the protagonists, in the folds of their feelings and their ambivalence, in the hidden corners of their desires and fears.

For this reason, the changing course of organizational leadership can only be explained if we associate it with the idea of power that we have in mind, with the illusions nurtured, the images fantasized, the “chiaroscuro” on which it has been inspired.

Kets de Vries explores the risks that arise in the turbulent landscape of the dynamics of power: the risks of simplification and omnipotence, of narcissism, arrogance and falsification.

And he helps us realize how difficult it is for organizations to generate the conditions for balanced, authentic, and positive leadership, and how the idea of the leader without spot or fear seems more like a myth than reality.

In this regard, it is interesting to read the author’s words.


Summary of the Author’s preface

The more leaders I know, the harder I find it to point to a truly effective leadership style; the same happens to me in defining the leader/leadership relationship.

The challenge of determining which types of leadership is preferred has been significantly complicated by a real explosion of studies on the subject.

The best answer is probably: it depends.

Of course, the variety of situations justifies the presence of different leadership styles.

To limit leadership characteristics to a shortlist of common dimensions (as specialized research too often does) would be an insult to the reader’s intelligence; this does not mean, however, that common elements in the behaviours of different leaders are completely lacking.

Although the standing of some leaders may appear to be superior to that of ordinary mortals, it is clear that some traits of human nature are also applicable to them. It’s all about knowing how to put the knowledge of these common elements at the service of a better understanding of the matter.


Purpose of the book and target audience

The aim of “Leaders, Fools, and Impostors” is to present a more sophisticated picture of the interactions of the diverse elements of organizational leadership; and certainly, a more realistic one than that offered so far by the one-dimensional descriptions of management specialists.

In particular, the book focuses on organizational psycho-dynamics from a clinical perspective, with the intent of showing how businesses can be affected by both unconscious and conscious internal processes, which can influence many organizational and business decisions.

Leaders, Fools, and Impostors is directed primarily at six categories of people:

  1. it may be useful to leadership consultants and trainers who wish to deepen their knowledge;
  2. will help management experts (professionals in private or public organizations, political science, industrial and organizational psychology, organizational sociology, work psychology, and organizational consultants) gain a realistic understanding of the key elements of organizational functioning;
  3. management consultants, who can be more effective in their work as change agents, going beyond the removal of symptoms and identifying the causes;
  4. the book will allow researchers of organizational behaviour a deeper understanding of the motivations and actions of individuals, thus making it possible to create more realistic models;
  5. it will benefit human resource professionals, who may find support in designing teams and organizational structures that work better and that conform to reality, rather than to ideal models;
  6. in particular, it will be useful for people who have management responsibilities and are called upon to lead individuals, groups and organizations, including complex ones. They will have the opportunity to reflect on the insights offered by the author and ask themselves about the effectiveness of their leadership style.

Below is a talk by Manfred Kets De Vries on the topic of leadership, then the summary.




We and our leaders: understanding the leaders we ourselves create.

  1. The leader as a mirror
    • Personal mirroring
    • The dynamics of mirroring in a corporate reality
    • How to solve the problem of mirroring.
  2.  The incomplete self: narcissism and the exercise of power
    • Reactions to childhood psychological wounds
    • Narcissists and organizations
    • Narcissistic Behaviour
    • Controlling the consequences of narcissism
  3. The detachment from power: an emotional assessment
    • Consequences of ageing
    • The experience of being nothing
    • The law of revenge
    • The “building” complex
    • Retirement
  4. Dead souls: illiterate of feelings
    • What is Alexithymia
    • The predisposition to Alexithymia of the “organizational man “.
    • Personal behaviours
    • In search of solutions
  5. Arrogance and fools: humour as a power balancing element
    • The Dangers of Arrogance
    • The Role of the Fool
    • Usefulness of humour
    • The Fool in the organization
  6. The Impostor syndrome
    • The psycho-dynamics of imposture
    • Levels of imposture
    • How to defend yourself from impostors
  7. Leadership and abuse of power: beyond complicity
    • When political leaders abuse power: the case of Saddam Hussein
    • When captains of business abuse power: the case of Robert Maxwell
    • A benevolent tyrant

Managing ambiguities of leadership and power


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