The Psychology of Leadership
MARCH 01, 1958 by FRANZ WINKLER
Dr. Winkler, Austrian-trained psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician, now practices internal medicine in the United States. This article is extracted from an address of February 6, 1957 before the Myrin Institute, of which Dr. Winkler is President.
Many people in the world today are facing the future with a sense of helplessness and frustration. Buried and forgotten is the optimism of the past few centuries, when man believed he held the reins of destiny in his hands; and gone is his faith in a new age of reason and enlightenment. Although the vast majority of people want peace, happiness, and freedom, they have not seen the fulfillment of their aims in spite of all their labors.
Even when democracy had given power to the masses, when revolutions had swept away feudalism, and modern concepts had replaced medieval superstitions, man failed to bend fate to his will. And it is exactly this paradox, this contrast between hope and achievement, that has thrown our generation into political fallacies and filled it not only with a profound sense of insecurity but with doubt in the human race itself.
What we fail to realize is that man has not yet reached the state of evolution in which he is entirely free to build a world in the image of his ideals. The vast majority of all people want this world to be one of peace, justice, and freedom, but the path leading to it runs through uncharted lands which no one but the prophet and poet have been able to penetrate. And thus the worst blunders of mankind have come from the impatience of some people with their fellow man’s seeming unwillingness to build a better world.
Among these impatient ones were all kinds of men such as Savonarola, Marx, and Lenin. Their efforts have ended or will end in disaster and bloodshed, for man in his present state of imperfection is neither as powerful nor as free as he thinks he is. The degree of man’s freedom depends on his inner development today; it does not exceed the freedom of a navigator in a river of no return.
This river may well signify all those changes in man’s consciousness which take place independently of his own volition. How impressive is the flux of trends and impulses within the life span of one single generation! Did those who risked their lives for the sake of liberty in the French Revolution dream that their sons and younger brothers would worship at Napoleon’s feet? While many explanations have been given for such enigmas of human consciousness, none has proved satisfactory.
Cloudy Patterns of History
However, one thing is certain: irrespective of their causes, and of the extent to which they may have been brought on by man himself, historic changes in human consciousness are not wholly the result of intellectual and voluntary planning. Consequently, history itself, the physical manifestation of man’s progress on earth, is determined, at least in part, by currents flowing below the level of conscious volition. Can we chart these currents and learn to steer a self-determined course within them?
Many attempts have been made to accomplish this. Experts in every country have drawn conclusions about the future from past and present events; and, on the strength of these predictions, some momentous political decisions have been made with the poorest possible results. Nor should this surprise us; as far as shaping of the future is concerned, factors are at work which have eluded all attempts at intellectual analysis and classification.
Thus with all his power and scientific achievements, modern man faces the world of today as helplessly as a child lost in the wilderness. Not only has he failed to solve any of the great political issues of his age; he seems to have grown ever less capable of coping with the problems of his own personal life. He expects psychologists, no less bewildered than he is, to solve these problems for him; or he tries to forget them under the influence of alcohol and tranquilizers. But the riddles of life demand an increase rather than a slackening in wakefulness: a wakefulness which concerns the intuitive as well as the intellectual faculties of man. For only in full and dynamic cooperation between intellect and intuition lies the key to the future, and no problem can be solved without it.
Scientific thinking itself requires such a cooperation. Although preceded by painstaking intellectual research, all the truly great discoveries of the past were conceived in the lightning flash of intuitive insight. Not until recent times has there been the prevalent tendency to rely exclusively on mass experiments and chain investigations; but, if the trend continues at the present rate, it will threaten to make the genius in man obsolete; and should this be carried to the extreme, the free world will find itself entirely without leaders, for the inventive spirit in man is also his genius for leadership.
Leadership is all-important. It was the free world’s failure to see this, rather than economic and social circumstances, that enabled dictators to usurp so much power in such vast areas of our planet. Actually, deep down in our hearts, we fear and mistrust all leaders; for we have not yet learned to make a clear distinction between authoritarianism and moral leadership which in reality are opposites.
According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, "to lead" means "to draw or direct by influence, good or bad." Thus the word itself initiates the confusion which has wrought havoc with the minds of people all over the world. In order to overcome these misunderstandings, new words must be found to permit a distinction between two diametrically opposed types of guidance. For this much is certain: while the free world is in desperate need of leadership, such leadership must be qualitatively, not merely quantitatively, different from the concepts of authoritarianism.
Our generation is wrestling with the problem of freedom. If men were unequivocally devoted to it, they would have freedom —and talk about it less. Actually, however, our longing for freedom is counterbalanced by a deep-seated fear of its price in individual responsibility. Thus modern man is beset by two conflicting emotions: one utilized by the leader who speaks for fearless championship of liberty, the other by him who proclaims reckless denial of freedom.
No Genius Required To Lead Toward Oblivion
Dictators all over the world have received voluntary and powerful support from that part of man’s soul which fears personal responsibility. The myth still exists that such leaders as Hitler or Stalin, whose actions affected the course of history, were possessed of tremendous individual strength. Actually, however, a man needs neither great intelligence nor strength of will to become a leader of their kind. Even a child can release the brakes of a truck parked on a steep hill, climb into the driver’s seat, and for a while control its increasing momentum.
Freedom and individualism make up the battle cry of our age; but in the soul of modern man there also exists the opposite, the longing for extinction of the self, for a lapse into those subhuman realms ruled by animal instincts rather than by the stern demands of moral responsibility.
This is especially so in the case of our unhappy youths who dread the task of facing the world as it is today. No wonder they respond to those who can show them the way to self-abandonment! Inevitably they are drawn to a performer whose eyes do not focus —whose legs seem to return to a crawling position, renouncing the upright posture of man — whose rocking and rolling motions recall the swayings of a medium in trance. In these manifestations our young people find a consciousness without ego, a consciousness that is biological rather than spiritual. Should this idol choose to be a leader, he could command thousands, for unwittingly he has become the personification of an impulse that tempts the hearts of countless modern youths: the impulse to abandon the struggle for spiritual self-assertion, to forget all the fearful responsibilities of individuality and, with the help of weird tunes and rhythms, to sink into the ecstasies of purely biological consciousness.
Two Kinds of Leadership
So far, I have refrained from drawing a line between moral and immoral leadership. Nor is it easy to draw such a line in view of the good intentions which have swept the world into ever worse disasters during the course of the past decade. Even many a communist believes he is heading toward a moral goal when he promotes an anti-type society supposed to be immune to internal strife and individual excesses. But the river of no return streams toward individualism, and nothing truly good can emerge from attempts to block it. If this be true, then moral leadership can be defined as guidance contributing to the wholeness of man.
Still, a man is whole only when he is fully conscious; and therefore no leadership can be moral unless it directs itself to the conscious mind. Immoral leadership, on the other hand, may be defined as an attempt to rule by appealing to man’s subconscious or unconscious nature, and by circumventing his conscious self-determination.
Moral leadership can have one purpose alone: to help the individual to find himself and to fulfill the commands of his higher nature. How is it possible to visualize this divine spark in man?
The principle of moral leadership rests on one basic assumption: the assumption that there is supernal purpose and meaning in life. Without such conviction any individual is likely to feel the urge to supply that meaning according to his own lights, and to force it on his fellow men.
Now we are told that belief in a higher purpose is a matter of faith, and therefore has no place within the realm of scientific cognition. Personally, I have never been able to see the logic of such a contention, for man is born with a sense of purpose which induces even a child to ask his persistent "why’s"; and, even as a young plant must be the offshoot of an older one, man’s innate sense of purpose must be considered the incomplete replica of a higher reality. Such reasoning can serve as the intellectual basis for an intuitive experience. And I have never found anyone who, starting with such an attitude, has not eventually arrived at an inner, unshakeable conviction that purpose and meaning rule his life.
"Man, Know Thyself"
Since time immemorial the question after the purpose of human existence has been linked to man’s search for his own spiritual nature, a search which found its expression in the ancient appeal: "Man, know thyself." Yet our self does not lie in the subconscious or unconscious hunting ground of modern psychology, but lives in the daylight of clear consciousness. But it has grown faint, so faint indeed, as to be almost overgrown by subconscious and unconscious impulses; it desperately needs strengthening. But how? By a never-ending conscious effort to solve the problems which life itself offers as a challenge to all of us; by seeking meaning in all the trials and joys which are not of our own making.
Fate itself is the guide on this quest, and every problem and riddle of life is but another signpost on its path. The great tasks and tests which play such a vital part in the legends, myths, and fairy tales of all peoples, the Sphinx’s riddles to be solved, and the great deeds to be done, are but the problems of life seen in their deeper meaning. Every problem contains its solution within itself: the solution which, when found, enriches man immeasurably and brings him closer to his goal. The darker the riddle into which fate leads him, the greater the treasure that can be found in it, but the stronger must be the light of consciousness that illumines the way.
And this is where one can help another through moral leadership. Not that anyone can hope to solve another person’s problem, but he can hold a torch for him. The light needed for inner vision is born out of an equilibrium between the three principles of human psychology. An excessively intellectual person is as incapable of seeing reality as a highly emotional or impetuous one.
Of course, it is often beyond human capacity to create or sustain a state of true equilibrium in the face of a personal crisis. Indeed, no one would expect a doctor to perform a serious operation on his own child, or a judge to pass sentence on his closest friend. Yet almost daily we are confronted with such problems, too close to our hearts to permit equanimity; and on these occasions we are prompted to turn for help to someone less intimately involved. We ourselves may not be fully aware of it, but the last thing we want in a crisis is persuasive advice. Shock, grief, surprise, or even joy have, for the moment, extinguished the light of our own reason which can glow only in an equilibrium between our intellect, our feeling, and our will. Thus it is a torch we crave when we ask for guidance, so that in its borrowed light we may find the answer to the riddle which has blinded us.
The principles of moral leadership are the same on all levels of social relations: they govern the leading of a nation and the mastering of a craft as well as the counseling of a friend in need. They demand an intensive work on oneself, for there is no such thing as leading others without first being able to lead oneself.
Freedom Lies in Self-Mastery
Man is free only insofar as he is capable of ruling himself. However, as said before, self-mastery depends on the existence of a certain equilibrium between the basic principles of human soul life. All real problems and crises of life demand for their solution an effort toward such equilibrium, and are therefore the building stones of that masterpiece of creation which man should one day become. Since no human being is strong enough to put these building stones in their right places all by himself, he must learn to give and to accept that kind of mutual assistance which I have called moral leadership. If this concept be correct, it explains why leadership can be moral only when it recognizes the spiritual nature of freedom; without such recognition it must either turn into compulsion as in communistic countries, or fade into abstraction as in the free world of today.
To become a leader in the real sense of the word means to become truly human. And it is humanity itself which is at stake today. The worst danger of communism is that its methods could dehumanize a whole generation, and worse than the schemes of its champions is the readiness of millions to submit to them. Since the victims of dictatorships cannot be considered inferior by nature to the still free peoples of the world, the existing danger for humanity must be universal. It may be granted that countless people are still fully human ; yet these hold to their humanity by instinct rather than by reason. Religious persuasion helps modern man in his plight, but it does not reach all, nor can it forever hold at bay the creeping doubts of a materialistic age.
A Spiritual and Moral Aim
As I see it, there is only one way to solve the crisis of our time, and to supply the world with individualities whose strong inner security enables them to control themselves and to lead their fellow men. This way calls for the attainment of a minimum degree of objective intuitive perception as the only reliable basis for self-recognition and insight into others’ needs.
Attainment of leadership qualities is a spiritual and moral aim, but one that can be reached by means of reason and discipline. A man who learns how to master his thinking to the point where it becomes a clear mirror of reality, who strives to expand his emotional life beyond the narrow confines of egotism, and who gains control over his will forces, develops an inner clarity that permits him glimpses into a reality usually distorted by the chaotic soul life of the untrained. Needless to say, leadership training alone does not suffice to create a permanently harmonious being; this is up to the moral will of the individual himself. But training can give the knowledge and skill which make the attainment of a moral goal easier. It can also show how an inner equilibrium can be established, at least for moments of need. These moments give man a clearer perception not only of physical realities but also of the spirit, and leave him with a longing for further development.
The free world does not require a professional clique of leaders, but it needs the largest possible number of individuals who know how to accept and how to offer leadership. The greatest enemy of modern youth is frustration and apathy. And indeed what is there in the promise of ever bigger cities, of more and faster airplanes and cars and sputniks, that can inspire enthusiasm?
Our civilization has now come to a point where it must start on an inner quest or face decline. Youth needs a new adventure, an adventure that leads to the neglected treasures of the inner life. Its first steps are self-knowledge, divination of the purpose of man’s existence on earth, and the means to lead others who are in need. While adult education can do no more than show a way, it is the doubt in the very existence of such a way that has led thousands of young people into addiction and delinquency; for it is not evil but frustrated energy that is at the root of most juvenile crimes. If only a fraction of that energy were directed into channels of moral
leadership, the free world would have little cause to fear its future.
Editor’s Note: In the address, from which this article was extracted, Dr. Winkler concluded with some examples taken from the work of the Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, to show how the intuitive faculties of man can be trained.
Ideas On Liberty
Two Kinds of Influence
One can do things to others destructively, but not creatively. Creatively, one must confine himself to what he can do for others. One can do things for others materialistically by having money or tools to lend or give, or goods and services to exchange; intellectually by having knowledge and understanding for those who are in search of knowledge and understanding; spiritually by possessing insights that can be imparted to those who want them.
Self-interest can best be served by minding one’s own business — that is, by the process of self-perfection. It isn’t that this idea has been tried and found wanting; it is that it has been tried and too often found difficult, and thus rejected. Actually, coercive meddling in other people’s affairs has its origin in the rejection of self-perfection. Many persons conclude that they can easily improve others in ways they refuse to attempt on themselves. This is an absurd conclusion. Thus it is that in our dealings with our fellow men, we so often try to coerce them into likenesses of our own little images instead of trying to make of ourselves images that are attractive and worth emulating.
Leonard E. Read