Archive for Trust

Pathology of Dominator Dynamics

Happy new year!¬† Time flys when … you are busy ūüôā¬†

I am longing to write about¬†Partnership dynamics.¬† However, I recently came an article on psychopathy and power hierarchies and am reminded of another topic — the pathology of dominator dynamics.¬† Reviewing the various pathologies of¬†psychopathy, sociopathy, narcisism and codependence, one can (I suggest) readily see how these psychological conditions¬†are correlated with¬†dominator dynamics and culture.¬† This¬†blog entry¬†quickly¬†touches on psychopathy and sociopathy. Future posts will touch on narcisim and codependence.¬†¬†Once we¬†¬†begin to see how these psychological disorders have¬†¬†left their imprint on organizational members and organizations,¬†we might¬†experience a¬†renewed resolve to imagine¬†and enact healthier organizations.¬†

To briefly review cultural historian Riane Eisler’s cultural transformation model, which outlines the concepts of Partnership vs. dominator cultural dynamics,¬†below is an very good¬†summary by Ron Miller, a thinker and activist in the area of holistic education (who is potentially an excellent resource for the study of Partnership approaches to learning organizations).¬†Miller writes:¬†

“[Eisler]¬†…¬†has argued that societies make choices about how they distribute power, that there is nothing natural or inevitable about oppressive hierarchies. She has looked at how values and beliefs are shared across social institutions, from intimate relationships to the state, and found a clear difference between what she calls “dominator” cultural patterns (societies marked by violence, authoritarianism, and gender inequity) and “partnership” orientations (societies that value cooperation, nurturing, and equality). A dominator culture seizes hold of human differences in order to rank people into more or less valued social positions; a partnership culture aims to link people into diverse communities where each contributes his or her strengths and finds aid and support as needed. In any dominator-oriented society, Eisler says, one finds “hierarchies of domination” that limit individual expression and crush resistance, while a partnership orientation supports “hierarchies of actualization”-ways of organizing institutions that maximize “the collective power to accomplish things together.”¬†¬†(Retrieved from:, 1/10/10)

¬†The term “pathological”¬†is defined as, “caused by or evidencing a psychologically disturbed condition… “psychoneurotic” … “neurotic,” and also as “caused by … or manifesting disease,” “not exhibiting¬†good health in body or mind.” (Retrieved from: ¬†, 1/10/10).¬†

Recently I came across an article by Clinton Callahan on psychopathy and hierarchies of power. Psychopathy is a personality disorder that is characterized by an absence of empathy. Quoting Wikipedia for expediency:

“Psychopathy (pronounced /sa??k?p??i/[1][2]) is a personality disorder whose hallmark is a lack of empathy. Researcher Robert Hare, whose Hare Psychopathy Checklist is widely used, describes psychopaths as “intraspecies predators[3][4] who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence[5][6][7] to control others and to satisfy their own needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse”.[8] “What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony.”[9]

“Psychopaths are glib and superficially charming, and many psychopaths are excellent mimics of normal human emotion;[10] some psychopaths can blend in, undetected, in a variety of surroundings, including corporate environments.[11] There is neither a cure nor any effective treatment for psychopathy; there are no medications or other techniques which can instill empathy, and psychopaths who undergo traditional talk therapy only become more adept at manipulating others.[12] The consensus among researchers is that psychopathy stems from a specific neurological disorder which is biological in origin and present from birth.[10] It is estimated that one percent of the general population are psychopaths. [13][14]”¬†

Related to the disorder of psychopathy is the disorder of sociopathy. Again quoting the same article: “David T. Lykken proposes psychopathy and sociopathy are two distinct kinds of antisocial personality disorder. He believes psychopaths are born with temperamental differences such as impulsivity, cortical underarousal, and fearlessness that lead them to risk-seeking behavior and an inability to internalize social norms. On the other hand, he claims sociopaths have relatively normal temperaments; their personality disorder being more an effect of negative sociological factors like parental neglect, delinquent peers, poverty, and extremely low or extremely high intelligence. Both personality disorders are the result of an interaction between genetic predispositions and environmental factors, but psychopathy leans towards the hereditary whereas sociopathy tends towards the environmental.[38]” Retrieved from, 1/10/10)

In his online article, “Beware the Psychopath, My Son” ( Clinton Callahan draws on sources such as, Snakes in Suits by Robert Hare and Paul Babiak, to propose that because psychopaths (and by definition, sociopaths) are not constrained by human empathy yet mimic normal emotions well, that they often rise to the top of (dominator) hierarchies. He points to bloody history and to the amoral posture of many organizations to suggest that organizations are somewhat (if not more substantially) influenced by sociopathic norms.¬† The article is thought provoking and worth reading.¬†¬†

¬†What do you think?¬† Have you ever worked with a sociopathic personality?¬† How did it affect the dynamics of the organization?¬† (Please don’t post any names or organizations).

On Parallels between Paul and Eisler, and Group Mind

Carman, It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts. Thank you for highlighting the parallels between Eisler on Partnership and Paul. I hadn’t fully appreciated this aspect of Paul.¬† The opposition of¬†“flesh” and “spirit” is¬†a key theme in many¬†theologies, so I read him more literally.¬† I do hear and appreciate that you interpret Paul’s words differently, with an interesting result.¬†¬†¬†

[12/8/09:¬†¬†Carman, I’ve been continuing to mull your interpretation of Paul, and see some strong parallels with my own [process] train of thought. If we use the idea of “small self'” in place of “flesh,” I agree that these ideas do begin to describe¬†a holistic, Partnership approach. I think the original metaphor is problematic in that it is too limited and freezes an occassionally conflicting relationship between different aspects (or intelligences) of ourselves into¬†permanent opposition.¬†¬†I think this core antagonism¬†is paradigmatic, in a sense, of the ethic of opposition,¬†domination and control towards others in a dominator system. If instead, we recognize difference rather than antagonism, we retain the possibility of a higher, creatively intelligent resolution which surpasses what we can¬† imagine as individuals.]

Another area of concern for me, with regard to Paul, is his¬†statement in¬†Corinthians 14:34-35¬†which seems to promote the subordination of women to men,¬†which would be¬†contrary to an ethic of Partnership:¬† ‚ÄúAs in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”¬† That said, I’ve also read that this is often or usually interpreted to refer to a specific situation rather than as a generalization¬†¬†¬†

I know that you have some expertise on this subject.  What are your thoughts?  

I¬†am interested to explore the key question that you have posed: “If a Partnership group were being infiltrated by dominator tendencies, how would you address the issue, especially if dissolution were imminent?”

I am drawn to the idea that a higher wisdom¬†can emerge in groups where there is shared intention, trust, active listening, mutual encouragement and appreciation. I’ve¬†found that in really healthy, collaborative groups there can be a kind of ” magic” — a very satisfying experience of co-creativity in which the result is clearly better than members might achieve alone.

Two quotes from Napolean Hill seem to speak to that notion:

“When two or more people coordinate in a spirit of harmony and work toward a definite objective or purpose, they place themselves in position, through the alliance, to absorb power directly from the great storehouse of the creative mechanism of each contributing mind.”

And:¬† ‚ÄúNo two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.‚ÄĚ

For me, these quotes bring together the very compatible principles of Partnership and holism.

Would you like to consider a particular concrete situation and reason together?


P.S.  I think we have your rain today!  The skys just opened up.

Bullying in Dominator Systems

Hi Lisa,¬† I am happy to hear that you have experienced Partnership relationships where thralldom was not an active force. I would like to include myself in that relationship. Succinctly, I would say that “partnership” is more probable where one is not subject to the will of another. Even slaves experienced a kind of partnership, according to Patterson, in that they ‚Äėhad strong social ties among themselves though their relationships not recognized as legitimate or binding.’

However, as you observe, it is not enough to highlight elements of domination in our existing models of organization; it is also incumbent upon us to ‚Äėexplore some psycho-social-spiritual bridges to Partnership ways of being.’

I think I may have located one such a “bridge.” However, rather than rush to ‚Äėprescription,’ I would like to devote more time to ‚Äėdescription.’ Using raw materials from Patterson’s analysis of slavery, and incorporating the straight-edge of your critique, I would like to continue constructing a Theory of Organizational Thralldom that can speak to some of the more trenchant and troubling issues of organizational behavior. I want to demonstrate that asymmetrical power relations, characterized by domination and submission, activate the principle and practice of thralldom.

Let’s illustrate one such issue: psychological abuse, colloquially called “bullying.” To bully is to intimidate through blustering, domineering, or threatening behavior: workers who were bullied into accepting a poor contract ( Bullied Persons are routinely forced into submission through fear. Now, most texts I’ve consulted approach this ubiquitous phenomenon through the perspective of the powerless. They typically treat the abused worker to psychology-How to understand the abuser, What are the characteristics of the abuser? How to personally cope, and so on. Because the systemic relationship remains untouched-and unchallenged-power continues to be weighted in favor of the abuser.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) website observes: “On June 1, 2004, Quebec became the first North American jurisdiction to include protection against psychological harassment of employees in its Act respecting Labour Standards.

Bullying, known as psychological harassment is defined as:

“Any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affect an employee’s dignity or psychological integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee. A single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment” (

Two things stand out in the above:

1) Quebec is the first “North American” jurisdiction to legislate against the practice, and

2) “Protection.” There’s that word again.

In his discussion of injustice Patterson quotes an American ex-slave who recounts: “the most barbarous thing I saw with these eyes-I lay on my bed and study about it now-I had a sister, my older sister, she was fooling with the clock and broke it, and my old master taken her and tied a rope around her neck-just enough to keep it from choking her-and tied her up in the back yard and whipped her I don’t know how long. There stood mother, there stood father, and there stood all the children and none could come to her rescue.”

I have personally witnessed the verbal equivalent of such physical abuse as colleagues stood by and did nothing to stop a psychological assault. Patterson rightly asks, How could persons be made to accept such natural injustice? Not simply the victim but more particularly, “those who stood by and accepted it.”

Patterson isolates two dimensions: 1) denying the slave’s humanity, his independent social existence 2) the master’s authority was derived from his control over symbolic instruments, which effectively persuaded both slave and others that the master was the only mediator between the living community to which he belonged and the living death that his slave experienced.

Perhaps we can expand on the above dimensions later? I trust that as we cast our mental seine wide we will capture some really big ideational fish.

Bye for now,


I love listening to the University of Wyoming classical station in the morning. Saturday mornings are especially exquisite. I wonder how many seals I’ll see on the seawall today. Hey, that alliteration sounds a lot like ‚Äėthe big black bug bled blue blood.’


Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Harvard University Press, 1982

Given the high cost of denial, how can we encourage open communication?

Carman,¬† Thank you for offering the example of Orwell’s Oceania, as perhaps the ultimate example of a Dominator organization. Oceania is perhaps a pure example of a direction that human organizations can take when their core value is power (money and power-over) and there are no other strong mitigating values or externally or situationally imposed limitations.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the role of “doublethink” and “newspeak” which are both reflected in the well documented phenomenon in which organizations say one thing and do another.

This gap between public communications and action can arise for several reasons:
1) Lack of self-awareness on the part of the leader (we are not always aware of our true motives);
2) Belief in an ideal but a lack of awareness of the true costs;
3) Cynicism.

Whatever the cause, doublespeak and newthink involve both conscious or unconscious denial and projection. This gap between what is said an what is done, leads to skepticism, a lack of investment on the part of organizational members, and ultimately poor performance.

One example, would be one in which organizational leaders and corporate policy discuss the importance of product quality or customer service, while acting in ways that reduce that capacity. The pressure to reconcile the public face and actual practice tends to flow downhill to the front lines (often the least powerful members of the organization). If a person at the front lines was to express the perception that the “organization isn’t really committed to quality (or customer service – whatever it might be), there is a good chance that that person would be considered perverse, negative – perhaps a poor performer.¬† “After all, it is obviously company policy that we serve our customers… and we’ve asked others in the department and they don’t share your view…”

The way a company approaches public statements regarding ethics and how it ensures that the organization complies with ethical policies is particularly sensitive. In one situation I observed, team members all privately identified ethical violations in their immediate environment, but most publically stated that they did not know of any violations. The reasons they gave for not reporting the violations were: 1) Fear of possible negative consequences, and 2) the belief that the company did not really want to know.

In this kind of environment, there is a deep lack of trust, and problems can become more difficult to identify and fix…

So, leaders who want to develop healthy, flexible organizations in which members believe and are invested have a stake in creating an environment in which organizational members can share their experiences and perspectives without fear of negative consequences.

The power differential between managers and individual contributors, itself, tends to reduce upward feedback. “Newspeak” further reduces trust.

What steps can leaders take to create an environment of trust and safety to support open and constructive communication?

Cultures of Silence

Another beautifully¬†insightful post from Carman.¬†¬†ūüôā

Hi Lisa,

Thank you for discussing Dominator Cultures. As I write, the morning sun is penetrating my living room window both to dominate the day and to challenge me to respond to Emerson‚Äôs question, ‚ÄėWhat are you going to do with it?‚Äô (the day)

My mind has been awash all week with your observations and questions. Your discussion of the Dominator Culture helps me to contrast it with the Partnership Perspective.

Your statement, ‚ÄúA Dominator culture shapes psychologies and social structures in ways that are dysfunctional in that they limit potential and cause unnecessary suffering,‚ÄĚ acutely reflects my own experience. Regrettably, Dominator Cultures are all I have ever known.

Returning to the example of the child, not as a repository of wisdom but, rather as an embodiment of certain ideals, I recall a comment by Charles Davis (A Question of Conscience) who said,

‚ÄúExterior un-freedom causes interior un-freedom. A child first learns to talk or think aloud, then afterwards to think without voicing its thought.‚ÄĚ

In an organization (Dominator Culture) with which I am familiar an enforced infantilizing silence characterizes each weekly meeting. Questions are forbidden and discussion is discouraged. Employees are thus banished to conversational catacombs to express their ideas and concerns.

Canadian historian Michael Welton (one of my professors at Athabasca University) has examined such systemic silence. He concludes that organizational silence is produced in four ways:

1) Managers‚Äô fear of negative feedback and their belief systems. You and I have discussed Theory X assumptions wherein workers are believed to be untrustworthy and self-interested and responsive only to incentive or sanction. Managers, he holds, will implicitly or explicitly discourage ‚Äúupward‚ÄĚ communication.

2) An ideology that managers must lead, direct and control.

3) An unstated belief that unity and consensus are signs of organizational health, whereas disagreement and dissent should be avoided.

4) The distance between leaders and the led once they ascend the hierarchy. Welton suggests that ‚Äútop‚ÄĚ managers who have been together for a long time tend to blend their assumptions into a shared world-view. Senge terms this pathology (learning disability) ‚ÄúThe Myth of the Management Team.‚ÄĚ

Senge and Argyris, like Deming, lay the blame at the school which ‚Äútrains us never to admit that we do not know the answer‚ÄĚ (The Fifth Discipline p.25)

Welton says that workers ‚Äúwithout a voice‚ÄĚ will seek control through other means that may be destructive to the organization, such as stress, sickness, and little motivation.

Managers, in turn, may interpret the pathologies as evidence of hostility and willingness to contribute just to get by. Managers’ beliefs turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Someone once described ‚Äúplay‚ÄĚ as the very essence of thought. I‚Äôm grateful for both the free and creative communion of your site and for the ‚Äúcreative play‚ÄĚ it affords. I enjoy the opportunity to ‚Äúvoice‚ÄĚ my thought‚ÄĒto hear and be heard and to sense in your comments the message ‚ÄúI see you‚ÄĚ (The Fifth Discipline Field Book).

Bye for now,



Welton, M. Designing the Just Learning Society: A Critical Inquiry. Leicester: NIACE, 2005.

Holism, Power, and the Intersubjective Nature of Joy

Hi Carman, I am glad to hear that you are feeling restored to health! It’s a pleasure to read your posts again.

Yes, I agree —¬†Alfred North Whitehead once said¬†that whatever constitutes a world view can be understood to constitute a religion. And, process theologian, David Ray Griffin, who interpreted and extended Whitehead’s work, observed that two key world views dominate the modern West:¬†fundamentalist Christian theology (in which God created the world but is separate from it) and materialism — the latter deriving from the former. Ecofeminist philosopher, Charlene Spretnak, observes that these two worldviews share in common the assumption that notion that we are all separate.¬†

However, this notion of separation is not fundamental to either science or spirituality. My hypothesis¬†is¬†that¬†the perspective that we are all separate is born of pain and fear, and engenders the same.¬† And when we are separate and afraid, we seek power *over* our situation and others.¬†Because¬†money is a form of power that gives us some measure of control,¬†it’s unsurprising¬†that we would turn wealth itself into a god.

New science, on the other hand, points to a more holistic, intelligent Cosmos. In my personal understanding, it points to a world in which we are all deeply interconnected and in which there are multiple levels of intelligence — from cells, to organisms, to ecosystems —¬†including the intelligence of the larger whole, in which we all participate.¬†

However, because our worldviews are self-reinforcing, our culture reinforces ways of perceiving and interpreting the world that emphasize separation, which one prominent physicist called a kind of optical illusion of consciousness. However, different aspects of human experience can and do, point to a more holistic and interconnected world, and that leads us into the life world that you describe so well.

Your question on how the two employers defended the life world sounds well worth exploring. I notice that Fezziwig takes joy in the happiness of others. We are social animals, and it seems that meaning and happiness ulitmately has this relational context. Conversely, I also notice that Scrooge is not a happy person. He may take pleasure in comforts, but in serving the god of wealth, he oppresses himself as well as others. 

To this point, I recently read a quote by Booker T. Washington, which¬†read, “You can’t hold a man [or woman] down without staying down with him [her].”¬† This is true at many levels, from the psychological, to the sociological, to a more holistic understanding of what some call “the inter-subjective space.” (Robert Kenny has done some fascinating, ground-breaking work on how this space applies to creative teams (¬† Transformational leadership thus has the potential to liberate and free the creative potentials of both the leader and the organization.

The role of the Spirits could be metaphorical or it could relate to the larger spirit or intelligence of the whole, for which people have¬†used a variety of terms, depending on their¬†spiritual or secular orientation.¬† (I¬†think you¬†previously raised the question of the relationship between spiritual transformation and tranformative leadership…)¬†¬†¬†¬†

Speaking of valuing the subjective dimension of life, several colleagues and clients that I am working with in my coaching and training practice, hold the¬†intention that their work should also be¬†fulfilling and fun.¬† It’s an enriching practice to work with, as I’m sure you know!¬†

Have a great weekend!


What is your organizational “wheel of fear”?

In my last post, we talked about how fear can both prompt and frustrate change. Presently, macro forces, prominently including global competition and outsourcing, are increasing fear and insecurity, while requiring organizations to become more creative, collaborative and adaptable.  However, it seems the actions we take from a perspective of fear are often maladaptive.

For example, one common response to fear is to become more controlling. It might be useful to notice two things about control that can undermine our effectiveness: First, when we attempt to “control” others, we take away some of their free will and dignity. And, second,¬†when we are controlling, is there an implied threat of force? For example, what¬†if people don’t comply –what action will we¬†take then?¬†And how does the threat of force tend to effect the quality of your relationships?

As a result,¬†the people we would¬†control¬†are likely to both¬†feel threatened and the need¬†to re-exert some control of their own.¬†As Hargrove (1995) points out, this tends to¬†show up as a lack of enrollment, a lack of trust,¬†and¬†other¬†subtle and not-so-subtle forms of rebellion.¬†Although control can¬†indeed get results, we pay a¬†price for them.¬†And as people become less enrolled, do we not then see the need for more control, more force?¬†We find our selves on¬†a “wheel of fear” (Britton, 2001)¬†— a non-virtuous cycle that¬†can lead to¬†plummeting morale and, to the degree that we rely on¬†organizational member enrollment,¬†diminished organizational effectiveness.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

Biologically, fear invokes our “reptilian brain” which is concerned with survival, but which isn’t very smart, which helps explain why our reactions to fear tend not to be very intelligent.

In our next post, we will begin to explore some strategies for moving off our “wheel of fear” and onto our “wheel of freedom.”


Britton, Rhonda. (2001). Fearless Living. NY: Penguin.

Hargrove, Robert. Masterful Coaching: Extraordinary Results by Impacting People & the Way They Think & Work Together. SF: Pfeiffer, 1995.

Is our need for control inhibiting needed change?

“After so many years of defending ourselves against life and searching for better controls, we sit exhausted in the unyielding structures of organization we’ve created, wondering what happened. What happened to effectiveness, to creativity, to meaning? What happened to us? Trying to get these structures to change becomes the challenge of our lives. We draw their futures and design them into clearly better forms. We push them, we prod them. We try fear, we try enticement. We collect tools, we study techniques. We use everything we know and end up nowhere. What happened?¬†¬†

Yet it is only our worldview that dooms us to this incompetence. This world that we seek to control so carefully is a world we have created. We created it by what we chose to notice, by the images we used to describe what we were seeing. It was we who decided that the world was a great machine propelled by external energies. It was we who perceived the creativity of life as a dire threat. We saw life in motion and called it uncontrollable. We saw life’s unceasing desires for discovery-we say the dance-and called it disruptive..

Yet out beyond the shadows of our old thinking, a wholly different world appears. […] A world that welcomes and supports our endeavors. The world knows how to grow and change. It has been doing so for billions of years. Life knows how to create systems. Life knows how to create greater capacity. Life knows how to discover meaning. The motions that we sought to wrestle from life’s control are available to us to support our desires if we can stop being so afraid.”¬†¬†(Wheatley &¬†Kellner-Rogers, 1996)

Our organizations arise out of our perspectives, which give rise to¬†our deepest psychological beliefs and values.¬† Wheatley and¬†Kellner-Rogers insightfully observe that the impulse to control arises from fear and distrust (ultimately, of the world and other people). Yet,¬†by now it’s generally become clear that¬†centralized, bureaucratic organizations (whether they be businesses or governments) are unable to respond rapidly enough to changing¬†conditions.

It seems to be human nature that, the more fearful we are, the tighter we hold the reins of control, and the more resistant we will be to change. Yet, if environmental conditions have truly changed, change may be what we most need to survive.

How do we break out of this vicious cycle? Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers describe a perspective of trust.¬† Is that “realistic”?

In the next post, we will look at this¬†organizational “wheel of fear” and some strategies for replacing it with an organizational “wheel of freedom” (Britton, 2001).

Britton, Rhonda. (2001). Fearless Living. NY: Penguin.