Archive for Values

Pathology of Dominator Dynamics

Happy new year!  Time flys when … you are busy 🙂 

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).

Starry Skies, Diversity, and Vision

Hi Carman,
A beautiful Sunday morning to you! I agree that Partnership does not need to answer to Paul, Plato or Shakespeare, although I do enjoy dialoging with them from time to time.

Thank you for sharing your deeply thought through and fresh thoughts on Paul. One observation I would add is that whatever was or was not the intention of people at the time, Christianity and Judaism  –or rather, as different streams of thought converge, a variety of Christianities and Judaisms  — exist today.

Because we are exploring emerging ground, we have the opportunity to consider some interesting questions, that I think have some broader applicability.  One relates to focus.

Alfred North Whitehead describes how every fact “drags around with it” a universe of assumptions in which that observation or fact is both comprehensible and true. Essentially agreeing with Whitehead on this point, feminist philosphers have long observed that the practice of using fixed and firm categories — such as the often very firm boundaries between academic disciplines — to describe reality reifies a particular worldview by obscuring other potentially useful categories and the way that categories interconnect to form the “sacred canopy” of our worldview. 

On the other hand, when changes do occur in a particular field, the process of cross-fertilization of ideas is slowed. (This is one reason, as you know, that trans-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary studies are presently such a wellspring of new thought and innovation).   Also,  being too fixed with regard to category implies a world in which all things can truly be separate and static — described by one category or model without reference to others. For example, years ago, when I was in a leadership role in organizations (before I became a coach and consultant), I was  unable to immediately see the connection between emerging ideas in scie nce and emerging ideas in leadership. I thought that it was academically interesting but had nothing to do with the “real” world. Obviously, I’ve come to change my views!

The categories we use illuminate some aspects of reality and hide others.  With left-brained thought and language, it’s often the connections amongst things that are hidden.

Because the paradigm we are discussing is holistic, we can’t assume that the whole universe of assumptions is known to the reader, or even to ourselves.  Rather Partnership recognizes that different perspectives will “see” different patterns, and that, with a conducive social dynamic, multiple perspectives can, reflect more light on a given subject. Further, a holistic perspective suggests that reality is holographic in that nothing stands alone but is shaped by its context or world.

Because this blog seeks to explore a new paradigm of leadership and organization, it consciously oversteps conventional categories in order to describe both this paradigm we call Partnership and also the views of the cosmos, including the patterns of the stars, we each see from where we sit (both physically and on the basis of our life experience).

So, in discussing a Partnership approach to leadership and organizations, we talk about the literatures of leadership, organization, sociology, psychology (so far so good), and continue on to philosophy and theology which have been held, until relatively recently, to be separate and distinct subjects. Religion in particular has been considered a separate realm best avoided because it can raise passionate differences. “Sensible” people avoid it. By virtue of where I sit under that starry expanse, I am unable to be “sensible” in this respect because ideas in all these fields shape our view of the world. Certainly, as you have pointed out, the experience of a religious conversion or mystical insight is an example of a personal transformation which yields a sometimes radically different worldview. (My sister also described motherhood this way).

On the other hand, I appreciate that some who visit here may be put off when we venture “off topic” sharing our views of the patterns we see in that sky.  In a sense, this is a microcosm of a Partnership organization. Different members sitting on the grass, looking up and being able to share what they see. And also with respect to our collective endeavors, focusing on the shared values and vision that pull us together.

As you have probably noticed, I see the coaching approach as enacting Partnership, supporting the emergence of trust, collaboration and creativity in organizations. I am very excited to mention a new project that I am becoming involved with, to bring coaching training to leaders and teams, and coaching the development of a coaching culture. I’ll write more about it in this blog, but as this is also a kind of a letter, I wanted to share it with you here.

My best,


P.S. We are having a break in the rain today. It’s cold and overcast, with the holiday lights making a nice contrast as it grows dark in the evening.

Domination-Partnership Dichotomy (Exploring Parallels)

Hi Lisa,

Why am I not surprised that serving a greater good is [your] greatest form of satisfaction? Thank you too for your invigorating treatment of the holistic paradigm.

I would like to address and integrate some of your comments, beginning with, “I disagree with Paul’s dichotomization of flesh and spirit, but that view is very consistent with philosophical atomism.”

Paul’s dichotomization of “flesh” and “spirit” is, I believe, societal rather than somatic. That is, his focus is on “group attachment” and “group integrity.” In short, he is doing sociology, not psychology. Paul’s dichotomization of flesh and spirit seems very much like Riane Eisler’s dichotomization of domination and partnership. Eisler declares: “For all their unique peculiarities, most of our attempts at civilization have had one of two basic configurations the domination system or the partnership system.” She seems to be speaking about two basic ways of looking at the world and about the systems that express such worldview.

Similarly, Paul’s dichotomization of “flesh” and “spirit” seems analogous to “domination” and “partnership” as those mindsets impact the group. (I cannot overemphasize the group phenomenon). In Galatians, Paul is counseling leaders/teachers against sub-professional conduct that undermines group adhesion. Unless he can recall them to a larger vision, the leadership group will dissolve.

Put another way, Paul is a rabbinic leader speaking to a group of rabbis about convention learning versus transformation learning. Convention learners are attempting to reintroduce their [domination] thinking into the transformation [partnership] culture. Using the domination-partnership dichotomy I will attempt to paraphrase Paul’s counsel. Let’s imagine he is addressing a leadership school that promotes partnership:

13 For you have been called to partnership; only do not [use] your liberty as an opportunity for personal ambition, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the [holistic] law is fulfilled in one word, [even] in this: “You shall love your neighbor [colleagues] as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! [I have actually seen pit bulls attempt this!]

16 I say then: Make progress in the partnership mindset, and you shall not enact the domination mindset. 17 For the domination mindset militates against the partnership mindset, and the partnership mindset is against the domination mindset; and these attitudes are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the partnership mindset, you are not bound by the domination culture.

19 Now the group-destroying behaviors characteristic of the domination mindset are evident, Sexual Deviance: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 Self-Idolatry and Narcissism: hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, casting your fellow teachers in the worst possible light, 21 envy, character assassination, drunkenness, drunken parties, and the like; of which I warn l you beforehand, just as I also warned you in time past, that those who practice such things will be expelled from the partnership program.

22 But partnership’s mindset yields the following orchard: group attachment, esprit de corps, member well-being, longsuffering toward one another, kindness toward one another, spontaneous goodness, group trust, 23 gentleness toward new members, self-control vis-Ă -vis recalcitrant members. Against such there is no legitimate prohibition. 24 And those [who are] partnership’s offspring have repudiated the domination mindset with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in partnership, let us also walk in transformed consciousness. 26 Let us not return to the domination culture by becoming conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Lisa, in your previous post you stated: “of course, one can apply a holistic perspective to leadership and organization with interesting implications.” I would find the application of your insights to a leadership group in crisis to be very instructive. Perhaps the group scenario above will suffice. If a partnership group were being infiltrated by dominator tendencies, how would you address the issue-especially if dissolution were imminent?

Bye for now!


The rain has relented and so my sun-starved eyes may be sated today.

Organizational Culture

Thank you for this contribution. It’s so relevant to our whole discussion, I’m also posting it up here in the main blog.

Best regards,

Hello Denis and Lisa,

I’m not sure about the question but I believe you are asking about the odd language academics use to describe organizational culture. It’s so easy to feel overpowered by academic writing. Simply put, It has been said that “the water is the last thing the fish see.” If we imagine that organizations are fishbowls then the challenge of helping fish to comprehend their environment is obvious [if fish could think like we do!] We so often take words for granted. “Culture” is an example. So let’s go back to basics. What do we mean by “culture”?

Gareth Morgan’s excellent work “Images of Organization” [which I highly recommend] says that “culture” comes from the idea of “tilling and developing the land” (p.120) Morgan says the agricultural metaphor focuses our attention on “very specific aspects of social development.” What does he mean?

Does he mean that people are unique? Yes. Are you and I unique? Yes. But are we also alike in many respects? Yes. However, Morgan is talking specifically about “organizations.” So the metaphor of “culture” asks us to imagine that organizations are like countries and we are like anthropologists trying to understand the distinctive societies. Hence, an organization, like a country, will exhibit unique characteristics [I like to say that organizations are like fingerprints in that they both unique but exhibit commonalties].

Following are some elements of “culture”:

*Leadership: Who are in control?

*Structure-How have those in control arranged positions?

*Climate-How have those in control taught members to “feel” about one another?

*History-Who were originally in control? How did they and their successors shape the organization?

*Customs and rituals-What big meaningful events have been arranged by those in control?

*Language-How do those in control communicate with organizational members?

*Dress-How do those in control dress? How do they expect organizational members to dress?

*Beliefs-What things are accepted as true by those in control? How deeply are those beliefs held by those in control? How are those beliefs communicated to those with less control?

*Artifacts-How have those in control arranged buildings, furnishings and equipment?

*Values-What do those in control expect of those they control?

Culture is all about the creation of social reality. But power is key. Power is the ability to create or produce reality [organizations]. Here is an example from Morgan’s chapter on culture:

“We sit in the same seats, like cows always go to the same stall. It’s a real waste of time. It’s a situation where you can say just about anything and no one will refute it. People are very hesitant to speak up, afraid to say too much. They say what everyone else wants to hear” p.131.

*A modernist approach might begin by asking about the elements of culture-the big picture. For example, What elements of culture are useful in analyzing the above example? *A symbolic interpretivist approach might ask how members are making meaning within their experience. For example, How does the metaphor of the cow illustrate the member’s interaction? *A post-modernist perspective might ask about the member’s power and ability to make meaning and how the member’s perception impacts the organization [and yes, we can critique post-modernism].

My advice to those studying organizational theory is to pay attention to power and control. It’s all very well to talk about “shared” meaning and “rational” goals, for example. But in the final analysis members will say and do what they are expected to do-by those in power.

I hope this helps.

Bye for now!


Towards a theory of thralldom (from Carman de Voer)

Hi Lisa,

I love Sundays! Thank you for the references to Solzhenitsyn. It’s interesting that thralldom figures prominently in his text: “The whole raison d’etre of serfdom and the Archipelago is one and the same: these are the social structures for the ruthless enforced utilization of the free-of-cost work of millions of slaves” (Chapter 5). I’ve been bridging concepts we’ve discussed over the months and believe I see sufficient patterns to construct a comprehensive Theory of Thralldom.

Patterson describes the slave as dehumanized being who lives only through and for the master:


“The slave was a dominated thing, an animated instrument, a body with natural movements, but without its own reason, an existence entirely absorbed in another.”


“The proprietor of this thing, the mover of this instrument, the soul and the reason of this body, the source of this life, was the master. The master was everything for him: his father and his god, which is to say, his authority and his duty…Thus, god, fatherland, family, existence, are all for the slave, identified with the same being; there was nothing which made for the social person, nothing which made for the moral person, that was not the same as his personality and his individuality”(Henri Wallon on the meaning of slavery in ancient Greece, Cited in Patterson).

Though Friere does not use the word “thrall” or “slave” in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he does use almost identical language to describe “the oppressed”: “For the oppressors, ‘human beings’ refers only to themselves; other people are “things” (p.39). Friere says that the “oppressor consciousness” tends to reduce everything-including people-to “objects at its disposal” (p.40) Science and technology, says Freire, “are used to reduced the oppressed to the status of things” (p.114). The educational system is their “enemy” (p.16) and management is an “arm of domination (p.50).

Patterson’s decription of slavery also illuminates Freire’s statements, such as “adhesion to the oppressor,” the “boss within,” subjects-objects, and Friere’s discussion of the difference between animals and humans (thank you for your reference to dogs!). I could never quite understand why he devoted so much analysis to the distinction. Animals, for example are “ahistorical,” “beings in themselves,” “cannot commit themselves,” are “not challenged by the configuration that confronts them,” and so on (pp.78-79). Obviously, animals and thralls are subhuman, objects, things. Now I see why Freire spoke about the “ontological vocation to be more fully human-“fully human” versus “anatomical fragments” and “automata” (things).

Middle class educators reading this blog might bristle at my suggestion that we humans exist within a web of thralldom. Freire predicted such reaction when he spoke about the middle class’s “fear of freedom” which “leads them to erect defense mechanisms and rationalizations which conceal the fundamental (i.e., the conditions of oppression) emphasize the fortuitous (i.e., let’s be “positive”) and deny concrete reality” (the misery of the oppressed) p.85. (parentheses mine). Freire was clear that praxis meant reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.

Freire’s indictment of global educational systems is understandable now given that the “educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is a better fit for the world” (p.57). It now makes sense to me why Freire saw the need to develop a completely different “pedagogy”-a pedagogy of the oppressed, whose organs of sense perception have been switched off so long that they need educators’ help to reactivate those. I can now understand why Freire’s text appears in many graduate programs (I met “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” while enrolled in Athabasca University’s MDE Program).

I appreciate your allusion to perception Lisa. Patterson (quoting Weber) notes that slavery is built upon a power relation which has 3 facets: social, psychological and cultural. Perception, I believe, falls under the second category:

1) The use or threat of violence in the control of one person by another (Social)

2) The capacity to persuade another person to change the way he perceives his interests and his circumstances. (Psychological)

3) Authority: the means of transforming force into right, and obedience into duty (Cultural)

But how is slavery distinctive as a relation of domination? Perhaps we could discuss that later on.

Bye for now,


I would call my posts ‘messays’ because they represent mental chaos searching for coherence. Thank you for the ‘mutual flourishing’ you promote Lisa.


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

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2007.

Self Actualization vs. Dehumanization

Carman, Thank you for your note! I appreciation this whole process of deconstruction and reconstruction of ideas. It takes courage to relinquish our certainty enough to open our minds to new connections and possibilities. There is a period of chaos before new structures coalesce, which can be uncomfortable, to the say the least, but the insights we gain by allowing and processing this chaos or change can be enormously rewarding. Therefore, I appreciate Rosemarie Anderson’s term for that period, “auspcisous bewilderment”(1). One of the benefits of Partnership systems is that they are safe enough to allow the uncertainty inherent in the creative process.

As you requested, I moved our earlier conversation in the comments area of “Freedom vs. Slavery” to the main blog to make it easier to read.

Your quote from Freire aptly contasts the difference between the experience and concept of work as self-actualization in the context of community and work as dehumanization or exploitation. These are two different paradigms of leadership and organization (social relationship), and of ways of being in the world.

The Partnership paradigm reflects an ethic of mutual flourishing. Conversely, a dominator paradigm reflects a “dog eat dog” or “dog oppress dog” 😉 ethic. Both are part of our historical inheritance, but the ethic of domination goes deep. What is our reaction when we are crossed? And then, what response do we choose…

In considering Friere’s comment, I am also reminded of philosopher Jacques Derrida’s reminder that there is freedom and power throughout the system. Even in situations of extreme oppression, such as former Soviet labor camps, Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago demonstrated that the human being could choose a perspective of self-actualization. So we have these mulitple frontiers, the social and the psychological, for moving towards more creative, adpative and fulfilling systems..

It’s a pleasure to read and post your insightful and creative essays, as always!


1. Rosemarie Anderson, “Intuitive Inquiry,” Transpersonal Research Methods for the Social Sciences: Honoring Human Experience,” eds. William Broud and Rosemarie Anderson.

Anderson includes a quote from the mystic Jelaluddin Rumi in the opening to her chapter, which speaks to this place of auspicious bewilderment and creativity: “Today like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do.”

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 ‘had 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 ‘explore 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 ‘prescription,’ I would like to devote more time to ‘description.’ 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 ‘the 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?

Creating healthy organizations

In re-reading your post, I continue to notice new levels of richness and meaning.

Freire describes some of the core insights of Partnership: “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.66).

Yes, as Freire describes, domination is system of relations, including our relation to self. We are divided beings in as much as we internalize the voice(s) of dominant, controlling others. As young children, we tend to absorb parental and cultural moods, attitudes, and perspectives. It is, therefore, so often true that children of dominating parents (or of a hostile culture) struggle with self-criticism and self-doubt. In the Dominator paradigm, this is the position of feeling “less than” others. In this psychological literature, this is sometimes called “shame.”

Psychology also describes “projection” as a psychological defense mechanism. One way of copying with our “disowned […] feeling, wishes, needs and drives […] is to attribute them to others” (Bradsahw, 109). We may also gain some temporary relief from the pain of internalized oppression through identification with the oppressor (Bradshaw 106). When we identify with dominator (our externalized notions of power, prestige), we may experience ourselves as feeling “better than.” In this state, we may project undesireable characteristics onto others and “do unto others as has been done unto us.” It is, therefore, a truism that, in the absence of healing, people who have been abused, often become abusers themselves.

In a dominator system (such as is predominant in our culture), there is a tendency to either feel less than or greater than others, and whether one feels inferior or inferior can vary depending on time and circumstance.

Judgement appears to be the mechanism by which this occurs. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is common to fear the judgement of others — particularly those we perceive to have some level of power over our lives.

One dynamic for maintaining the “upper hand” in a dominator relationship is silencing, in which one does not permit others the privilege of speaking their truths. This dynamic may be internalized as self-silencing.

Codependency has been defined in a variety of ways. One pertinent definition is, “A pattern of coping which develops because of prolonged exposure to and practice of dysfunctional family rules that make difficult the open expression of thought” (

This same dynamic has been described in organizations. In the 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen R. Covey describes the dynamics of codependency in organizations and how its negative effect on organizational effectiveness (17). For an excerpt, see:

Author John Gardner writes, “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.” The perspective of each individuals and organization (which is ultimately shaped by its members) seems natural and normal; therefore, real alternatives may not be readily seen, or when seen, may seem counter-intuitive. Seeing alternatives, including personal and organizational health, is an imaginative act.

If we can label a core problem of contemporary organizations to be co-dependence, then, what might the literature of psychology and recovery have to teach us with respect to creating healthier, more flexible, collaborative, and creative environments?

Also, what is the relationship between a Partnership relationship and perspective (based on mutual thriving), coaching and the psychological-social paradigm of recovery?

Promethius and transformative leadership

Another beautifully written post by Carman de Voer:

Hi Lisa,

For the last few weeks I’ve been pruning a figurative olive tree–a Promethean task, to say the least, but one, I hope, will also “light up the mind.”

I’m not at all surprised that you would integrate love and leadership. Though we have never met I believe you are “unconditionally committed to another’s completion, to another being all that she or he can and wants to be”—The Fifth Discipline, p.285 (Senge’s defininition of love is superb, don’t you think?)

Leadership, like many ideas, has deteriorated into a mere synonym for management. The story of Prometheus speaks to what leadership really means. Prior to his rebellion, Prometheus and Epimetheus [his brother] were, I propose, managers, in that they enacted the goals of the Olympian Establishment. Essentially, they were “chosen” to perpetuate the status quo. At some point Prometheus became a leader—a radical, a [peaceful] revolutionary whose learning program became an indirect attack on the prerogatives of power-holders.

Prometheus the Leader

Prometheus envisaged a new race of beings of higher intelligence fitted to worship and serve the gods in a manner pleasing to their greatness. Prometheus and Epimetheus were chosen to complete the creation. “We will make the new beings in the likeness of the gods themselves. They shall not bend their face to the earth, but shall stand erect and turn their eyes heavenward.” Prometheus shaped the clay into a figure in the likeness of the gods. Eros imbued it with life and Athena imparted to it wisdom.

Prometheus longed to give humanity more and greater gifts, to light up the mind within it that might glow with a noble ardor; to make it lord of the lower creation; to enable the new god-like race to attain to greater heights of wisdom and knowledge and power. But no fire existed on the earth. He remembered the divine fire which could help to make humanity all-powerful—the sacred fire of Zeus.

Prometheus asked himself, “Could I steal it from the abode of the gods?” The very thought brought terror. Swift and merciless would be the vengeance of Zeus upon such a thief. More fearful would be his agonies than those inflicted upon the rebellious Titans.

Prometheus the Designer, Steward, Teacher

The thought of humanity inspired and ennobled by the divine fire quenched the reality of his own inevitable punishment and on a night heavy with clouds he stealthily ascended the holy mountain and lit the reed he carried with the divine fire. He had counted the cost and was prepared to pay it.

Prometheus revealed to humankind the divine fire and showed them

• how it would help them in their labors;
• how it would melt metals and fashion tools;
• how it would cook food and make life bearable in the bronze days of winter;
• how it would give light in darkness so that humankind might labour and travel in the night-time as well as by day.
• how to dig the fields and grow corn and herbs;
• how to build houses and cover their roofs with thatch;
• how to tame the beasts of the forests and make them serve them.

The sacred flame also gave inspiration and enthusiasm, and urged humanity on to achieve increasingly higher and greater things. The whole earth thrilled with their activities, and in their midst moved Prometheus, teaching, guiding, opening out before humanity’s delighted eyes fresh fields for effort and attainment.

Prometheus the Radical

There came a day when the points of light scattered over the surface of the earth. Zeus thundered, “Who is it that has stolen the fire from heaven?” “It is I” answered Prometheus calmly. “Why did you do this thing?” “Because I loved humankind! I longed to give them some gift that would raise them above the brute creation and bring them nearer the gods. Not all your power, Ruler of heaven and earth, can put out these fires.”

As Zeus listened to these words his rage turned to hatred of the being who dared defy his power. Zeus summoned his son Hephaestus, the god of the forge, and ordered him, “make a chain that nothing can break, and chain him to a cliff. I will send an eagle who each day shall devour his liver, causing him horrible torments day and night; each day it shall devour his liver; and each night it shall grow again, so that in the morning his suffering may be renewed.”

Prometheus replied, “So be it, O tyrant. Because you are strong, you are merciless. My theft has done you no harm; there is still fire to spare on Olympus. In your selfishness you will not share a privilege though it would advance the whole race of mankind. It may not be for long that you will sit in the high seat of the gods!”

The myth teaches me that “transformational leadership” comes with great cost. The myth’s core issue is control! The myth teaches me that the nexus of love and leadership does not take place in a cultural or organizational vacuum. The values and ideologies of power-holders will invariably be threatened. Those like Prometheus and “the good shepherd” [translation=the ideal leader John Chapter 10: 1-20] who desire humanity to have higher quality of life will pay dearly—possibly with their own lives.

Bye for now!