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Zaleznik, A. (1999). Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Organizations: Otto F. Kernberg, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, 384 pp., $47.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(1):290-294.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(1):290-294

Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Organizations: Otto F. Kernberg, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, 384 pp., $47.00.

Review by:
Abraham Zaleznik

Otto Kernberg is a leader in the psychoanalytic study of group psychology. In his latest book he draws on his many published papers on the subject, as well as his twenty-five years as a member and leader of a psychiatric and psychoanalytic organizations, to consider the causes and consequences of severe regressive phenomena in small groups, large organizations, and society more generally.

Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership clearly shows the theoretical influence of Freud's Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, (1921), Bion's Experiences in Groups (1959), Melanie Klein's contributions, and the work of the Tavistock Institute. Tavistock, through the work of A. K. Rice, developed a model of group training the purpose of which was to bring into awareness through experiential training the regressive potential of group and organizational processes.

Following Freud, Kernberg asserts that the role of the leader is crucial to the functioning of groups. The regressive group processes Kernberg deems central occur most often in consequence of the leader's behavior. In the training group model developed by Rice, the leader purposely withdraws, commenting solely in an interpretive mode on group process. The “absence” of the leader provokes regression so that participants experience group regression, their own fantasies and behavior under the influence of regressive modes, but also the subtleties of defense in reaction to a “leaderless” group. Bion's theoretical model is powerfully represented in this approach, as well as in this latest of Kernberg's studies in psychoanalytic group psychology.

Kernberg takes great care to differentiate his understanding of, and practical approaches to, group psychology. He is not a blanket endorser of the small- and large-group training exemplified in the work of Rice. For example, he believes it is paradoxical that the group leader's withdrawal creates the conditions of significant regression without the trainer's acknowledgment, acceptance, and perhaps understanding of his or her unconscious contributions to group regression. Further, Kernberg does not endorse the behavior of the trainers/leaders as a model of how group leaders in “real life” should behave.

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