The Psychology of Leadership

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 Needed

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

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