How irrational may an entrepreneur be

In Entrepreneurial Leadership on February 2, 2010 at 5:42 pm

This week’s reflection included “The Anatomy of the Entrepreneur: Clinical Observations”, in which Manfred FR Kets De Vries, professor at INSEAD, France and psychoanalyst. He starts with a brief summary of the role of work in psychoanalytic theory, followed by an overview of brief factors important to entrepreneurship from various perspectives, but the most compelling part of the article is his description of one entrepreneur named “Mr. X” who chose to be treated through psychoanalysis after facing serious collapses in his marriage and his company. 

I found this case very fascinating and one that brought hope to an otherwise seemingly insolvable situation. It made so much sense based on my experience with myself and with people around me.  I like when the author says that “running a business is not necessarily a rational process”.  This is especially true when the business is led by someone with irrational behaviors.  While this case might be seen by many as “an extreme” or “disturbing”, I actually have seen quite a bit of dysfunctional behaviors displayed by many people in middle and senior management levels of the corporate environment in top companies I worked for and with that resemble a lot of the behaviors Mr. X showed.   This particular case explains the complexity of people and individuals and how their resolved or unresolved issues of the “inner theatre” have extensive repercussions within an organization in reaching its highest potential.  

The case reminds me of what I learned a few years ago about the concept of strengths gone wrong, in other words, when certain strengths that and nurture success in positive environments flourish, but may cause “derailment” in stressful environments (for example, someone with very strong ego may derail into eccentricity or melodrama).  A former company offered those with “high potential” the “Hogan” or “derailer” test so that we became aware of those character traits and keep them in check.  However, as with most academics and researchers, the actual study of the why of certain character traits and behaviors was not addressed. This case reminds us that it is really up to us individually to look for help when certain strengths become serious, potentially damaging derailers.  

We all have “baggage”, some simple to change or control, some deep enough to be troubling. I believe our professor included this “unusual” case in our curriculum so that we see that it is important as entrepreneurial leaders that we take a look inside ourselves, identify and address the potential derailers resulting from our past, especially the more damaging and serious ones, which if left unresolved would eventually leave us with unrealized potential and in worse case scenarios put our enterprises (and lives) in serious trouble.  Mr. X and others that had dysfunctional backgrounds and exhibit dysfunctional behaviors as peers and leaders in an enterprise can and may have success in their businesses and careers up to a certain degree, based on their true talents of creativity, advantage, focus and ego.  But a success to be sustainable, maximized and exponentially multiplied requires continuous self awareness, a will to change and to look for help when needed.

What are some examples of dysfunctional behaviors by leaders, executives and entrepreneurs you have observed?

What do you think is the key to their success despite of such behaviors?

  1. Sometimes what appears to be irrationality may generate innovative outcomes. Interesting post and thanks for sharing.


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