Lay Psychological Thoughts on Authority, Decision-Making and Thought-Action Trajectories

By no means am I a psychologist, hence the title of this article, but I would like to offer some thoughts inspired lately by considering the subject of men, women, gender traits, and traditional roles. Specifically, I’d like to focus on authority and leadership, especially given the fact that, though women are still far behind men in leadership positions, the trend is definitely upward and will likely continue, as former U. S. Assistant Secretary of Defense and now Harvard professor Joseph Nye notes:

In the past, when women fought their way to the top of organisations, they often had to adopt a “masculine style”, violating the broader social norm of female “niceness”. Now, however, with the information revolution and democratisation demanding more participatory leadership, the “feminine style” is becoming a path to more effective leadership… That is a trend, not (yet) a fact.[1]

He is commenting more about high-level leadership positions in society, which is quite interesting, of course, but here I’m more concerned with the intimate personal-companional level. At this level, as well as the “higher” and, perhaps, more visible levels, it’s always been (mostly) “a man’s world.” This is stating the obvious, but I have to believe that traditional stereotypes and expectations are changing – being given the liberty to change – and that what is occurring, however slowly, at very visible, higher-level leadership positions is also occurring in the home. Is this good? First, is it understandable? To answer this question, I’d like to first present a scenario to introduce a couple of new (to myself, anyway) ideas, then move on to answer the former question.

Suppose James is in an awful, debilitating depression and, consequently, practically unable to function. In such a depressive state, and unable to effectively make sound decisions, he might say, in so many words, to his life companion, Jessica, “Take over, please,” or “call it, if you will, because I’m not thinking clearly,” or “take the wheel, please, otherwise I’m going to wreck.” This handing over to another willing and able person, in this case Jessica, thus alleviates the cognitive-emotional pressure the subject, James, cannot bear – as in bearing the load, the weight of the load – and then, consequently, renders recovery a greater possibility. Hardly anyone with whom I’m acquainted would disagree that this is an obvious, very understandable request-decision for James.

Of course, the person being asked must be wholly trusted by the subject, especially in a state of suffering, and also capable and willing, even decided, to lead and make decisions. The subject must also invest this person with full authority at that point, in order to make the complete transference of the weight of decision-making, thus voluntarily and completely removing the burden being assumed by the other. At this point I’d like to answer the question of whether or not Jessica is capable of assuming authority and leading, while noting that each individual is different, naturally, but Jessica is an example for the purpose of this illustration only; therefore, I’ll assume she is and this time take my queue from Professor Ronald E. Riggio:

There is a growing body of research that has studied the leadership styles and leadership “potential” of men and women, typically men and women managers (but also women in non-managerial positions). For example, using the theory of transformational leadership as an indicator of successful leadership (transformational leaders are inspirational, positive role models, concerned about followers, empowering, and push followers to be creative and take chances), research shows that women, as a group, have more transformational qualities than men. In other words, and based on this research, women have more leadership potential and tend to lead more effectively than men.[2]

In this excerpt, we should note that the research to which Dr. Riggio points includes “women in non-managerial positions,” as well as “women managers;” consequently, the scope extends beyond the corporate world (and mentality, thank God!) into other areas of life and, yes, women are able to lead. To put it another way, there is nothing innate, or part of the woman’s constitutional nature rendering her, generally speaking as the female of the homo sapien species, unable to assume authority, make decisions, and actually lead. Point in fact, the archetypal woman may be more distinctively qualified to lead than the “typical” man. This is especially good for James, who has been debilitated, but not to the point of not being able to realize – in the sense of realization – one possible, viable solution to his painful conundrum (who will make the important decisions now, while I’m in this awful state?)

And, after all, in James’ case, this may have nothing to do with innate ability, or lack thereof, but rather the mind thinking along one particular trajectory, resulting in acting along same trajectory – one of sickness (depression) and recovery (healing.) One will usually think along some particular trajectory, such as, perhaps, the creative-deconstructive trajectory. If someone is thinking along the trajectory of creation – deconstruction, for example, then she might write a story or poetry, compose a song, paint an attractive landscape portrait, etc. (or, for that matter, on the deconstructive side of the coin, edit or revise or commit some work to the flames. By deconstructive, I mean in the sense of dismantling and/or “taking away from,” not that the process engaged in is not ultimately, in the end, constructive.)

There are any number of trajectories, I believe, such as:

  • Authority/Leadership – Consent/Compliance
  • Creation – Deconstruction
  • Preparation – Improvisation

Having made this observation, then, I’d like to offer two more examples, or hypothetical cases, if you will:

Let’s say James is an artist. He spends most of his time and energy in the thought-action trajectory of creation – deconstruction. Consequently, he has very little time or energy to expend in the thought-action trajectory of authority/leadership – consent /compliance (which might also be, in other contextual settings, better described as discipleship, mere obedience, etc.) Now Jessica happens to be an intelligent, discerning, confident woman, who cares deeply about James – she is compassionate with wisdom – and also is inspirational, and all-in-all provides an excellent, trustworthy role model. She possesses the capability as well as the willingness to think-act along the trajectory of authority/leadership – consent/compliance; ready, willing, and able to take on the mantle of shepherdess, priestess, and regent, so to speak. She will be the matrona capita, not feminam tyrannuas, though.

Let’s now look at another hypothetical case. Let’s say Jessica is a nurse practitioner with advanced degree in health and human services, to boot. She spends an awful lot of her time and energy along the trajectory of health/healing – sickness/disease. While she may not have much time to think-act in an authority/leadership – consent/compliance trajectory, if James is an artist, then it only stands to reason that where the health and welfare of their household is concerned, Jessica will naturally think-act along the authority/leadership – consent/compliance trajectory subsumed under the primary health/healing – sickness/disease trajectory, i.e. the one becomes the lesser, parallel trajectory of the other.

What the first hypothetical case shows is that there are situations in which one is quite unable to assume authority, make decisions, and lead … even, or perhaps especially, where it concerns the subject personally. The second hypothetical situation exemplifies, hypothetically, a situation in which the subject is, perhaps, capable enough yet simply not able to take authority and lead (for the most part) because he is largely thinking-acting along another trajectory; he is largely invested in an ongoing, demanding, time-consuming occupation that will not allow him to think-act effectively along the trajectory of authority/leadership – consent/compliance. And part of the reason for this, too, may very well be that his thought-action trajectory is not very compatible with the other. (Creative artists, writers, musicians, etc. often do not guide, direct, administrate well.) The third hypothetical case exemplifies the subject, this time Jessica, as one having specific skills and capabilities above and beyond her companion, such that in that life area she naturally assumes authority and leadership. She is simply better qualified, so it would be reckless for James to insist on making health and welfare decisions for their household (how many ever members it may include, although the presence of children makes this much more crucial.)

One can (hopefully) easily see that in different situations and circumstances, the woman might just as easily take the lead as the man, and sometimes far more successfully. One might also conclude that, as is fortunately the case at least some of the time, leadership on an intimate personal-companional level is not either the man or the woman, but both the woman and the man. Here now I’d like to factor in personality types as another possibly important consideration. I’m not going to delve into specific personality tests, but some say there are sixteen types. Using this as a benchmark, then I’d like us to suppose Jessica ranks high in nurturing, inspiring, and decision-making. On the other hand, James ranks high in aestheticism, thinking, and reflective idealism. Who would naturally be better qualified, given their dominant personality traits, to take authority, make decisions, and lead? James or Jessica? If James is more the thinking, reflective-idealistic artist, who spends the greater amount of his time and effort along the thought-action trajectory of creation – deconstruction, then might he actually appreciate Jessica, his nurturing and inspiring companion, who is fully capable of good, sound decision-making, picking up the responsibility of authority and leadership within their relationship and domestic life? Would he probably not be extremely grateful to allow her to be whom and what she is naturally, that is, in her constitutional make-up? And, for that matter, wouldn’t Jessica also be grateful? After all, there’s nothing like trying to turn an aesthetic into an administrator!

Back to our first two questions: Taking situations and circumstances, personality types, character traits, gifts, talents, abilities, desires and willingness, etc. all into account, then I believe we can see that women certainly can lead and, more often than many may want to admit, ought to lead. This is by no means an universal conclusion. As stated above, every individual is different; however, one proposition ought to be certain, and that is that the man in such a relationship as that of James and Jessica ought not to feel ashamed, or less than a “real” man, for deferring to his counterpart in an interdependent, healthy relationship of deep and mutual love, respect and trust.

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[1] Joseph S. Nye, “When Women Lead the World,” as published in Aljazeera on February 27, 2012, and accessed May 21, 2015

[2] Ronald E. Riggio, PhD, “Do Men and Women Lead Differently? Who’s Better?” as re-published by Psychology Today earlier published by Cutting Edge Leadership on March 23, 2010, accessed on May 21, 2015

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