Home Concepts Interpersonal Relationships Interpersonal Needs and The Human Spectrum

Interpersonal Needs and The Human Spectrum

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When it comes to reactive need for control, there is typically much less obviously manifestation of this need. As the name implies, members of the group who want other people to step in and take control or at least exert considerable influence usually just sit back and watch the battle for control take place. Typically, they line up with the “Winner” of the control issue and are relieved when the issue of control is finally resolved.

Often, the reactive perspective on control is engaged by those who have been marginalized in the group – and come from a strong tradition of being asked (or forced) to remain quite and inactive while the decision regarding leadership is being decided. As a woman, minority, young person or person with disabilities, the assumption is often made that they are automatically ineligible for a position of leadership—and they are not expected to be very influential. While their opinion might be tolerated (after all “we are all interested in what you have to say . . . “), they often are hesitant to speak up and assume that their opinion and advice will never be taken seriously.

As I did in the case of the need for inclusion, I wish to illustrate the dynamics of proactive and reactive control by offering a couple of brief case studies from my own work as a consultant. First, let me illustrate what happens when there is a predominance of reactive control—which is commonly found in the communes of the 1960s. I had the opportunity work with several of the “hippy” commons during my early years as an organizational consultant. In many cases, these highly visionary and seemingly collaborative communities were struggling with issues about control, authority and leadership. While members of the communes often desperately wanted to be living in a world of openness and trust, they couldn’t get past the issue of control (an important point that I will turn to later). When most members of a group don’t want there to be any control (laissez-faire) or look passively for other people to take control, then the group is often dysfunctional. Furthermore, this type of group is also quite vulnerable to being taken over by a highly charismatic leader who offers not just absolute control but also a false paradise of absolute openness (requiring only a comparable absolute allegiance to them as the leader).

I can turn, on the other hand, to an organizational consultation I did with the leaders of a major church in North America. This is a church that has a strong commitment to biblical values and aspirations. The leaders who I was working with were becoming increasingly concerned with the hierarchical nature of their own church. They noted that the early Christian church (as described in the New Testament) was not hierarchical (perhaps an example of what today we would call a “self-organizing system”). Why not restructure their church so that it is less reliant on traditional modes of authority and control. They became architects who purposefully looked at existing models of nonhierarchical organizations (including the self-management systems being deployed in manufacturing firms such as Volvo). They didn’t mind that these were “secular” institutions—they could still provide guidance. Unlike the communes with which I worked, these church leaders were not running away from control, but rather discovering the way to best allocate and manage control in their organization (church). They were trying (with considerable success) to create a “lukewarm” Goldlockian organizational structure that had theological integrity. Quite an ambitious undertaking.

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