Web Paper Title: "Johari Window and the Psychodynamics of Leadership and Influence in Intergroup Life"

by David M. Boje, Ph.D.

Born on: October 30, 2001


I begin by defining what is a stretch, so openness does not get confused with stretch. Then I move into how to expand your personal power as a leader by being authentic and real as opposed to being plastic, in some kind of facade, or just silent and invisible. I extend this idea of leadership as openness to large groups (and organization) settings, where leadership is oftentimes enacted at the bequest of the silent majority so as not to confront unconscious intergroup assumptions that Bion is famous for uncovering in what is called the Tavistock Method. We begin with you as a leader, and your (un) willingness to tell others who you are and (un) willingness to obtain feedback. We then move to how this plays out in the large group, in our attempts at dialog as a class. This may or may not reflect your work situation, where perhaps you are quite a different person. Being different people in different situations, makes sense in the new leadership theories.  I argue that, to some small extent, your behavior in class and at work allows us to study the same dynamic-process as any large organization, and you are the same leader or non-leader here, as you are there, in some but not all ways.


JoHari WINDOW Known to Self Not Known to Self
Known to Others OPEN BLIND
Not Known to Others HIDDEN UNKNOWN

Figure i: The Four JoHari Window Panes (click on window-pane to go there).

Wilfred Bion discovered three subconscious assumptions about leadership that are manifest in large groups (and most organizations). We can go the large group dialog route, and arrive at the same end as traveling the way of JoHari Window. Get to same place either way.


STEP ONE - Follow these instructions - While the survey you will be asked to take, deals with feedback and advice in your friendships. This is very important; I would like you to take it and substitute the word worker (subordinate, peer, associate) for "friend" when you take the test.  This will put JoHari into a professional workplace context.

STEP TWO - Take the JoHari Online Test (Once upon a time there wre two versions of the test on line. Both are gone. If anyone knows where to find the JoHari Window test pleace, let me know - David Boje 505-532-1693 - thank you. In the interim try the INTERACTIVE JoHari test (pick 5 words and get a diagnosis). Rest of this study guide is based on the longer version.

STEP THREE - interpret the scores and draw your own JoHari Window -- Transfer the scores you gave to each answer to the answer sheet at the end of the survey.  Then add the two columns.

STEP FOUR - Read the following handout to verify your scores, and change the window as appropriate.  Please use it as a way to analyze your own leadership style, how open you are, how you solicit or do not solicit feedback.   "Open: here means open in sharing your motivations, views, values, ethics, concerns, and hurts with others.

STEP FIVE - We know that leadership is situational. That in some situations, you are called upon to be more open or more closed than you are in a situation without stress.  Think this through as you work on what follows.

Here we are focused on work-behavior, not from home-behavior; the stuff that occurs at work.


This article is about the relationship between "intergroup" psychodynamics of organizational change and constraints upon the individual, especially the leader, to act according to some group-defined "facade."  A facade, such as "dependency of the large group on a leader as a (parental) Messiah, to keep its members from infantile behavior" comes from the large group (and in corporations from organizational) "unconscious assumptions," and from individual personality traits. The result is that reality-testing and authentic behavior give way to splitting, projecting, dependency, and fight-flight conflicts.  Leaders learn to adopt traits or behaviors consistent with this arena, yet find their career shortchanged.

Life is theater, and we play many roles in our time, making many entrances and exits, so Shakespeare tells us.  Johari Window is about learning to be more open with others and to get more feedback so you learn about your own blind spots.

To expand your Leadership (Green area) in JoHari, I have the Red and Yellow Pills to offer, so that may discover more about your leadership style and potentiality without Bion. The Red Pill is disclosure and the Yellow pill is willingness to take in feedback. Leaders who do not disclose and do not take feedback, do not make very effective leaders.

By taking the Red and Yellow pills we become a more Open Leader, and the Unknown influences disappear. Not asking for total openness, just for you to stretch a bit more than where you are at now.

Some traits derail leadership and organizational effectiveness.  People stay in their plastic facade rather than risk the punishment the organization-majority culture (i.e. the 'silent majority') meets out for being authentic. Instead the intergroup dynamics (between in group and out group) are such that dependency, pairing, and fight-flight conflicts consume much of the human energy that could be put to more productive use.  In this article we will look at JoHari Window as a way to be authentic, and at the intergroup dynamics manifest in most organizations that keep authenticity from being an option.  I contend that most MBAs have enough work experience, learning to be inauthentic, that they keep their authentic windows closed, and the shades drawn, to be point they are either imperceptible or project a facade that is not terribly authentic.

A recent leadership survey of 5000 professionals concludes that over 69% of leaders exhibit various personality traits that effectively derail their careers (DDI, 2001).  16% have a leadership style that is so "imperceptive" that they are just "unknown" question marks to those around them. They are invisible and provide no guidance or direction to the organization. 23% micromanage everything and everyone to the point that people want them to just leave. And 30% are "overly concrete." DDI has identified 11 such "derailers:" impulsiveness, low tolerance for ambiguity, arrogance, micromanaging, self-promotion, volatility, an aversion to risk, defensiveness, a lack of perception, too much dependence on approval, and eccentricity. The question is, if you were derailing your potential as a leader, would you willingly solicit feedback? Due to the psychodynamics of leadership, most would not stretch themselves by opening themselves to feedback or by making their authentic self visible so people could give any feedback.

While we will focus on work behavior, I think there is a connection between home and work behavior. In both, we deide how feedback or its lack, masking our disclosure by facade, or being more authentic in our work relations affects our leadership and personal power.

In today's work organization, there can be good reasons for not moving beyond your facade to expose yourself to feedback. The organization participants project a collective binary opposition or dichotomy, common to Western corporations. This takes the form of valorizing a majority way of being, while denigrating and repressing a marginal group.  Carr (2001: 421) calls this "splitting," the dichotomizing of the world into "good" and "bad" that is accompanied by projective identification. One group and its role models represent the dominant way of being a leader, and all anxieties and contradictions are projected onto the marginal group. Melanie Klein (1997), extending Freud's work, found that in infant development, the new-born encounters the good breast and the bad breast; satisfying infant desires is the good breast, not meeting those desires in perceived as being bad. The infant is not able to cope with the extreme anxiety of having the same object (breast) be good and bad at the same time, therefore projects their anxieties by splitting feelings of love and hate, they project onto a "good breast" and a "bad breast" (Seel, 2001: 494).  Splitting is given other names like binaryism, dichotomous thinking, duality reasoning, and scapegoating. To learn critical thinking, is to move beyond splitting or binaryism to more complex forms of logic and analysis.

Organizations play out infantile anxiety dynamics, such as splitting. The dominant group defines what is appropriate leader and follower behavior to the firm (i.e. "good breast"), then sets up the "bad breast," that marginal group that causes all their problems. . The dynamics get worked out in ways that oftentimes the most derailing personality traits such as being imperceptive, micromanaging, and being overly concrete become the leader traits of the dominant group. The dynamics work out such that the marginal group becomes the bad guy, and acting in any kind of authentic mode of being is no longer a "rational" choice for either group. Our instinct for self-preservation prompts us to engage in conformity behaviors that actually sabotage our own effectiveness, as well as organizational performance.

There is a good deal of research to suggest that MBA students and executives exhibit these same dynamics in large group discussions, which is why most pedagogical structures just keep such discussion from happening (Bion, 1952, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1967a, b, 1970; Bion & Rickman, 1943; Seel, 2001). Silence provokes anxiety and projection in most of us, and this is the basis of large group intergroup dynamic processes. Given a void, the collective unconscious as well as our own individual unconscious desires create a living theater.  There have been MBA and executive programs, that have engaged in pedagogical practices that turn large group anxiety into a way to teach intergroup dynamics, develop leadership talent, and allow individuals to get feedback on their "blind spots" and in the process students learn what might be derailing their career effectiveness.

While teaching at UCLA (1979-1986), we taught MBAs in a style called the "Nuke" (slang for Nucleus Course). The 'silent bell' would ring and I would take my seat in the large group circle of 30 to 40 students and be quiet. Silence was a contest and the first one who spoke, triggered the intergroup dynamics that would focus the day.  I knew if I spoke first, I would be consumed by the unconscious powers of the large group. Used to structure, withholding it for a few minutes provoked verbal assaults, "what kind of teacher are you? what experience do you have? Why should I listen to you?"  In the leadership void I allowed, some unwitting student would provide the structure I did not elect to offer, and the "Nuke" would begin. The Nuke was our term for a series of meltdowns that occurred as the large group projected several unconscious assumptions into the void.  "Fine, if this jerk won't lead, I am not going to waste my time, I will lead. Let us do this and that." And those who spoke would be eventually consumed. "What kind of leader are you? Who appointed you leader?" The leader struggles for power and control, and just any behavior to fill the structural void would rock the Business College. The symbolic eating of leaders is a large group cannibalistic event that taught us much, but it was quite a painful form of learning and the year I left, the Nuke was abandoned.

Now I am at New Mexico State University, and I never try three or more minutes of silence, to create a void out of which large group intergroup dynamics will emerge.   Yet, there is a need to accomplish the same pedagogical objectives, to learn about how to have personal power as a leader, to learn the relationship between the individual psyche and large group unconscious assumptions.  So now we do, what I have come to call the "stretch."

What is Stretch? There are several aspects to "stretch." One, is learning to think critically from several vantage points, and moving beyond dualistic, like it/hate it; good versus evil, stereotypic analytic skills (Boje, 2000).  A second form of stretch is to try new behaviors.  I want to speak about a third type of stretch, one that I think is essential to being a leader, and to understanding the intergroup influences that dominate our existence. 

Part I - the JoHari Window

This third stretch is captured in the Johari Window.  I will adapt this classic theory, by looking at how leaders (a) stop hiding, and reveal and disclose their authentic persona, and (b) welcome or discourage feedback that would empower a leader to learn about their blind spots, the image leaders project (how they keep shooting themselves in the foot). In Part II, of this article, I will return to the psychodynamics of large group dynamics the keep our Green JoHari window pane fairly closed, with two shade drawn over that pane.

In Johari, there are two window shades, one moving vertically to hide or disclose who we are, what we think, and especially our life story. This is all hidden from others we lead. Then there is the shade that moves horizontally to take in feedback from others (or not) that would let us see (not be blind).  My hypothesis is that effective leaders are more open than ones who maintain huge Yellow or Blind areas (unknown to self, yet known to others) and Red or  Hidden areas (known to self, but unknown to others).  There are limits, and full openness may be ineffective in some situations. Yet, with no openness, who can trust a leader, how do we know them at all, and if they never speak or listen, how effective can they be as a leader? But, please remember, Johari is not the only way to "stretch" as a leader.


Johari WINDOW Known to Self Not Known to Self
Known to Others OPEN Blind
Not Known to Others HIDDEN UNKNOWN

Figure 1: The Four Johari Window Panes (click on window-pane to go there).

History and Application - The Johari Window is a contraction of the first names of  Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (1969).  It is both a model of influence and of leadership.  It describes the human interaction in our Mgt503 class (or any organization you might imagine). There are four panes to the Johari Window, each with a unique color.  There are four window panes, Green, Yellow, Red, and Black. The lines dividing the four Johari panes are like window shades. And it is up to each leader to raise or lower their window shade or move it left to right. Each person in the 503 class has their own unique Window Pane configuration. They have a vertical window shade that opens others to who they really are.  And they have a horizontal shade (left to right) that allows others to educate them on how their leadership and influence empowers or disempowers their self.   Some people are comfortable with only a little bit of openness; others open the shades both ways, and their charisma and personal power shines to the entire world.  I think of Gandhi who keep very little hidden and keep moving to remove the blind spots, and sought more enlightenment over time. He strived to be authentic, to be as open as he could be. 


Figure 2: Small Green Window Pane

Green "Open" is the space where you have personal power; you have a voice, and there is authenticity and transparency between what is known to self and what is known to others.  People who are silent in 503 are not leaders. They have a very small Green window pane. They take no risk to disclose to others who their self really is. Here we are focused on their professional work behavior, not disclosing their secret other lives. And they invite no feedback from others at work, who see through their silent facade. Even as we are silent at work, others can still know more about how we influence and are influenced than we know about our self.  In Figure 2 is a person who is silent, not sharing their hidden spots (keeping lots of secrets), and not getting any feedback on their Hidden (hiding from all feedback). They can not be effective leaders since people find they blind side themselves and they are so hidden that everyone finds them unclear, not only uncommunicative, but untrustworthy.  What are they hiding? Why do they not take feedback to heart in the workplace? The longer they stay in the shell of dark silence after a conflict at a meeting or other work-encounter, or (at the other extreme) in some kind of pseudo-character-facade, that is far from their inner self, the harder it becomes to Open their Green pane.  You are Green when your unknown shrinks, as in Figure 2, and your openness projects so that people can tell you what you are blind to (and they see), and your hidden shrinks since you have made it OK for you to educate others about the authentic you; the values, beliefs, preferences, rationale you have for the strategic action you are taking and your open challenge of what others propose.



                            ---> Ask for Feedback




Disclose and Tell about Self in Public


Figure 3: Large Green Window Pane

Figure 3 is a Green leader who has expanded their personal power in two ways. To the right, they shrink the Blind by taking in feedback from other people in the workplace. As you learn more from others at work (and open self up to others at work about work issues), there is less your are Blind about, concerning your self in the workplace. 

Secondly, you move vertically to reduce the Hidden that others see, by sharing your Self to the public. That can be telling your story of what you are trying to do in a work situation, sharing your critical perspective of corporate strategy and practice, and letting people see the you behind the leadership mask.  It takes tremendous mental energy to not be open, to hide, to not put yourself in places where feedback happens in the workplace.  I worked with managers in aerospace who got their performance reviews by staring through a window pane into a manager's office, because that person could not give the feedback directly.  In other cases, there were serious performance issues, but no one in management would deal with them.  It was an easier way out, just to contract out the entire service than to deal with a confronting a few strange and clearly out-of-bounds personalities. 

In both ways (horizontally and vertically), you as a leader move out of the pseudo facade shell of the Unknown, reduce your Blind spots, and reduce your Hidden, and increase your Openness. As you do so, what is unknown to you about your personal power becomes less. Again, we are talking about work place facade, not your behaviors and practices in the rest of your non-work lives.

I want to be a Green Leader. You know some things about me, my name was Dave and now it is David, I am divorced, and remarried, and I have two lovely granddaughters. I can hide that or I can share it. If I share it, I relate to those with a similar storyline.  I grew up rich then sunk into welfare, then became first in my family tree to attend college, then became a Ph.D.  I can share that or pretend I am not who I am. When I pretend, others will eventually figure me out, and I lose their trust anyway.  I get a lot of feedback from friends, students, colleagues, and as I do so my hidden shrinks. And I disclose who I am, and over time there is more feedback, and there is not much that is blind to me.  Yet, I learn everyday, and there are still Blind spots, my close friends alert me to, so I do not have to discover them the hard way.  I am a leader who takes the Red Pills, willing to take an unpopular stand, to be a vegetarian among the omnivores, to be anti-sweatshop among the greedy, to be green when others are predatory, and to be for peace when others are for war. If a leader just does what is popular, they are not a leader, they are just following the fashion; they are situationally a follower, a leader of the moment.   I have some unknown left to conquer. My inner enemy is how I can be loving in the midst of conflict, how to be caring to an enemy in my writing, and how to be gentle with an attacker in my words and thoughts. 

I grew up in the darkness of the unknown. Big Red - There were years when I did not say a word in class, all through grade school, middle, and high school; not a word was spoken. As I went to college, I made a vow, to say one thing no matter the consequence in each and every class. In a lecture hall where I am one of 500 students, this was a huge step to helping others not try to Hide me.  Big Yellow - Taking feedback used to make me cry (sometimes still does); people are not always sensitive or constructive with feedback; I do not have a think skin.  I would read the course reviews and weep, and had no way to learn, since the feedback was never exact or specific, so I did not know what to do any differently. As I obtained feedback from caring others and great communicators (I encountered) in my life, I was able to learn that much of the feedback was about the Other, and not about me. And here and there I learned where my Blind Spots were; how I disempowered myself.  I am better able to separate what is a loving concern from what is an attempt to hurt me; I do not accept all feedback; some is meant to harm.  I am quite sensitive about people who would commit violence on my being.  I have the heart and force of an elephant (we are both vegetarian), and when cornered, it is harder to stay in the loving.  Still to lead those who have never stepped into the Green, I know what is required.



Figure 4: Large Yellow Window Pane


Yellow "Blind" is known to others, and not know to self. It is the space of influence where your influence on others has not much openness. Others see you not being open, and only being Blind to you, and do not know if you can be trusted not to hurt yourself.  Former Presidents Nixon and Clinton had major Blind Spts. When the feedback on their leader performance came (Nixon's lies and Clinton's sexual in the Oval Office), they did not have much to be Blind about, yet each desperately tried to deny and refuse all the feedback that came to them.  They were Yellow leaders, unable to take feedback, but able to project a mighty facade. "I am not a crook" said Nixon.  It is through authentic feedback with a buddy, that you come to know your blind (Yellow) side of yourself. Have you seen the child that covers their eyes and thinks they are invisible to the world; that no one can see them? Who is blind?  Others do see them, and see right through whatever facade they enact.  Figure 4 is someone with a Large Yellow Blind area, as they act out a Facade that is not the Open self that is caged within that facade.  A buddy can help expand the Green, and lessen the person's Blind (from Self), by giving authentic feedback about how you influence the world around you, and mostly how you influence your buddy.

As for me, I can take lots of feedback when it is given from a loving spirit. I am already a perfectionist, so when I learn I am not being perfect, I head for the squirrel cage.  I jump on that wheel, and run and run, until, I have beat myself up for not being perfect in every way.  Yellow is so frightening. I wonder why removing Yellow and replacing it with Green is frightening?  I want Yellow to go away, but I keep finding places I need to grow, and things I do that drive people crazy.  I know for example, that people want structure from me. But, I also know that giving structure to the Yellows and Reds does not help them find Green. I usually just give them more options, hoping they will find their own way, which seems to make them more uncomfortable around me. But, others who structure themselves, seem to just move along and find Green quite easily.   It is not an all or nothing Green Pane. There are limits to Green, and I will always have some Yellow and Red in me.



Figure 5: Large Red Window Pane


Red "Hidden" spot is known to you, but you do not allow yourself to be known by others around you (Hidden is also known as the "Facade"). You keep others at a distance by having your secrets, by hiding the real and wondrous you. There are so many Hidden (invisible) and Red people, I can not list them all.  You know who you are. Your voice is silent in public. You only take the popular stand. You applaud the majority. You try not to be noticed. Or, if you speak, it is not you that speaks, but some imitation of a person that you expect others want to see before them.  The facade can be quite verbal, and really out there, but it is a false person that speaks.  It is good to protect our inner child from harm. There are people who have hurt you. You have withdrawn to a safe place. But, since the real you is not doing the influence, your personal leadership power is not as great as it might be. You know this to be true. You feel trapped, but what can you do?  You know the answer is to take the plunge, and just be yourself.

To take the Red Pill, I know what that means. It is to step into the spotlight, but instead of being a character in the spectacle, to present the spectacle with a really festive person.   The Red Pill can be dangerous.  There is always the risk that you might share some personal failure and violate some mega social norm, that says you are now an unworthy person. Kelly and McKillop (1996: 450) believe that self-disclosure of personal secrets has its dangers.  If you give away your secrets, are you giving others power over you? Personally, I disagree. I think it is the secret that gives others power over you. The secrets become your personal prison.  When it is not a secret, their power over you vanishes.  It take mass quantities of mental energy to maintain secrets. You end up using all your personal power to keep the Red zone big, and Green never happens. 

Secrets Game - I have done this exercise called "Secrets." People get to disclose any secret they want that they are slightly uncomfortable sharing. This does not mean sharing a secret that sends you into convulsions or makes you faint with fright. These are usually small secrets. Each person has a unique discomfort level disclosing a secret in public. What will they think of me? I will never get a job from them? They will never be my friend? When you are a minority, in a majority culture, the psychological pressure is even greater. I do not want them to see my vulnerable points; they can not be trusted; they might hurt me badly.

Are there secrets you never reveal. If you are raped, send to prison for murder, or commit bank fraud, should you tell all?  Perhaps Yes, perhaps No. These are individual choices. I know some who have gained wisdom from major tragedy and come back to make it the pillar of their leadership. Some of the Watergate gang, are examples. I know others who just put it behind them, it does not consume their energy to not tell, and they just stretch a little and reveal something that is not about rape, murder, addiction, or fraud. 

Yet, there are a majority of people who do worry so that even a little secret will trip them up. They worry about social acceptance, about being politically correct. Can such a person live their own life? Can they lead anyone anywhere, except in the most politically correct, and often most oppressive kinds of situations?

There is no universal answer to the Red Pill. What you share and what level of intensity you share, there are for you to decide.  Beware of the secrets game. When you are first to share a small secret is a big deal to the spectators. As you go down the line, and each shares, that good old MBA competitiveness sets in. "I must share a secret bigger than the last one." If this dynamic happens in a group, then try not to be last in line. If you have ever skated, and played a game called the human chain (or whip) you know what I mean. Those closer to the center experience a bit of turbulence as the human chain pulls those at the outer regions along. But, if you are one of the people at the end of the whip, you get some major G-forces.  So if your group plays the secrets game, please observe some rules:

  1. No pressure to out do everyone else by telling bigger an bigger secrets.
  2. What is said in the group, stays in the group, and may never be retold out of the group (even to a spouse).
  3. Unconditional acceptance.
  4. No use of the word "should" in response to someone who has shared.

The point is to validate the Green pane by lessening the Red. People have pain around Red.

My Red spot is shrinking rapidly. I begin each first day of 503 class telling as many secrets as I am able. Those little Red Pills, for me, just cause all kinds of secrets known to me, to just become nothing.  I somehow am able to put myself on stage, and enter into the arena of the real, to be one with a feeling, and let the spectators gaze. These are stories that, for me, are important sources of the wisdom I have found in my experience. Life has been a teacher, and I am the student.   As an NT (iNtuitive Thinker), I search for how to express a "feeling." If you know Myers-Briggs or Spock on the Star Trek series (a model NT) you know what I mean.  I am able to call forth the loving feeling, and then the rage feeling, then the sad feeling, and here and there, the comedy feeling (I laugh at myself). I am becoming more theatric and more feeling; I do not want to limit my options to just NT. This for me is a 'stretch' out of the box of leadership, I was born and socialized into. 

The Leadership Box - I have this box I call leadership. It has three dimensions. First the X dimension, the  transaction to the transformational duality. I move away from bureaucratic transaction to transformational in 503, since you already know what transactional leaders do. Then there is Y dimension, which is really quite a stretch of the box, a duality running from will-to-serve to will-to-power. During my cult days in the Christian church, I believed I was to serve everyone else, but this only spent me, and wasted my energy and my body. I still have this will to serve. I am discovering my will-to-power in my reading of Nietzsche.  I seek to find my personal power, and know that I can use this power to be a steward of Mother Earth, to end sweatshops, and to bring forth a Vegetarian Capitalism.  As such, I am playing both ends of this duality at once, and I am playing in the middle; it is my way to resituate this duality. In the third dimension of leadership, the Z, we get to the topic of voice.  There are leaders who are the single and only voice of the organization (bureaucratic). Then beyond this mono voice, are ways of leading that are more polyphonic, more able to deal with diversity of voices, and a plurality of perspectives. When I lecture, sometimes the voice is just being the bureaucrat, safe in imposing the one.  I notice as I get old I become more mono. But then I switch and turn on the plurality, and seek the democratic governance.  Not a vote, but a dialog, where people work through the differences to respect differences, to cultivate and see them as resource, rather than enemy.



Figure 6: Large Black Window Pane

Black "Unknown" window pane is what you and others just do not know about your influence and leadership.  The Open is small in leadership; you do not communicate much to be able to influence anyone else.  You have much to discover. You have unknown potential that you have yet to explore. You have yet to put yourself out there to reduce your Hidden, or make it OK for others to give you feedback to reduce your Blind spots. Perhaps you just do not want to know the unknown you.  But, then what is education, if not a like long quest into the unknown? And perhaps you do not put yourself out there by disclosing your personal story, your journey through life, the trials and successes that have made you. So others do not know you, they have to access to your personal story. You stay hidden. You are as unknown to them.  All is black to you and to them. If you never take in feedback your dark side expands and you never learn about your unknown. And there is a loss of your wisdom to humanity.

For me, there is a huge unknown about leadership and influence. I call it moving "out of the leadership box." By this I mean moving out of the X, Y, and Z three dimensional model of leadership to what is unknown. To me this is postmodern leadership, the stuff of theatrics and taking the Red and Yellow pills.  This quest, for me, necessitates the risk of self-disclosure, and it require that I submit myself to feedback, even then the Other is not able to be loving about their feedback to me. Even taking feedback when it hurts, but not so much that I am incapacitated. Even taking a risk to perform in public, then I might bomb like I can only imagine.  Yet, with each success and more with each failure, I am able to step out of the box. For me stepping out of the box of (modern) leadership is to build my critical thinking skills and to pursue the philosophy of critical postmodernism. Critical postmodern intersects critical pedagogy, critical theory, postmodern, and global (anti) racism. 

Part II - The Psychodynamics of the Large Group

Dialog - A class such as 503 learns over time to engage in large group dialog. We do not yet know how to talk in a large group, especially one rich in racial and cultural diversity. We are much more diverse than MBA classes I taught at UCLA. Large groups unleash all kinds of anxiety. Yes it is easier at the small group level, yet the big group stage is where the pedagogic action is. The large group dynamic is interesting in that the individual acts to reduce all possibility that they would suffer attack from another group member.  As individuals withdraw from large group participation, the pressure of their inner anxieties project aspects of "bad breast" (unwanted aspects of the self) onto the large group. They become "not themselves," acting more modest, deferential, unnoticeable and invisible. People are inhibited in the large group, "they rear that their words will seem silly or inadequate" (Seel, 2001: 496). People feel the stuckness or lack of cohesion in the large group, and powerful large group dynamics emerge as various individuals seek to provide leadership. But, in intergroup dynamics, the unconscious emotions of the large group and its silent majority kick in: they want the safety of being led, but at the same time they will devour anyone who leads, since they want to lead themselves. Safe environments are a "cop out."

Small groups are safe and as we move to large group, safe risk vanishes. There is the one-on-one buddy to buddy level (one on one feedback), at the level of small groups (of three to six) where feedback and disclosure is easier for most, and at the large plenary sessions (30 to 100) where life gets more threatening, and few are able to give feedback or disclose much authenticity without people running from the room (flight) or sending forth the combaters (fight). The large group dialog is for me the most challenging situations you and I will ever lead.

I have some ideas on large group leadership, ones different from my Nuke days at UCLA. Advice, set some ground rules about active listening. Try to create an environment of trust, yet this means also confronting with authenticity situations where pain is inflicted in some unknowing way by someone who perhaps does not know the harm they cause to others beyond themselves.  Creating trust, means confronting distrustful behaviors, head to head. Finding trust, also means setting ground rules (such as those in the Secrets Game). There are other good ground rules for large group dialog:

  1. Listen to one another with sensitivity, so the conflicts deescalate and dialog turns from war to peace
  2. Avoid interrupting another who is disclosing, since that is a vulnerable time, and with an interruption, will come the conflict. 
  3. Then there is the trust that others who have never done large group dialog will do it poorly, then quickly learn by feedback and the risk of disclosing, will do it better and better. 
  4. Savor the silence. Watch who jumps first, and what the large group response is to their attempts to structure.

More on structure -  if you keep it in place, then the Green is very small, the Black is huge. Structure is easy, just micro-manage everything, make it all paint-by-numbers, and fill the air time with monolog.  But as you move into self-disclosure and into feedback in the large group,  the Black shrinks as people take the Yellow and Red pills.  Do not over-react. We really have not done to much time in large group discussion. Only a few times, did I let the discussion move from its safe haven to some unknown encounter.  Mostly I just lecture and you sit and listen; or some group plays this role. The same few people speak over and over again, and most just stay silent. And many of the silent voices, have the most intellectual things to say. So for the majority, it is just safe to not speak, to not risk, to not stretch. And this silent majority is in control. The air time gets filled by a few voices, and soon the bell will ring. The silent ones once again swallow the Blue pill.

This is the blue pill.

Taking lots of blue pills, has the following effects. First, a few talkers are controlled by the silent majority and given the task of doing all the feedback. Second, in the psychodynamics of large groups we experience what is called the "intergroup phenomenon." 

Intergroup, Large Group, and Leaders Who act out Unconscious-Group Assumptions - Please understand that all large groups engage in intergroup psychodynamics. That is the large group, the silent majority, actually pulls the puppet strings of those who unwittingly play out the groups unconscious fantasy roles. Thus, the name "intergroup," since the dynamics of group differences (gender, racial, age-difference, socioeconomic, political, etc.) are played out by a few well-chosen characters.  Wilfred Bion (1906-1976) identified three "unconscious" intergroup psychodynamics in large groups (and organizations). Bion simply went into a room with a large number of adults and sat in a chair and did not say a word. As the silence became too much to bear, the group was observed to engage in three subconsciously scripted and then enacted on-stage dramas:

  1. Pairing - The unconscious large group assumption that the 'purpose of the group is to span a pair who will miraculously become the focus of our attention and inspire some miraculous solution to all our problems.' The majority of people are silent, and live out their sex/love/romance fantasy by watching a pair (or multiple pairs) perform and act out the theatrical themes of the entire group.  Pairing is vicariously enjoyed as distraction, and as entertainment by the group. Time wastes away and the large group never has to deal with its issues. Relevant to leadership, is the large group, subconsciously, must allow two (sometimes three or more) people to break away from the group to become the leaders, and all others the spectators. The pair is pushed to the center stage (or allowed to linger on the stage) to 'save' the group from ever dialoging about their anxieties and issues; very safe. The pair is a 'Messiah' saving the group from confronting issues.
  2. Fight-Flight - The unconscious assumption of a large group that 'we are gathered here to fight and to flee and are incapable of doing any other behavior.'  The assumption, stated differently, is that when anything threatening happens, the large group prompts a few people to fight or flee, thus confirming they are not capable as a large group of functional behavior. Another formulation is, the behavior of the large group exhibits anger and hostility towards subgroups, and any leader. "There is a struggle in the group between the good and the bad, which enlightens a split in the group, and there is much talk around a topic instead of talk about topics" (Jørgensen 7).  This behavior of the silent majority keeps their own aggressiveness and hate off the center stage.  The silent majority live out their hate and fear of some threat (leader or subgroup), by leaving a space where two or several individuals can engage in mortal conflict or just flee, before the group (sometimes this is two group members representing subgroups, other times the leader and one other person who acts out the phantasm assumption of the group). As Emery explains it "t is either expressed (they get mad and fight) or covert (they withdraw in anger.)"  Behind the scenes the silent ones are busily "flaming" and "fanning" the fire so that the central characters in their psychodrama will fight and flee. The silent ones also encourage by body language, and lots of hallway talk, the conflicting parties to act out the fantasy of 'all we are capable of is fight and flight' on the large group stage. Often this can be a fight between genders, between races, age groups, or socioeconomic subgroups in the larger group.  There are many occasions to scapegoat, to focus large group attention on the one, as if it is only the one that has such feelings.
  3. Dependency - The unconscious large group assumption that 'we come together to gratify our dependency needs rather than do any productive work.' Put differently, 'making one of the members the only leader of the group, leaving the rest of the members without responsibility for development in the group' (Jørgensen 7). The silent majority sustain their control by being passive, and continuing no matter what, to remain passive.  The assumption is that some leader can be enticed to emerge who will take care of the large group's desire for security and nurture (i.e. a parent). Large groups subconsciously act out the need to be dependent upon any one who will take the lead, so that they do not have to lead themselves.  The large group keeps asking for structure, since they demand that a leader step forward to play the 'parental role' so they can slip into the comfortable role of 'dependent' children, incapable of doing anything on their own. If a teacher or CEO does not provide that role, the large group will nominate a surrogate, but when the feel the guilt of dependency will switch to Fight-Flight unconsciousness, and simply eat each new leader.

Every conflict (pairing, fight-flight, or scapegoating) is an expression of the conflicts in the larger group, but is being express with silent permission and encouragement to a few on stage theatrical performers. Fred and Merrelyn Emery believe that bureaucracy is the breeding and socialization training ground for all three large group assumptions about leadership (pairing, fight-flight, & dependency). I agree, yet, I think they are present in even quite postmodern enterprises, and JoHari Window is one way to make the unconscious assumptions conscious to the entire group. Not the only way, just one way.

How many people have come up to me after class to say, "I have something valuable to contribute, but I know if I do, others will not like me, so I am going to be quiet."  "Why" I ask are you letting the class turn you into a phrog?  And they reply, "ribbit."

Each person in 503 has their own window. Can you describe yours? Here are some question to ponder:

  1. How big is your Green?
  2. How open are you to feedback that shrinks your Yellow?
  3. How open are you to shrinking your Red by telling your life stories?
  4. How open are you to disclosing your views on issues to the public (another way to shrink the Red)?
  5. Write a list of the people in 503 who are obviously leaders. How much self-disclosure does each do? How open is each person to feedback?
  6. How effective are leaders who open the shades to reveal lots of Green character?
  7. What are the limits to Green? Do you keep Yellow and Red zones on purpose?

AS we engage in large group dialog, please observe and note instances of pairing, fight-flight, and dependency. Then try to figure out what kinds of leaderly acts the silent majority are calling forth onto our stage to be performed. Then, watch as each leader is eaten one by one until the group can lead itself or remain frozen in one or more unconscious assumptions. Out of Bion's work, came the idea of the Tavistock group method.  I now a department, for example, in a university that once each year, takes a weekend and confronts all three intergroup assumptions. They unblock all that tension and strain, forgive, and move along to accumulate all the stuff they will deal with the next year. Not a great solution, but it works for them.

I have been leading large group dialog for over 2 years and am well aware of Bion. To me, a more comfortable process is JoHari Window, but different classes have different phantasms. I used to do the large group, come in silent and assume no leader role in my classes. That was in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 90s I moved to more of a JoHari style. At NMSU, I do not go looking for Tavistock, but sometimes, this intergroup appears on the stage. When it does, I start reading Bion again and again. 


Berne, Eric. 1964. The Games People Play. NY: Grove Press.

Bion, W. R. (1959). Experiences in group and other papers. New York: Basic Books.

Bion, W.R. (1961). Experiences in groups, I-VII. Human Relations, Vols. 1-4. Reprinted in W.R. Bion, (1961). Experiences in Groups. New York: Basic Books.

Bion, W.R. (1952). Group dynamics: a re-view. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 33, part 2. Reprinted in, W.R.  Bion, (1961). Experiences in Groups. New York: Basic Books.

Bion, W. R. (1955). Group dynamics--a re-view. In: S. Scheidlinger (Ed.), Psychoanalytic Group Dynamics--Basic Readings. New York: IUP.

Bion, W.R. (1967), "A Theory of Thinking", in his SECOND THOUGHTS, Heineman, London.

Bion, W.R. (1967), "Attacks on Linking", in his SECOND THOUGHTS, Heineman, London.

Bion, W. R. (1970) Attention and Interpretation. Tavistock: reprinted Karnac, 1984.

Bion, W.R. and Rickman, J. (1943). Intra-group tensions in therapy. Lancet, 27. Reprinted in, W.R. Bion, (1961). Experiences in Groups. New York: Basic Books.

Boje, D. M. (2000). Storytelling and Story-writing: Critical Thinking Skills for your Experience
Learning of OT.  http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/514stoguide.html

Carr, Adrian (2001). Understanding emotion and emotionality in a process of change. In special issue "The Psychodynamics of Organizational Change Management" Adrian Carr and Yiannis Gabriel (Eds.). Journal of Organizational Change Management. Vol. 14 (5): 421-434.

DDI (2001) Press Replease dated August 20, 2001 :Labor Day Survey Reveals many top leaders landing in the rough." Development Dimensions International. http://www.ddiworld.com/leadership/sle/overview.asp

Goffman, Irving. 1968. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Heuerman, Tom (2001). Pamphlet 50: Innocence and pseudoinnocence. http://www.amorenaturalway.com/pamphlet50.htm

Kelly, Anita E. and McKillop, Kevin J. (1996), "Consequences of Revealing Personal Secrets." Psychological Bulletin,
v120(3), 450.

Luft Joseph and Ingham H. 1955. "The Johari Window: a graphic model for interpersonal relations', Univ. Calif. Western Training Lab.

Luft, Joseph (1969). "Of Human Interaction," Palo Alto, CA: National Press.

Seel, Richard (2001). Anxiety and incompetence in the large group: A psychodynamic perspective. In special issue "The Psychodynamics of Organizational Change Management" Adrian Carr and Yiannis Gabriel (Eds.). Journal of Organizational Change Management. Vol. 14 (5): 493-503.


Bion, Wilfred links: unknown1, Schramm 2, Armstrong 3, Merrelyn Emery 4 (by Robert Rehm), Gould 5, Estabrook 6, Jørgensen 7,

Johari Window study guides on the Web Duen Hsi Yen 1, Knowme Game 2, Flash Version of Window 3, Hase & Dick 4, Feedback Guidelines for JW 5, JoHari Window studyguide OB 324; Freeman Institute Johari Window Game; University of Alberta Johari Window studyguide;