1. The Context of Change
The so-called cold war between the two super powers which maintained leadership of the most developed countries took place for forty years in an implicit way, due to the mutual deterrence of atomic weapons that was based on the competing accumulation of scientific and technological know-how, on persuasion and building consensus. At the end of the 80s, with the waning of communist power and the prevalence of capitalistic-democratic power, world tensions shifted away from an East-West axis to a North-South one, bringing together more technologically and socially advanced countries to form a single dominating system oriented at keeping its own privileges with respect to the rest of the world that was still submerged by poverty. The decline of ideologies that occurred at the end of the cold war shifted the competing planes of “truth” on which the systems were built, to the plane of performance the systems could demonstrate.
This scenario produced changes in attitudes, lifestyles, models of consumption and political orientations. With the arrival of the new century—the era of internet—globalization and the spread of accelerated the change in cultural organizations, in values that orient personal and work choices, and in formal and informal norms that regulate living together on all social levels. This change was particularly significant in Italy, in that the nation had been an important crossroads of ideological conflict and is still today troubled by processes of psycho-political disaggregation and reaggregation (Trentini, 2004). This reference to the national and international context is necessary in order to understand how sources, functions and styles of leadership in Italy have changed.
2. Distinction between Power and Leadership
In Italy, the terms power and leadership are often used indistinctly as if they were synonyms. This conceptual confusion has acquired credibility. Also, this ambiguity is present in the international literature. Most research on leadership, including the earliest efforts on the traits of a leader to more recent research on transformational leadership, does not focus on leadership as much as it does on headship: beliefs, relationships, behaviour that concern the exercise of power, the role of the boss and management methods. For example, in the empirical research on leadership published in occupational and organizational psychology journals, the sample is usually made up of subjects who formally cover the role of boss, manager, or supervisor, assuming ipso facto that it concerns the phenomenon of leadership. In effect, both terms concern processes of influence, relationships and interactions, roles played and, more generally, the functioning of social systems, but it is necessary to maintain a clear conceptual distinction between them.
It is best to consider leadership as a group phenomenon (either social or collective) that manifests itself as the subjectivity of members attributes a role of guidance to one person (or more). When this person is considered capable of expressing and interpreting their values and their culture and is an important point of reference for the life of the members, the leader is better and more capable than others to respond to the wide-ranging needs/desires of safety, realization and mediation in the management of internal and external conflicts within the group and outside of it. A leader is someone who has followers, not someone who has subordinates. Therefore, membership is both the architect and source of leadership: a function that concerns the dynamics of social life and its informal and subjective dimension. Taken as such, leadership can be more, or even less, associated with the exercise of the roles of power. The term power is essentially interpreted in two ways, and is similar to the distinction between the words “can” and “may”. The first meaning, related as it is to factual capacity, is more compatible with an imperial type of anthropology, that is, organizational and social cultures in which power is perceived and perceives itself as the creator of itself and is, in a manner of speaking, self-referential and legitimate when its own recognized efficacy brings out consensus or approval of the subjects. The second meaning of power is that most shared by organizational and social cultures that are informed by a republican type of anthropology, where the distinction between auctoritas and potestas is perceived and maintained, where power is intersubjectively legitimated by the citizens in as much as they recognize it to be authorized by a previous and external source considered as authoritative. In both cases, power autocratic and authorized/generated from the outside concerns the formal and explicit dimension, as socially instituted by the group or organization. Therefore, it is much different than leadership, which concerns the informal and implicit dimension that is subjectively experienced and acted upon through social and interpersonal relationships in processes regarding living together.
What does this distinction mean in the analysis of the evolution of leadership in Italy? It means that it is one thing to analyze the evolution of power (how subjects who fill positions of power change and what methods they use to exercise it), but it is another thing to analyze the evolution of leadership: how subjective dynamics change in groups and organizations that attribute leadership to those persons who interpret and guide these dynamics. If the evolution of leadership is related to the change in subjective, affective and relational dynamics that animate life in common, it is necessary to consider the dynamics under way in Italy analytically with an approach that is specifically psychological.
3. An Interpretative Model
In the analysis of social phenomena, a type of rationalist, objectivist and economic perspective prevails. And yet, the reality of the external world does not only influence and generate thoughts, emotions and actions of individuals. This reality is influenced and is generated by the reality of the internal world, by individual and collective subjectivity. Subjectivity as an independent variable, as well a dependent variable. It can be useful in the explanation of phenomena. Much research and many studies for example, those coming from the interdisciplinary associations ISSP (International Society of Political Psychology) already show the importance of the relationships between social and psychological processes.
A psychosocial interpretation of the evolution of leadership in Italy is possible by making reference to affective dynamics that orient beliefs, values and behaviour, not an analysis of the “manifest” scenario presented by leadership (according to a sociological, historical, legal or polito-logical approach), but an analysis of the “hidden” scenario of the internal world of subjects in order to have a useful clarification of the social phenomenon under discussion.
This interpretative model is different from those of a cognitive matrix prevalent nowadays in psychological research. It is based on the theory of affective codes, developed by Franco Fornari1 (1979, 1987) that will be schematically summarized with a certain liberty regarding terms and concepts.
This theory postulates the existence of a plurality of unconscious affective codes, which constitute the original affective competency shared by each person. It has the function of programming and signifying relationships. In fact, in order to emphasize the characteristic of universality, in that all men experience this plurality since they are humans, these phylogenetic concepts are called “coinemes” by Fornari, from the Greek koinòs meaning “common”. These make up units of affective meaning in whose origin lies the specific symbolizing activity of man that, therefore, attribute necessarily an affective meaning for all events in a person’s life.
The affective codes are imprinted by relatives that are naturally inscribed in the human unconsciousness and that guarantee life: the codes of the mother, father, brother, female and male, etc. The maternal code is dedicated to protecting, caring, guardianship and providing help, with it being dispensed according to need. When aimed at the group dimension, it dedicates itself to equality between members and privileges those who are weaker. Within this safety-oriented code, the function of leadership is founded on the culture of membership.
The paternal code fosters growth, development, merit and norms, with it being dispensed according to ability. When aimed at the group dimension, it dedicates itself to developing differences and privileges for those who are stronger. Within this achievement-oriented code, the function of leadership is founded on the culture of competency.
The fraternal code dedicates itself to equal relations for reciprocal productivity. When aimed at the group dimension, it dedicates itself to autonomy and alliances among equals. Within this solidarity-oriented code, the function of leadership is founded on the culture of cooperation.
Taken together, the affective codes suggest whether to use maternal, paternal, fraternal, etc. codes. These help to build their own representations of the world, on the basis of actions that are taken a sort of collective that includes all ideals the people involved in the inner scene bring with them. The affective project derives from the possible interactions between these ideals. From this people draw meanings to interpret reality and to place themselves in it. This implies the necessity that all the different values that the codes represent are present together: only a good “inner family” that provides efficacious integration of value systems (a democratic inclusion of all the different ideals together), and the presupposition of a common group that plays out paternal, maternal and fraternal roles.
Every institution puts forward an “affective family” in which the distribution of roles and their hierarchy depends on the type of affective code that prevails in that institution and on the relationship it has with other affective codes of the person operating within it and who brings that code. The specific culture of the institution itself is generated by the various affective code that the group puts into play. It may be a dominant effective code, based on conflict and ideological prevarication, or a culture based on a sharing of all values that the various affective codes bring.
Focusing now on the problem of leadership, a model based on this theory refers to the change in leadership in Italy as an outcome, a result or an effect, of the changed equilibrium among affective codes in the collective and individual subjectivity. Within the relational network, leadership carries out the function of symbolic meaning to harmonize different value systems. The language that leaders use to interact with followers, in addition to a lexical reference that defines the conventional contents of communication, has an affective reference: it activates and plays out affective codes that underlie the contents of communication and that connote them, and the consensus that the communication finally brings about is emotional before being cognitive. In this way, the leader not only explicitly expresses values and beliefs of the group, but he also implicitly interprets the affective codes that animate it.
The leader is recognized and identified if in his communications he publicly expresses and interprets the affective code that prevails in the group of his followers, if he actualizes the common feeling of the followers into operative strategies, or in other words, if he is able to make himself the interpreter of the group’s culture. The recent scientific literature on the theme of leadership also increasingly emphasizes the importance given by consensus and agreement in the relationship between the leader and members (Day and Schyus, 2010). For some time, the system of beliefs, attitudes and values which animate organizational cultures is changing in two areas: from a concept of a normative-bureaucratic type towards a entrepreneurial-technocratic concept and from a so-called “maternal” affective prevalence (with an emphasis on needs and equality) to a so-called “paternal” affective prevalence (with the emphasis on competencies and differences).
Cultures represent the sharing of expectations, propositions and beliefs that shape actions and the way in which these are interpreted. They focus attention on certain aims while taking it away others. They influence priorities and create a homogenous approach to problems and are expressed in terms of values that are made manifest through norms and artefacts. In this sense, the process under way in Italy shows that leadership is attributed to those people who are for the most part animated by a paternal code, legitimizing intersubjectively the power of the person who already exercises it in this sense and delegitimizes power that continues to play out the script dictated by the maternal affective code.
Many people who occupy positions of power maintain that it is important that the paternal code is associated with the function of leadership. Therefore, to nurture credibility and trust towards themselves, they orient their own behaviour and decisions so that they are in harmony with the cultural (affective) change under way. Those who not only have a sense of awareness but also mindfulness are those who become and continue as leaders. Leadership is follower-centred: producing leadership means to actualize a strategy inclusive of follower strategies (Marturano, 2008) and affects. Loyalty and respect are the outcome of a leader-member exchange that regards consensus (a common feeling) on the affective options that orient decisions, before and beyond the objective contents of decisions. There are many indications that leadership is attributed to subjects who are better able than others to express manifestly (publicly, objectively) the change under way at a so-called hidden level (latent, subjective) in the equilibrium among different affective codes that animate living together. This evolutionary trend of leadership in Italy can be seen as starting from the changes in the international scene that took place at the end of the 1980s and in the beginning of the 1990s, a trend that continues today and will presumably consolidate itself in the years to come.
4. Indicators of Change
Many “facts” that happen in Italy can be interpreted with indicators of a relative prevalence of the paternal affective code (of its values, its criteria of judgement) with respect to the maternal affective code and those at different levels of socialization: familiar, organizational and social.
For example, the parental model of reference in families is no longer that which is imprinted with permissiveness. As it is in Latin countries and the Mediterranean, a type of family still persists in Italy that is oriented towards satisfying needs rather than educating the assumption of rights and duties. But appreciation for the social element (leadership?) also goes to those parents who know how to maintain a normative order which teaches responsible behaviour and stimulates personal and professional development of children. Leadership in families is attributed to those who know how to interpret the paternal affective code: a role which today paradoxically is more often carried out by the mother than the father, with the paternal figure (authoritative) having been devaluated and incriminated in the past by the predominance of the maternal code.
In many family firms, which constitute the most important part of the Italian economy, a moment of crisis is to be found in generational transition emblematically, the transition of the company from father to son. Even here we see increasing intention being given to this transition. The handing down of internal family powers is no longer an obvious step, as greater importance is now given to the competencies of the successor, be it a son or an external manager. The mere fact of belonging to the “original” family is no longer enough for the person who takes on power to achieve subjective legitimacy from company personnel. This act of legitimacy, or attribution of leadership is ever more reliant on competencies (professional, relational, managerial) being demonstrated.
Even in large-sized organizations, power is given to people who have shown not only specialistic/technical and organizational competencies required by the specific nature of the job, but also personal and relational abilities that the working group requires in order to provide their trust and esteem necessary to attribute the function of leadership. This happens because power, which can be harmful when exercised by incompetent people, is nonetheless inefficient when exercised by competent people lacking leadership skills, if only for management and normative reasons that force subordinates to obey out of convenience’s or fear.
In this sense in Italy we are witnessing increased attention to hiring procedures and personnel selection, increased use of assessment procedures, and less acceptance of nepotism and cooptation logic of faithfulness and nearness, which however still persist, especially in organizations in which survival does not depend on results (entities, state television, etc.). This orientation towards meritocracy is happening not only because someone today “can” do so, but because they “may” do so. It is authorized by the consensus of animated values of the paternal affective code, which rewards performance over affiliation. In large-sized companies, an interesting example of the evolution of a balance between affective codes underlying organizational cultures is given by the evolution of the way in which diversity management is practiced. First developed as a politically correct practice aimed at safeguarding unjustly discriminated minorities and, as a measure of equality, it has now become a strategy that aims at enhancing differences. Where it was once unjust to discriminate, it is now considered unjust to treat people in an indiscriminate fashion.
Organizations do not exist only to pursue declared objectives for which they were instituted, but also and at times above all to defend those who are involved in the depressive anxieties and paranoia stirred up by the life of relationships, which is actually necessary to survival (Jaques, 1976). In times of uncertain and turbulent growth, the phenomenon of leadership has come to include the issue of safety. For this reason, members of an organization normally attribute a function of leadership to that person who is able to respond to needs for mediation and achievement, but also to needs of permanence, stability and safety. In other words, the leader role goes to that person who takes on the responsibility of his own and other anxieties, allowing members to work in a relatively serene way.
While the need for safety was fully satisfied by leaders who guaranteed continuity with respect to immutable values of tradition, now with the decline in immutable values and their reduction to opinions or preference that are more or less shared this need is fully satisfied by those in leader roles who guarantee competitive results as a guarantee of survival. The recognition of leadership is based less on sharing of objectives and more on the appreciation for efficacy/efficiency with which the leader knows how to get results (Weick and Sutchiffe 2007). The ethic of responsibility replaces the ethic of conviction, and competition on a level of efficacy and efficiency constitutes a new problem that induces society to wonder whether its own culture helps or impedes the solution.
According to the model adopted here, the crisis in Italian culture has come about from an “overload” of the maternal code that is expressed in the two main historical-political components of society, namely that of Catholicism and Marxism. The decline of these two components can be interpreted as the result, rather than the cause, of a system of beliefs and values brought about by a re-evaluation in the collective subjectivity of the paternal affective code which tends to prevail nowadays. The maternal code is still present, but perhaps more so in the Southern European and Mediterranean cultural area, that is those areas with Latin and Catholic traditions, than in the Anglo-American, Protestant traditions of Northern Europe. This is also true for political leadership, as expressed by citizens through the more or less democratic elections that are carried out in Italy. Even if somewhat stereotypical, one could say that the wavering between the two value systems the so-called right and left that political exponents represent reflects the tension between paternal and maternal codes respectively.
In the era of globalization, effective power in Italy (and not only) is carried out in a “soft” and hidden way by the financial elite, national and international networks that have sufficient resources to influence, directly and indirectly, strategies of large-sized enterprises, decisions by political exponents and mass media. These are strong powers that are not legitimated, neither formally or informally, by consensus of the citizens. It is a type of power that is more imperial than republican (Trentini, 1997), self-referential and lacking in leadership. On the other hand, political leadership both that of the majority and that of the minority represents values, beliefs and attitudes of Italy. Here the similarity is more obvious with the evolution of affective dynamics that guide the nation. And this political leadership even itself has some influence that is somewhat conflictful with the strong powers just mentioned.
This political influence consolidates itself in reform measures that shift the balance of the system from a system that is laden with norms, practices and artefacts, attributable to the maternal affective code, towards a system that is more congruous with its prevalence of the paternal affective code.
There are also leaders emerging now through the help of new communications technology who are interpreters of the fraternal affective code that is less hierarchical and oriented more towards autonomy, cooperation, competition and alliance. But the advent of an organizational and social life that is effectively fraternal is hard to realize because it requires a type of personal and cultural growth that rarely happens.
In the arena of social life, leaders play out familiar roles. Fatigue and conflict that accompany processes of change in Italy show how difficult it is for leaders to express effective integration between different affective codes, that is a good “internal family”, in institutional and social situations.
Day, D. and Schyns, B. (2010). “The Importance of Agreement and Consensus in Leadership Research: Introduction to the Specific Issue, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology,” 19 (3), 259-258.
Fornari, F. (1979). I fondamenti di una teoria psicoanalitica del linguaggio. Torino:Boringhieri.
Fornari, F. (1987). Gruppo e codici affettivi, in AA.VV., Il cerchio magico. Milano:Franco Angeli.
Jaques, E. (1976). A General Theory of Bureaucracy. Heinemann Educational Books, London.
Marturano, A. (2008). “Understanding Leadership: is it time for a linguistic turn?” In Ciulla J. et al (eds.), Leadership at the Crossroads, Vol. 3, Leadership and the Humanities.Westport (NJ): Praeger.
Trentini, G. (1997),Oltre il potere. Discorso sulla leadership. Milano: FrancoAngeli.
Trentini, G. (a cura) (2004), Disaggregazioni e riaggregazioni psicopolitiche. Milano: FrancoAngeli.
Weick, K. and Sutchiffe, K. (2007). Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainity. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons.
About the Author
Massimo Bellotto holds a Degree in Philosophy and Specialization in Psychology. Full Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology, Coordinator of Ph.D in “Organizational psychology: integration and differentiation processes.”, at the Department of Philosophy, Pedagogy and Psychology, University of Verona (Italy).