Friday, January 21, 2011

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 5)


2. - Susceptible Followers
      The Second component of the Toxic Triangle

Why did I, and my peers, trust and remain loyal to Fr. Maciel for so many years?

The experience of crisis in their relationship with their leader often turns the worldview of the followers upside down, especially when hidden facets of their leader’s personality are revealed. That is what is happening now to those who joined the Legion or Regnum Christi in good faith. The realization of deception by the Founder is extremely painful. In “
Driving Straight on Crooked Lines” I describe my personal experience, following a leader who I think epitomizes many of the traits of a destructive leader. At the beginning, I did not know Fr. Maciel was “destructive.”  Indeed, I had no idea what constituted “destructive leadership.”

I believe it is important to analyze Fr. Maciel’s observable traits in order to derive useful learning outcomes. Perhaps we can learn to identify and be aware of the “dark side” of our own personalities which emerge in times of stress and frustration. If we can understand the characteristics of destructive leadership we are better equipped not to follow them. It is too easy to dismiss Fr. Maciel’s dysfunctional leadership as being the “work of the devil.” I think there is a rational explanation to explain how he damaged so many people. We may want to make sure that we don’t fall into the same trap again..


Hogan and his fellow researchers point out the role of “followers” is pivotal in the leadership process. Yet followers have been studied less often than leaders.. It would help if we knew why they consent to, or be unable to resist, the allure of a destructive leader.

Individuals whose beliefs are consistent with those of a destructive leader are likely to commit to his or her cause.

1.They need safety, security, group membership, and predictability in an uncertain world
2.Some followers actually benefit from destructive activities and thus contribute to the toxic vision of the leader
3.Needs for social order, cohesion, identity, and the coordination of collective activity can be found at the group level
4.There is a natural tendency for people to obey authority figures, imitate higher-status individuals, and conform to group norms.

According to Hogan, followers can be divided into two groups: conformers and colluders.

Both types are motivated by self-interest, but their concerns are different:

1.Conformers, may be individuals who may have unmet basic needs, negative self-evaluations, and psychological immaturity comply out of fear. They try to minimize the consequences of not going along.
2.Colluders, who may be ambitious, selfish and share the destructive leader's world views, actively participate in the leader's agenda; they seek personal gain.

Other factors may support the emergence of “susceptible followers.”

The “needs” of the followers
The basic needs of followers must be met before their higher aspirations can be engaged. As I look back on many of the first “followers” to join the Apostolic School of Fr. Maciel and his Legionaries of Christ in their pre-teens or early adolescence, I think it obvious that Fr. Maciel was catering to their "needs." Most of them came from poor, rural backgrounds first in Mexico, later in Spain. Fr. Maciel persuaded the families to allow these young men to join his endeavor by promising education, training, a sense of community, and the satisfaction of belonging to an "elite" group of future priests.

Poor self-esteem
People form basic conclusions about themselves concerning their sense of satisfaction with their lives, their jobs, their motivations and their productivity. Perhaps the first "Apostolic Boys" had not yet come to these conclusions because they were so young. But their parents had.

Those with low self-esteem often wish to become more “desirable,” which prompts them to identify with charismatic leaders. Indeed, low self-esteem serves to distinguish followers from leaders.

A second conclusion we form about ourselves relates to our sense of self-worth in terms of our ability to perform well. The image we form of our worth influences the decisions we make about what activities to undertake and how much effort to spend on them.

The third concept we create about ourselves relates to whether we come to believe that we are masters of our own fate or that outcomes are determined by external factors. The latter belief is not conducive to considering oneself as a leader. Individuals who feel that external factors control their destiny (a belief greatly influenced by the culture in which we are raised,) are easier to manipulate. They can be attracted to others who seem powerful and willing to care for them.  For instance, I suspect that the notion that God might be calling one to be a priest, or to join a religious order, is related is a manifestation of an “external factor” (God, Providence) which a person believes can control his or her destiny.

Persons lacking a firm sense of self may be more inclined to identify with cultural heroes and to internalize the values of the “hero.” A person who is psychologically mature is less likely to be attracted to a destructive leader.  Conversely, psychologically immature individuals may be more likely to unquestioningly accept “authority.”

When a leader, or an organization, offers opportunities for personal gain – profit, education, prestige – ambitious colluders are easy enough to recruit. This dynamic is a function of our need to acquire and serves to attract us to a leader and an organization. The most ambitious followers will sometimes seek to get ahead without regard to the human cost.

Goal Alignment
The closer the leader is to the follower's self-concept, the stronger the bond and the greater the motivation to follow. Hence, when we find a leader with a vision and a worldview congruent with our own, we are more likely to follow. The more closely we pattern our behavior to that of the leader, the more we boost our own sense of worth and the more we bond emotionally. “Transformational” leaders align the goals of the leader and the followers.

Followers who share a leader’s worldview and values will be more inclined to follow him or her. A destructive leader who is greedy and selfish will tend to attract greedy and selfish followers. These followers will engage in destructive behavior, especially if they feel that it is encouraged or sanctioned by the leader.


Lauretta said...

Again, another insightful article, Jack. I detected many of the characteristics you mentioned in several of the people I know who are in Regnum. How sad that a group such as this seeks to prey upon the neediness of others.

Anon out of RC said...

Great info. Lots to think about. I think for many, it was not an attraction to the leader. Maciel was a stumbling block for me in the beginning. It was the fact that so many other priests and lay whom I respected believed in his methodology and his way and that is what brought me along. Once the leader builds a crowd, many times you are following the crowd because there is something about them thatnis attractive or meetsnyour needs.

The Monk said...

Belated thanks for your comment, Lauretta. We can only hope that a reformed LC will mend its ways.

The Monk said...

Anon out of RC, Thanks for your comment. You hit upon an understudied facet of leadership the importance of the followers. A leader is not a leader until he/she has followers. Most of us actually follow the "followers" - through them we get to know and follow the leader.

(Also for Lauretta) Would like to have your comments on the "series" (How the Mighty Fail." Do you agree with the basic ideas? What am I missing? Are these ideas useful for the "ongoing reform" of the LC - and useful to prevent/forecast similar situations in the Church?


Theresa said...

conformers and colluders

I realized while reading this particular portion of the article,that members, like myself, do not have a true sense of Christianity when we join these groups. How many people join who have an healthy fear of God.

Thanks for taking the time to put these excellent article together Monk,


Theresa said...

Monk do you really believe it can be reformed. My son has a friend getting ordained in Rome this Christmas . He wants to be present for the ordination. My son is no dummy , very intuitive etc etc. I have serious misgivings about supporting LC in any way shape or form.