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The Rationale behind Irrationality 
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The ‘prototype’ or ‘script’ of self, others, and events that each one of us carries within us is put into motion by the aforementioned motivational needs systems. These scripts determine how we react across situations (George, 1969; McDougall, 1985). They influence how we act and react in our daily lives, whether at home, at play, or at work. We bring to every experience a style of interacting, now scripted for us, that we learned initially in childhood. In other words, how we related to and interacted with parents and other close caregivers during the early years affects how we relate to others — especially authority figures — now in our adulthood. 

In the course of these maturation processes, we all develop particular themes in our inner theater— themes that reflect the preeminence of certain inner wishes that contribute to our unique personality style. These ‘core conflictual relationship themes’ (CCRT) translate into consistent patterns by which we relate to others (Luborsky and Crits-Cristoph, 1998). Put another way, our basic wishes shape our life-scripts, which in turn shape our relationships with others, determining the way we believe others will react to us and the way we react to others. People’s lives may be colored by the wish to be loved, for example, or the wish to be understood, or to be noticed, or to be free from conflict, or to be independent, or to help — or even to fail, or to hurt others. 

When we go to work, we take these fundamental wishes — our core conflictual relationship themes — into the context of our workplace relationships. We project our wishes on others and, based on those wishes, rightly or wrongly anticipate how others will react to us; then we react not to their actual reactions but to their perceived reactions. Who among us doesn’t know a leader who is the epitome of conflict avoidance, tyrannical behavior, micromanagement, manic behavior, inaccessibility, or game-playing? That dominant style, whatever it may be, derives from the leader’s core conflictual relationship theme. So potent is a person’s driving theme that a leader’s subordinates are often drawn into collusive practices and play along, turning the leader’s expectations into self-fulfilling prophecies. Unfortunately, the lifescripts drawn up in childhood on the basis of our core conflictual relationship themes often become ineffective in adult situations. They create a dizzying merry-go-round that takes affected leaders into a selfdestructive cycle of repetition.

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MANFRED KETS DE VRIES, INSEAD, Boulevard de Constance, Fontainebleau 71305, Cedex, France. E-mail: manfred.kets.de.vries@insead.edu

Manfred Kets de Vries is Raoul de Vitry d’Avancourt Clinical Professor of Leadership Development at INSEAD. A prolific author, his specific interests include leadership, career dynamics, executive stress, entrepreneurship, family business, cross-cultural management team building, and the dynamics of corporate transformation and change.

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