The phenomenology of uncertainty in relation to CEOs: a reconsideration of Wilfred Bion’s theories

2017-02-14T02:13:41Z (GMT) by Savage, Julie Raelene
The initial research questions informing this study emerged from this researcher’s lived experience as a psychodynamically-oriented organisational consultant: How do Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) lead an organisation and manage their personal uncertainties? What strategies do they use to defend against their uncertainties? Or do they give in to them? How do they lead efficient and effective organisations when they are positioned between the uncertainties inherent in those to whom they report and those who report to them? These are significant questions in relation to leadership and uncertainty. To explore the phenomenon of uncertainty experienced by CEOs within their roles in organisational contexts, eight CEOs were selected for study. A phenomenological approach was accompanied by heuristic and naturalistic inquiry methods, sequentially. As part of the observational sequence, the researcher accompanied four of the eight CEOs across five working days. The rationale for this combination of interview only and interview / research observation was to test ‘what the CEOs said’ against how they ‘performed’ as leaders within their organisations: words versus actions. The CEOs provided a richness of data which emerged the following themes: their relationship with their Reporting Body, Family, Emotion, Decision Making, and Uncertainty. It became evident that uncertainty was a sub-text throughout. An unexpected parallel process emerged through the researcher’s daily contact with the CEOs’ experiences of uncertainty. Naturalistic inquiry methods assisted analysis of the researcher’s personal journey of intense uncertainty that unfolded from ‘living a week in the life of each of the four CEO-respondents’. This phenomenon became a significant finding for future researchers planning a similar study. Wilfred Bion has been described as “the deepest thinker within psychoanalysis” and a plethora of researchers and writers have built upon the foundations Bion provided. This study drew from his work because his theories are based on ‘lived experience’. However, there was a need to recalibrate his theories when interpreting the research data because “uncertainty” is not listed in indexes of his written work. This study brings Bion and Uncertainty to the index foreground because findings show that beneath Bion’s theories - beneath his foundation - paradoxically, uncertainty operates. Thinking is undervalued in organisations. The challenge for CEOs is to shift from reacting-in-the-moment to creating the time and space to Stop, Think, Intuit and Reflect before Responding (STIRR) when faced with intense uncertainty. If CEOs are able to: develop ‘negative capability’, factor in the probability that the individuals who form the (work) groups in their organisations experience similar uncertainties, and consider seriously the elements of Bion’s various theories on unconscious motivating forces - how they inform workplace dynamics operating out-of-awareness of those involved - then organisations will become far more efficient and effective. They need to do so because … Uncertainty is inevitable.