The notes above referred to the unpleasant experience of my first months as a manager. Clearly, the way I was making sense of it at the time reflected the language in which I had been immersed over the previous two or three years. However, it still seems to me properly to represent the emotional nature of the experience I went through, and is not so esoteric a description as it may seem.
I recall one of my seniors later in my career talking about the same transition from practitioner to manager. She was by no means from a psycho-dynamic tradition but she was aware that her behaviour as a main grade officer towards her managers looked very different from her manager’s seat than it had felt at the time. She thought she had behaved in adolescent ways but had been oblivious to it at the time. This was her way of describing an awareness of unconscious drivers at work as she grappled with authority.
She had, she realised, not treated her managers as real people but as symbols of some sort of threatening establishment against which she was rebelling. In this dynamic, the manager is seen as powerful and threatening, invulnerable and potentially hostile. So like teenagers and their parents, staff can find themselves alternating between holding secrets with their peers, and attacking the manager for doing things wrong or threatening their sense of self worth. (This is the paranoid schizoid position to which I refer. It is a state in which the ‘other’ is felt to be hostile and so has to be defended against or attacked. It is also a state in which the ‘other’ is in imagination controlled by splitting it into separate parts. So it becomes impossible to see the other, in this case the manager, as a whole person. Their private existence is split off in imagination from their work persona.) It made insight into unconscious motives highly threatening – hence the venom. (I’ve referred to one example of this hostility earlier in discussing organisational emotions.)