Leadership and Psychoanalysis The ‘What’s It Got To Do With It’ Seminar Series

"Gabriella’s seminars have provided me with the necessary depth to go beyond the surface where in my belief the real work in organisations needs to be done. Gabriella is very ...
International Director of Learning and Talent, Global Retailer

"As an experienced organisational development and learning practitioner with over 17 years’ experience, Gabriella’s seminars have provided me with the necessary depth to go beyond the surface where in my belief the real work in organisations needs to be done. Gabriella is very skilled at handling often complex themes, vital for effective functioning, in a way that is so accessible, relevant and understandable. I have been fascinated, intrigued and had my eyes and heart opened to such rich new data and understanding and it has sparked many different conversations and observations between myself and my boss, leaders in my organisation, peers in my external network and even suppliers. I have recommended Gabriella’s sessions to many practitioners."
International Director of Learning and Talent, Global Retailer

Click to read full testimonial

"Despite over 20 years’ experience as a public sector senior manager, with a Cranfield University MBA, I found each of the seminars inspiring, not only because it was beneficial to ...

"When it was initially suggested to me that I might like to attend a series of seminars on Leadership and Psychoanalysis, I have to admit that I struggled to see the link (or indeed the benefit to be derived, for both myself and The British Library as my employer, by my attendance at such sessions). However, after reading a brief synopsis of the first seminar, I was intrigued; furthermore, after attending the initial session, I booked on all the remaining seminars.

Despite over 20 years’ experience as a public sector senior manager, with a Cranfield University MBA, I found each of the seminars inspiring, not only because it was beneficial to hear from leaders in other organisations, in a ‘safe’ and confidential environment, but also because each session provided a fresh insight into different styles of leadership, together with an understanding of potential responses to a given approach from staff/colleagues – all seen through a ‘psychoanalytical lens’. Each session was led by Gabriella Braun, who conveyed the theory of psychoanalysis in an extremely accessible and engaging manner, thereby enabling me to consider attitudes and behaviours (both my own and those of my colleagues) from a different perspective. Subsequently, I have been able to use this learning to better understand the underlying nature of human emotions – their basis, the implications for leaders and how best they can be harnessed to improve employee engagement, performance and throughput. Although, in the past, I may have (subconsciously) dealt with a given leadership conundrum ‘correctly’, the fact that I am now the proud owner of an improved psychoanalysis-based toolkit will significantly enhance my future decisions.

As such, I consider Gabriella’s approach – using anonymised case studies, together with her extensive consulting experience and knowledge of psychoanalytical techniques - to be a unique leadership development offering."

Robert Smith, Head of Digital Operations Business Change, The British Library

Click to read full testimonial

See below for more comments from participants

In these seminars Gabriella takes a fresh look at leadership. She illustrates key topics with examples from her work with a variety of leaders and sectors. After a presentation, there is a chance to think together about implications and to gain new perspectives and ideas to take forward in your own organisation.


Whether we feel we have it or we don’t, love is one of the most significant aspects of our lives. Love and work, Freud said, are the cornerstone of humanity. We talk about love in relation to people, places, holidays, music, food...the list goes on. We include loving work. But what about love and leadership? The capacity for good leadership is inexorably linked to the capacity for love. There are, she says, critical leadership qualities that directly stem from love, without which leaders are in trouble. For example:

  • The drive for life: Freud described two opposing instincts we all have: life and preservation, and death and destruction. In organisations part of the leader’s job is to keep the drive for life flourishing. This constructive side of us is supported by and fuels love and care. Without their own capacity for love, leaders are likely to get swayed by the inevitable destructiveness that can take hold in all organisations.
  • Care, concern and compassion: Mature love is fundamentally to do with care and concern for others. These reduce our narcissism and promote our compassion. Caring leadership increases organisational success by treating staff as individuals with all their differences, and creating a culture where people can work at their best.
  • Gratitude and appreciation: psychoanalysis recognises the intrinsic link between love and gratitude: as children we develop love through gratitude to our parents; in turn love builds gratitude, keeps our envy at bay, lets us see others’ qualities and so see ourselves realistically. Without these qualities leaders can become omnipotent, overly critical and unappreciative of their staff.
  • Self-esteem: this depends on being able to love ourselves. It is vital for the strength and resilience leadership demands, including the capacity to be vulnerable and withstand difficult feelings that come towards leaders such as idealisation, rivalry and hatred.


The importance of team bonding and employee engagement is well recognised, but what is the psychology behind it? It is Bowlby’s Attachment theory. Bowlby said that the need to be attached to another person is linked to biology and evolution, and is fundamental to being human. Building on his work, others discovered that we have different attachment patterns and that these have a profound effect on our self-esteem, capacity to trust and relate to others. We bring our attachment patterns to our organisations; they are part of the invisible influences powerfully impacting on bonding and engagement. The themes of this seminar show how attachment theory can help leaders to significantly improve the way that they encourage bonding and engagement. For example:

  • Attachment and security in organisations: successful organisations depend on innovation, creativity and informed risk taking; this requires employees being secure enough to work productively. Whether it is through bonding to the organisation, the people and/or work, how can leaders provide healthy security in an insecure environment?
  • Attachment, separation and loss in organisations: constant change means that separation and loss, though not usually thought about, are an inherent part of organisational life. Without attending to the psychology of attachment, separation and loss, leaders will reduce bonding and engagement, as well as significantly limiting the potential for sustainable change.
  • Attachment and dependency: we generally think of dependency in organisations as unhealthy, but sometimes confuse it with healthy attachment. If leaders can distinguish between these, they will be in a far better position to fine tune the way they lead staff and really support bonding and engagement.


Aggression gets a bad press. We may admire (while disliking), some ruthlessness at work, but we tend to think aggression is to be avoided. Psychoanalysis recognises that for good and bad, it is an inescapable part of being human. It fuels our capacity for destructiveness, but its biological roots show how essential it is for our survival. Aggression is behind children’s mastery of walking and talking; adolescents’ ability to separate and succeed their parents; adults’ assertion and determination. Without sufficient aggression we are seriously impaired in our lives; in leadership it is vital. The power leaders have means they can do considerable good or harm with their aggression. So recognising the difference between healthy and unhealthy aggression, and avoiding the pull to destructiveness, is imperative for successful, yet ethical and humane leadership. The seminar will explore this through the following themes:

  • Wars at work: we all have a destructive side that can easily get triggered at work. Leaders need to create the conditions that help to keep our destructiveness, including the negative side of rivalry and envy, at bay. Otherwise, it can take hold, with feuds and fighting erupting time and again. A real challenge for leaders is to resist invitations to fight (which may be unconscious) and to understand and avoid the inevitable triggers for wars at work.
  • Aggression, passion and purpose: it is aggression that turns our passion from a vague idea into a purpose and actions that we can drive forward. How can leaders channel aggression – theirs and their teams’ – in this way?
  • Aggression and compassion: without aggression leaders cannot keep their authority and boundaries, or take tough decisions and actions. The impact of a lack of aggression can be very negative for the business, for staff and for themselves. It can lead to feeling undermined, angry and resentful, and to burn out. Compassion becomes impossible. Conversely, leaders who use healthy aggression, stand a far better chance of being humane and compassionate towards staff, colleagues and clients.


Leadership always involves energy, commitment and hard work. These are healthy attributes, but the pressure in organisations to increase profit, decease costs, constantly adapt and do better with less, can push leaders from healthy working practices to compulsive ones. Freud said that what we cannot remember (as it provokes too much anxiety), we first repress and then repeat. He saw the unconscious compulsion to repeat difficult events as part of our destructive side. If the wellbeing agenda is to be more than rhetoric, the drive towards compulsion and its hold in organisations needs to be properly understood and countered. For example:

  • Overworking: we know the importance of work life balance, but the pressure on leaders to improve results fast, can turn to compulsively overworking. Leaders are then in the grip of something that is out of their control; they lose perspective, and both their resilience and their capacity to use their intelligence are significantly hampered. Avoiding this and still being successful is often a real challenge for leaders.
  • Repeating patterns, dynamics, history: psychoanalysis shows us that we unconsciously repeat patterns where issues remain unresolved. At work we may repeat some of our personal history in unhelpful ways. Likewise, teams can unconsciously repeat unresolved patterns and dynamics, and aspects of organisational history may also be repeated. Such repetition can be damaging; what is the key to avoiding it?
  • Drive to action without thought: compulsive behaviour can include taking action in place of thinking. The opposite is equally unhelpful. Both are usually an unconscious way of defending against anxiety. How can leaders keep thought and action in balance?


We tend to think of persecution as something that happens to minority groups, but it is part of the blame culture that permeates some organisations, and in bullying and the ordinary way we all can feel got at by others, or beat ourselves up. The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein’s concept of the paranoid-schizoid position and Freud’s notion of the superego offer an explanation of our psychological tendency to persecution. Leaders are particularly prone to it as the demands of leadership and the inevitably difficult reactions from staff at times, greatly increase the inbuilt likelihood of feeling persecuted. And given their power, leaders can also easily be seen as, or become, persecutors. The risks from this are high. Leaders who feel persecuted will be damaged and cannot be effective. Leaders who persecute staff, will be damaging; staff cannot be effective, and engagement and morale will drop. Organisationally, persecution impacts on innovation, retention and success. Understanding why it arises and how to minimize it, is therefore key to leadership and organisational health.

Taking a fresh look at leadership, the seminar will explore the following key themes:

  • The persecuting mind: Freud showed us how the superego can be very critical and tell us we are not good enough. Leadership gives plenty of scope for these feelings, and can cause stress and depression. What can make this worse is that stress can push us into the paranoid-schizoid position, where paranoia heightens feelings of persecution, making leadership even harder and less effective. How can leaders resist the persecution of their own minds?
  • The persecuting leader: Sometimes we unconsciously project out what is intolerable to us. A leader may unconsciously try to alleviate what is unbearable in their mind, by persecuting others. They will be authoritarian and may be bullying, causing considerable distress to their staff. Staff’s complicated feelings about authority figures however, can result in them unconsciously ‘inviting’ leaders to be persecutory, thereby justifying the resentment and hostility they feel towards them. Avoiding these dynamics is difficult, yet so important.
  • The persecutory organisation or department: This produces a negative culture of blame, undermining morale and the innovation needed for success. Understanding how this can be prevalent in organisations helps in creating a benign, rather than persecutory, culture.


Being physically present and available is one thing, but what about leaders’ emotional presence – the capacity to be connected psychologically with yourself and others? Without it leaders can lose their way - with their staff and stakeholders, decision-making, the complexity of what they have to deal with. And that leads to stress and burn out. With it, leaders can keep hold of who they are and know their own mind without either being dogmatic or pulled and pushed by everyone around them. They can have quality relationships, authority and provide a developmental environment for their staff. But what is this invisible and sometimes elusive quality? It starts with authenticity which is at the heart of psychoanalysis. We begin learning who we are as babies by being, as the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott said, “alone in the presence of someone.” If that someone (our parents), allows and understands our spontaneous gestures and expressions, we can trust ourselves and develop our sense of self – our “True Self” as Winnicott said. We can also differentiate who we are from who someone else is. The sense of self is the starting place from which we can also develop our capacity to be psychologically connected and present to others.

Taking a fresh look at leadership, this seminar will explore the key qualities arising from presence:

  • Being present to yourself: the capacity to be psychologically connected to yourself is not easy; we all have defences that keep very difficult aspects of ourselves out of sight. But being connected to yourself is key to being decisive, safe, having authority, using your resources (including emotional intelligence), recognising your limits and tolerating the loneliness of leadership.
  • Being present to others: this is about being in genuine emotional contact and receptive to others. It is vital to generating trust, empathy and the quality of relationships so important to leadership.
  • Containment: this concept comes from what the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion called ‘maternal reverie’: the state of mind in which a mother absorbs and understands her baby’s anxiety, and responds in a way that enables the baby to cope with their feelings. In organisations an essential aspect of leadership is to provide containment and protection from too much anxiety and stress, in order to support individual and organisational development, resilience and performance.


The rate of change in organisations means that loss is now always part of working life: loss of colleagues (e.g. in restructuring), loss of stability, loss of what went before. To ensure that change is successful, leaders have to manage their own feelings of loss and help staff deal with it; otherwise change is likely to be undermined (sometimes unconsciously) and staff become demoralised and disengaged. Freud said that failure to mourn can lead to problems: we lose interest in the world around us, become unproductive, lose our passion and capacity for new relationships. Organisational change is obviously not the same as a personal bereavement, but dealing with the loss it involves can still be very difficult. And the effects of not dealing with loss can be as harmful to organisations as it can be to individuals.

For leaders to fulfil their potential and promote true, sustainable engagement, adaptation, change and innovation, addressing loss has to be recognised as an integral component of their role. The seminar will explore this through the following themes:

  • Loss and illusion: the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott said that illusion and disillusion are key aspects of our development. As leaders we usually start out with helpful dreams and illusions about what we can do, our teams, our organisation. Managing the disillusion as reality hits, without giving up, getting depressed, becoming hostile or harsh to others and keeping hopes and dreams alive can be very challenging.
  • Loss, change and transition: leading change is a vital part of leadership, yet we don’t usually think about the impact of loss. It is hard to do, but if leaders can appropriately address the loss for themselves, and with their teams and organisations, they can make such a difference.
  • Loss and reward: the job satisfaction we originally had in our work is often lost when we become a leader. We also have to hand over things we find rewarding, in order to motivate and develop others. As we get more senior, we lose collegiality in the loneliness of leadership. And the responsibility of leadership means losing some of the freedom that less responsibility allows. It is vital to leaders’ wellbeing and success to adapt and find different rewards in their work.


We all know that Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. And that Freud came up with the Oedipus complex. But what’s that got to do with leadership? This seminar explores the themes underlying the story. They speak to some of the ordinary human struggles that inevitably follow us into our organisations and leadership roles. For example:

  • Holding onto reality: vital to leadership, the Oedipus story shows us how hard it can be to do this, and how dangerous and destructive it is when we lose sight of, or pervert reality.
  • Turning a blind eye: everyone around Oedipus must have known the truth, but they turned a blind eye. Avoiding blind collusion is a tough, critical, capacity for leaders.
  • Exclusion: as children we are excluded from aspects of our parents relationship; leaders too face the loneliness of being excluded and outside. In joining his mother and excluding his father, Oedipus shows us how disastrous it can be if either leaders or their staff can’t accept that.
  • Difference: the story depicts some of our difficulties with difference - between generations, between children and parents. Leaders have to resist creating an organisation in their own image and encourage the creativity of difference.
  • Succession: in organisations succession, though not normally won through murder and incest, is commonly problematic. How can leaders enable healthy, constructive succession?

Some more comments about the seminars from participants:

"The seminar on Bonding was fascinating. A complex topic, vital for effective functioning to understand it better."
International Director for Learning and Talent, Global company

"It was very thought provoking. The mixture of theory and case studies was really useful."
Dani Salvadori, Director of Innovation, Business and External Relations, Central Saint Martins

"The seminar on Love done as an in-house workshop for SLT was challenging and very positive. It’s given us some very helpful next steps as well as food for thought. Thank you."
Evelyn Davies, Headteacher, Coldfall Primary School.

"The seminar met and exceeded my expectations, some deep lying, thought-provoking content. It was positive and challenging."

"What was most useful about the seminar was the crispness and clarity of applying psychoanalytic concepts to leadership and the use of the Oedipus story. The vignettes were really helpful. This was a very gentle, insightful and enjoyable seminar and packed with information delivered in a very ‘un-training-like’ way. It felt like a fascinating dinner party without any food!"
"Really thought-provoking and interesting."
"Clearly a wealth of knowledge, experience and skill evident in the course leader."
"I am a true sceptic especially nervous around smaller groups, when you feel you will be under the spotlight but Gabriella put us all at ease and encouraged safe conversation. It was extremely thought-provoking and well thought through."
"I'd recommend this to others."

Gabriella Braun talks about Working Well

video thumbnail

Client's experience on Gabriella's work with leaders

video thumbnail