Psychoanalysis on Lyndon B Johnson Term Paper

  • Length: 8 pages
  • Subject: Leadership
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #2124363

Excerpt from Term Paper :


Psychoanalysis can be a very useful tool for uncovering driving patterns in an individual's character. With proper care some people are able to identify why they act the way they do, and more importantly, alter their behavior as they deem appropriate. Additionally, the temporal evolution of this science has given us the power to look into the past and judge it from an entirely new perspective. By analyzing a person's most significant influences, it is possible to draw certain conclusions as to the nature of their personality and their possible subconscious motives. Unlocking the modern arsenal of psychological models, historical figures can be looked at from a point-of-view that is not limited by the cold hard facts of their accomplishments and failures; psychology can generate insights into their unique consciousnesses.

It should be noted, however, that psychoanalysis is not a concrete science -- few aspects of it can be quantified. Therefore, it should be understood that a practitioner, observing an individual for many years, may have numerous insights into that person's way of thinking; but it should not be expected that a doctor -- no matter how skilled -- have the capability to completely comprehend their patient. "Perhaps it is easier to understand that even though we do not have the wisdom to enumerate the reasons for the behavior of another person, we can grant that every individual does have a private world of meaning, conceived out of the integrity and dignity of his personality." (Axline 20). This is a psychological twist on the philosophical notion that you can never really know another person. Accordingly, endeavoring to examine someone distanced from you not only in space, but also in time -- the past -- limits any psychological conclusions to the most general of variety. So when looking into past and attempting to create a psychological model that might best fit any given individual, it is useful -- often times -- to begin with that person's occupation.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States. Even if this were the only fact known about him we would still be fairly fortunate -- from a psychoanalytical standpoint -- because this single piece of information says quite a bit about him. Most obviously, in our nation's history there have only been a total of forty-three people who have held this position -- this makes Johnson a rather exceptional individual. A common phrase often attached to a person holding this office is, "leader of the free world." Consequently, it is appropriate to measure such individuals against specific templates that define leadership. Of course, even if a person finds himself in a social position where he is defined as a leader, that does not necessarily make him an effective leader; this, like many other things, is determined by events. So, perhaps the best approach for analyzing someone as rare as a President is to measure them and their actions against common leadership models.

The first aspect of leadership is that a leader must have willing followers. "No leader exists without gaining the support of others. Yet this core element of what it means to be a leader is often overlooked." (Blank 11). Clearly, for someone to become a President they must generate a high level of public support -- they must be elected. However, listing a number of qualities, attributes, and behaviors inherent in individuals who are capable of amassing followers would be fruitless. Traditional beliefs holding that leaders should be headstrong, persuasive and ambitious people are necessarily flawed because of the extremely broad range of personalities that become leaders, and the extremely broad range of groups that demand leadership. A leader is defined by his followers: a President is defined by the people who elect him. Subsequently, the most important characteristic to identify when discussing a person who becomes "the leader of the free world" is specifically how they accumulated such a broad following.

Tolstoy's definition of leaders held that they were merely, "the labels that serve to give a name to an end, like labels, they have the least possible connection with the event." (Schlesinger 7). The event that demanded Johnson's label, at least initially, was Roosevelt's New Deal. Johnson rode into congress as a freshmen senator on the wings of this popular agenda. In fact, the signs Johnson used in his 1937 campaign for congress read: "a vote for Johnson is a vote for Roosevelt's program." (Schlesinger 41). Essentially, like many leaders before and since, Johnson's rise to power was partially due to his association with popular ideologies and individuals; Johnson established a unity of purpose with his followers by ascribing to major and easily understood platforms of the time.

Leadership begins with an idea that might resolve a problem or exploit an opportunity. A leader gains followers when he or she performs an action that influences the followers so they accept the leader's direction. In effect, the two become one of mind. Consciousness -- the capacity to process information -- is the underlying source of leadership power." (Blank 19). Even though the followers allow an individual to make decisions for them, they reserve the right to pass judgment on these decisions. Accordingly, a President must have an elevated capacity for perception. In other words, for a leader to gain followers he must demonstrate that he is able to make quick and effective decisions.

One quality that is often mistakenly associated with leadership is strategic planning. Basically, many people believe that leaders must, by necessity, have answers to long-term problems. Although it would be nice if this were true, the fact is that most people become leaders because of spur-of-the-moment decisions. Foresight is a prerequisite of leading, but in a more informal way than strategic planning -- strategic thinking. "Strategic thinking deals in futures, in patterns, in trends, in nuances that require an ability to sense emerging strategies in the middle of daily business chaos." (Hermann 193). It is for this reason that people like George Armstrong Custer became effective leaders: he could perceive many patterns in Civil War battle but only on the micro-level. Men flocked to his cause despite his complete inability to strategize on a large scale. He was bold, and in the midst of chaos he could make good decisions. People tend to recognize successful decisions made on micro-timescales more readily than they appreciate all-encompassing frameworks.

Similarly, Presidents do not come to power because they have concrete plans for an improved nation twenty years down the line. Time and time again Presidential candidates present to the nation "four-year plans," or even "two-year plans," to achieve any number of political goals. These time scales are necessary because they are relatively small, and easily recognized by the public; success or failure can be readily determined. Therefore, it is probable that a leader like Lyndon Baines Johnson had so many difficulties predicting the consequences of a prolonged Vietnam policy, because his skill was in the sort-term. Presidents and leaders in general, ascend to power on the shoulders of their unique abilities to identify and act in accordance with immediate trends. Long-term policies in politics and business can appear counterproductive on small timescales; consequently, they are typically ignored by leaders of large organizations.

What history would later deem Johnson's greatest mistake as a decision maker was his commitment of one hundred thousand U.S. troops to Vietnam. It was a short-term action to a problem that had been brewing for decades. One theory suggests that leaders make decisions based upon three criteria: shared beliefs within the culture, lessons learned from history, and personal experiences (Fujii 66). "Two basic tenets of cognitive psychology assert that beliefs tend to remain stable over time and in the face of discrepant information, and that information processing tends to be selective and subject to bias." (Fujii 71). Bearing this in mind, it is useful to investigate the possible personal, event-based experiences that bred Johnson's bias and contributed to the type of decision maker he was.

A clear influence upon President Johnson's life was his father. Theorists often point to the family as one possible source of the manner of leadership that one is likely to exhibit -- they call this the "family template." In fact, "Descriptions of the family template of numerous leaders reveal their family experiences as imprints that cast both shadows and light in their earliest education as leaders." (Mackoff 17). Experiences early in people's lives greatly influence how they react to situations later in life. Power struggles and decision making processes in the family can either provide future leaders with examples of what to do, or what not to do. "A template is a gauge, mold, or pattern that functions as a guide to the form being made. It is also a way of organizing information on a computer screen. The early family life of leaders like Al Gamper [president of CIT] suggests how brilliantly leaders organize information of family patterns and experiences and transform them in to habits of mind…

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