We ignore, abuse or betray the drivers at our peril. They lie at the core of behaviour. This chapter looks at how and why we behave as we do, how we lose balance. In particular, it looks at how we become excessively driven, how we develop habits that blind us to reality and lead us to cover up or ignore the life around us. Finally, it links these behavioural patterns to how we learn, or, more unfortunately, how we refuse to learn.
To begin, then, with the story of an extraordinary and tragic life that, until recently, has been largely ignored. The story is the foundation for understanding how the abuse of perhaps the most fundamental driver, the need for family bonding, can destroy our lives.
Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Albert Victor was born in the early afternoon of January 27 1859. The future Kaiser Wilhelm II had a traumatic birth, which was to lead to a childhood that outraged three, at least, of the four drivers, those of the need to bond, to defend and to learn. There can be little doubt that the young Wilhelm's childhood experiences of abuse formed the resentful, bitter, obsessive and loveless character that helped make inevitable the First World War. There will have been many other contributing factors, AJP Taylor, for example, has argued strongly about the impact of railways; but Kaiser Wilhelms hatred of Britain, of his mother, and the need to cover up his shortcomings by a frantic display of his own fantasised military strength, played a hitherto largely overlooked, part. He wrote: "An English doctor killed my father, an English doctor crippled my arm – all due to my mother who would not have Germans near her."
Wilhelm was a breach baby, partly asphyxiated during birth. Breach births are highly risky affairs. There is frequently a lack of sufficient oxygen and/or blood for the child which leads to brain damage. The head is often squashed. In Wilhelm's case this risk was increased by the extensive and unskilled use of chloroform and ergot to help to save his mother, the Princess Victoria (see Sidebar 6). Knowledge of chloroform and experience of its usage was in its infancy during the mid-19th century. Today, all forms of anaesthetic are used as sparingly as possible. Treating Princess Victoria and delivering the future Kaiser presented the attending doctors with considerable additional and social challenges. They were particularly concerned at the self-evident pain suffered by Victoria through the birth, a concern greatly enhanced by her royal importance in both Britain and Germany. At the same time, aristocratic decorum forbade them a "clear run" at the patient. The British doctor, Sir James Clark, was forced ultimately to carry out a difficult operation virtually blind, feeling and fumbling his way beneath the heavy folds of the dresses of the future Queen of Germany, held firmly in place by nurses to ensure the good doctor could not see the Princesss naked body. The relatively clumsy efforts of the doctor in delivering the baby, and coping with the difficulties of the birth, meant Wilhelm suffered serious injuries to the side of his head, his neck and his left arm.
The future leader of Germany was born with damage to his brain and body. It rapidly became clear that he was hyperactive, socially unaware, difficult to love and with a limited attention span. His withered arm and misshapen face led him to feel inadequate, unmanly, not fit to rule, and to develop procedures for cover-up.
His experiences at birth and his subsequent physical disabilities should have been enough for any little chap to bear. But unfortunately he was to be submitted to 15 years, effectively, of child abuse and never to feel the love of his English mother, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of England. As he grew up, the young Wilhelm endured a persistent regime of iron head-, arm- and body-braces. He had his healthy right arm strapped to his side; "animal baths” were administered twice weekly, when the left arm was placed inside the warm body of a freshly-slaughtered hare for half an hour. For five years he was regularly electrocuted. John C G Rohl lists in all nine differing and, in the main, horrific or painful treatments to the Prince in his first twelve years.
All this torment was administered with the absent support of his parents. The father was frequently away on army duties. The mother, ashamed of her son, would not let her own mother Queen Victoria see him for two years, and was incapable of coming to terms with his poor looks or emerging poor school performance. On the contrary, Princess Victoria, his mother, assiduously transferred her affection to one after another of her 13 babies each one "more beautiful" than the previous one.
The Prince grew up jealous of his brothers and sisters, headstrong and furious if thwarted, gradually looking for blind obedience from his friends, incapable of adult and questioning relationships, and retiring frequently into a fantasy world of militaristic glamour and victory. Forced upon his own inner world for the love he never had, he became ever more narcissistic, creating for himself a vision of having a divine right to rule and a no less divine capability for the job!
The final thread in the developing pattern of the Prince's warped thinking was created through his mother's insensitive and persistent portrayal of everything British as being excellent, cultured, the best; and everything German as being brutish, uncivilised and second-rate.
As he grew up, the Prince retreated from his mother, found selectively those who shared his obsession with Germany the Fatherland and military glory, and focussed his ambition on the destruction of British supremacy. Prince Wilhelm's upbringing and future character can be summarised in terms of trauma, anxiety, fantasy and stress (see Figure 2) and contrasted with the more robust alternative of socialising parents.
Children start out messy and disordered, dependent upon their parents. The adult parents provide an unconditional love, are there for their child and gradually provide further love and care in return for the child's steady and growing conformity to the parents' values.
The parents, meanwhile, continue not only to show and share love with the child, but also to encourage independent thinking and learning. Gradually the child builds his or her own set of values, becomes open to experience and learns independence.
The pattern for the abused child is very different. Initially it may cover up its fears; it may try to attract attention through excessive behaviour. Without the simple reward of love, anxiety will increase, and the little child, unable to rationalise his or her stress, will look to fantasy as a means of turning a blind eye and covering up. The trouble is that this does not alleviate the anxiety – in the Kaiser's case, his need for a mother's love which was lacking; the driver of bonding is being abused, his fantasy becomes a habit. The process or pattern that now evolves needs careful understanding. The basic source of anxiety remains in place – perhaps a marriage breakdown, perhaps specific abuse. The child continues to suffer and starts down a psychologically damaging "vicious spiral" of reaction, continued anxiety, cover-up, and then greater cover-up as the anxiety does not go away. This “cover-up” frequently takes the form of retreating into an inner world, a fantasy land where the child can, for the moment at least, turn a blind eye to its daily reality and suffering. Fantasy land gradually becomes a habit, and so the child grows up by degrees into a regular use of its fantasy habit, or whatever other cover-up he or she has adopted, as a readily available means to avoid confronting the day-to-day difficulties of real life. For some, the avoidance is expressed in simple denial. Normal, well-intentioned criticism is met by a knee-jerk angry rejection – “Leave me alone, I know what Im doing.”, “I didnt do that”, “Its not my fault, why didnt someone tell me?”. “Stop criticising me”. For those with a hiding place in fantasy land, however, the consequences can be lasting, and they are ones that grow as they feed upon themselves. It is the psychological version of a thrill-junkies need, not just for the next thrill, but for an ever-greater thrill.
By stages, the emerging adult will create imaginary worlds to conquer, relationships to wallow in and ever more glorious forms of success to dream about. At every step the worlds will need to be greater, more fantastical, more glorious, for the opiate effect to work. And so, by stages, the emerging adult will reject those who criticise, no matter how well-qualified or well-intentioned they may be. The young adult will find it difficult to have grown-up relationships, to survive the give-and-take and to provide the unconditional selflessness of real love and deep relationships.
This is, by the way, especially true of young people who have watched a bitter marriage breakdown – in many cases my clients have never even seen their parents kissing, making love, arguing and remaining in love. These children are denied even the basic vocabulary and grammar of open and vulnerable love.
But back to the behaviour pattern – the young adult will have difficulty sharing adult relationships. Those who challenge are rejected precisely because they are challenging the fantasy habits that have become a crutch to the driven individual. And, most significantly for us in understanding the CEO driven to ever-greater acquisition, personal aggrandisement, or sexual conquests, no one level of success is enough. Each win confirms the adults faith in himself, undimmed by any respected nearby critic, because they have long gone. The man or woman starts to believe their own genius, any threat on the horizon is seen as an absolute and to be destroyed. And, at the same time, the stakes rise.
Each win confirms the need for an even greater win next time, even more glory – we have arrived at the world of the driven person. There will be no room for open debate, organisational controls will be flouted, senior advisors ridiculed and then replaced. No amount of press coverage will suffice, the likelihood is that marriages will fail and the driven leaders dreams will become increasingly paranoid.
Rõhl describes the almost hysterical culmination of the Keiser's thought processes and actions leading up to the First World War and then in exile prior to his death at the start of World War II.
- surrounded himself with young, na¡ve, inexperienced and sycophantic courtiers – he embraced his own divine right to rule absolutely;
- the court itself was run as an entirely personal fiefdom, a hugely expensive pandering to Wilhelms dream of a royal fantasy world out of contact with the real needs of his new nation;
- senior officials and statesmen were ridiculed, ignored and left;
- any military move by Britain was seen as a personal affront, requiring immediate and overwhelming response, leading in turn to the naval arms race of the early 1900s;
- Wilhelm experienced great difficulty having full loving and sexual relations with women.
- feeling more and more inadequate, he developed a fear of being persecuted and found a scapegoat in an increasingly vicious loathing of Jews, and almost rhapsodic support for Hitler and the emerging Nazi movement.
The abuse of the infant Kaiser's fundamental drivers took a heavy toll. The behavioural pattern that then unfolded was at least one of the contributors to World War I. But his experience, and the actions that followed, is by no means atypical. Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of “Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar” said “Stalin had a very unhappy childhood and was laughed at because he had a withered arm.”. I see a story such as this, to a greater or lesser degree, in many CEOs. But to fix the behaviour patterns more clearly, lets look briefly at those of the most extreme example, of Adolf Hitler.
Hitler's sister says her young brother rarely went to bed without having been beaten by his father. Ian Kershaw describes the father Alois, as: ”The archetypal provincial civil servant – pompous, status-proud, strict, humourless, pedantic…. too harsh, bad-tempered, unpredictable….an authoritarian, overbearing, domineering husband and a stern, distant, masterful and often irritable father.”
It is unlikely the young Hitler ever saw or felt the unconditional love of two grown-ups for their child. On the contrary, it is likely that the “Mein Kampf” description of children seeing drunken beatings of their mother by their father draws on his own childhood experience. Kershaws two-volume study of Hitler (“Hitler Hubris and Nemesis” Ian Kershaw, Allen Land: The Penguin Press, 1998) paints a picture of the young man increasingly drawn into his own fantasy world, hiding from his failures by creating ever greater fantasies that allow him to turn a blind eye to his lack of success at school, his failure to pass exams in Vienna, and to his failure to come to terms with his own ambivalent sexuality. He never achieved relaxed maturity. By this I mean that Hitler seems never to have been able to be relaxed, open, vulnerable to criticism, even just to be simply content, to be. His greatest delight was taking tea in the afternoon, walking his dog, and otherwise, I surmise, living quietly in his own fantasy world. As he grew in stature so his world became more extreme, less open to challenge, and less and less to do with natural debate and discussions.
Hitler and the Kaiser may well have shared a similar behavioural pattern. In both cases the most powerful and formative anxiety was initiated by the abuse of their drive for bonding. In both cases, coping with the anxiety led to a habit of fantasies, and to turning a blind eye to the unattractive reality of their lives, and also to a selective perception of society around them.
I have spent some time telling the stories of the Kaiser and Hitler. I want to fix this behavioural pattern clearly in your mind. In my experience this is one of the most common patterns that lie behind the behaviour of driven leaders, and alarmingly it is a pattern likely to be on the increase given the growing number of failed marriages, and bullying of children.