Understanding the Power of Transference in Leadership

Leaders are often regarded as the heroes of corporate culture. They inspire us to go places we would never otherwise consider. They are also needed to transform organizations and produce results. Good leadership is very important for a company to have a competitive advantage in today's business climate. Management scholars are very focused on the attributes of effective leaders.

We tend to focus on the various skills that a good leader should have, but there are also two components to the equation. One of these is the ability to attract and retain followers. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder to motivate people to follow leaders.

Management literature tends to focus on the qualities of leaders, which makes it hard to distinguish between followers and non-followers. This is because, in most analyses, they are only described as individuals who respond to a leader's caring or charisma. Let’s discuss more about the power of transference in leadership.

What is the Meaning of Transference?

Transference is the act of transferring something from one person to another, such as when a new leader takes over, or when feelings are redirected from one individual to another. Psychology students may already know this term as a clinical expression that involves redirecting emotions. For instance, an individual experiencing this type of transference may regard a teacher as a father figure.

Freud's theory of transference is regarded as the pioneering work of psychoanalysis. Each of us has various factors that can inspire us. On the one hand, there are rational and irrational factors that we can consider motivators. These include intrinsic factors such as recognition and making a difference and extrinsic factors such as money and power. On the other hand, irrational factors come from our emotions and are born from our childhood relationships. In adults, these are often unconsciously transferred to others to fulfill their needs.

Why We Follow: The Power of Transference

Psychoanalysis's founder, Sigmund Freud, was the first to explain how an individual's unconscious motivations can work. For many years, he was puzzled by the way his patients kept falling in love. Although most of them were women, the men were also captivated by Freud. It is a fitting tribute to Freud that, instead of being influenced by his own attributes, his patients were drawn to him due to his being a significant individual from their past.

Freud believed that the most powerful motivation for people to follow is the transference of images from their childhood to a leader. Unfortunately, this idea has since changed due to the emergence of a new social character, that is more collaborative and sibling-like. As organizations expand globally, leaders will face a variety of cultural values and identities.

The followers' motivations are categorized into two categories: rational and irrational. Rational ones are usually focused on our desire to gain power, status, and money from following a great leader. On the other hand, irrational ones are those that are outside of our control and can't be stopped. Most of the time, these are triggered by our unconscious emotions and images.

During therapy or falling in love, patients transfer their past experiences to the present. Freud believed that the phenomenon was universal, as it explains why people tend to choose partners who are similar to their parents. The concept of dynamic transference was one of his most significant discoveries. For Freud, it was a vital goal of psychoanalysis, as his patients were ready to stop therapy if they could master it.

Why Do People Prefer to Follow a Leader?

Whether it is in a political or workplace setting, leaders play a significant role in the functioning of society. They inspire us to go places we would never consider otherwise. They are needed to change organisations and produce results, and good leaders are vital in any business setting as they can help a company compete with others.

Freud first proposed the concepts of counter-transference and transference in his seminal work, The Problem of Transference. In a therapeutic setting, a person's desires, thoughts, and feelings can be directed toward a therapist. Transference is a phenomenon that occurs when a person in therapy applies certain emotions or feelings toward a therapist. Counter-transference, on the other hand, occurs when a patient's feelings are redirected to a therapist.

It is important for therapists to develop healthy boundaries in order to avoid becoming involved in unconscious counter-transference. The dynamics between a team and a leader can have a significant impact on how effective a leader is. This can also be seen as a dynamic in the workplace, which can hinder a team's success.

The transference dynamic can also get out of control at times in the workplace. For instance, during times of stress, people tend to be more focused on their irrational feelings and the protection they need from their leaders. This can lead to a situation where the leader is less likely to notice that his or her followers are acting out of childhood fears.

During the 1980s, a vice president of an organization was experiencing transference. His subordinates were complaining about how he was not addressing their concerns and providing them with the necessary reassurance. Even though he was making progress in his division, they were still not happy with his leadership. This type of situation is referred to as countertransference. A leader can respond by reflecting on their past experiences and showing their followers how they have changed.


Transference is very powerful for growing in your career, however, sometimes it can be bad as well. In order to prevent transference from affecting the workplace, leaders should take the initiative to identify and address the issues that their subordinates bring to the table. This can be done through training and awareness, but it is important to note that not all leaders are psychotherapists. While it is their responsibility to help their team succeed, they should not attempt to resolve personal issues.

Transference is a powerful tool that can help bind people to a leader. It allows employees to see that the person they are working with is better than they actually are. They also tend to give the leader the benefit of the doubt, and they take on more risks because they believe that she is more charismatic and smart than they would otherwise. This works well if the leader's reality is still far from the followers' idealized image

Updated on: 15-May-2023


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