The Love/Power/Serenity Mental Model

This one has been in the making for quite some time. The more time I spent with this model the more I was able to add to it, but I think it’s ready for a “version 1”.

I first came across it when reading Mastering Leadership in mid-2016:

Read the book or check out the linked post if you’d like to drill deeper, but in a nutshell, the book lays out a highly compelling personal development roadmap for transitioning from a “reactive” state to a “creative” state.

Reactive behaviors are then grouped together into three main “types”: Love, Power and Serenity, or Heart, Will and Head.

We each tend to have a dominant reactive type which usually solidifies in late childhood / early adolescent as a coping mechanism/strategy for the life challenges we faced during those years. Since we develop it at such a young age, we often view it as an integral part of our identity and it becomes the source of both our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses. Transitioning from “reactive” to “creative” requires a subject-object shift in our relationship with our reactive type. Being able to see it as something different from “who we are” and deliberately harnessing its strengths while mitigating its shadow side.

The model seems to be theoretically rooted in the work of a German psychoanalyst named Karen Horney. Specifically, her theory of neurosis in which she classified ten patterns of neurotic needs into three buckets which map fairly well to the ones above: moving towards people (compliance), moving against people (expansion, aggression), and moving away from people (detachment).

As you’ll see below, the same 3-type model seems to emerge in rather unpredictable places. But first, a few words of caution.

  1. Anything based on pre-1950 (and I’m being generous here) psychology should be dealt with using a highly critical eye. Psychological theories back then were not based on the application of the scientific method with the same level of rigor that we expect of such theories today. That being said, it does not mean that they do not have strong explanatory power or that they are definitive false/not true.
  2. Any model that’s trying to sum up complex human behavior using a simple framework is inherently inaccurate and incomplete. But again, it does not mean that it cannot have strong explanatory power.

The table below summarizes all the occurrences of the Love/Power/Serenity model I’ve encountered to date. It’s worth saying a few words on each of those :

  • Metaphor — they key metaphor describing each type.
  • Horney coping strategy — they coping strategy used by each type according to Horney’s theory of neurosis.
  • Making meaning through — the lens by which each type makes sense of the world around them; the perspective by which they look at the world.
  • Key need — the key need that drives each type’s behavior.
  • Key fear — the key fear that drives each type’s behavior.
  • Reaffirming group message — I came across this one trying to structure internal communications that appeal to all audiences. This is the key message that each type needs to hear in order to buy into a group decision.
  • Trust orientation — the source of interpersonal trust that each type places the most weight on.
  • Bungay/Adair executive — the Bungay/Adair executive skill set framework that I captured a while back in “Decomposing Leadership — the Executive Trinity” maps rather well onto the three types
  • Reactive tendencies — these are the “Mastering Leadership” reactive tendencies mapped to each type, presented through their gifts/strengths (rather than their weaknesses).
  • Gallup talents — the (in)famous Gallup talents or strengths were initially classified into three main themes that quite neatly into the Love/Power/Serenity types: Relating/Striving/Thinking. In later versions “striving” was split to “striving” and “impacting”.
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The Love/Power/Serenity Mental Model

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