Good psychologically informed leadership would build human workplaces, where motivation and job satisfaction would be high, the need for stress would be radically diminished and the commercial benefits would speak for themselves.
Naïve optimist? I don’t think so, because opportunities for wellbeing are still in the hands of those in charge.
Two firms I’ve worked with illustrate the differences between those leaders who understand its importance, and those who do not.
Case study 1: Still separating mind and body
A client told me that his firm had a resilience programme. Great news. It was to be evidence based, so lots of ECGs and fitness monitoring. “And the psychological side of things?” I asked.
Nope, never mentioned. If questioned, the response was get the physical right, everything would be ok.
It was designed by doctors with no training in psychology, feelings about radical business changes, confidence about a new role, and self-knowledge. Even why sticking to the exercise programme was difficult was overlooked. You might end up with a toned body, though. . .
The client already saw a therapist as he recognised psychological issues weren’t being dealt with and he was feeling more stressed about even more targets on top of punishing work goals.
In fact, the mind-body separation of Descartes was debunked decades ago. Everything is psychological. Especially leadership.
Many leaders find these skills very hard indeed. Let me show you a firm that wanted to get this right from the top.
Case study 2: The firm knew the work culture had to change
- They were fighting off stiff competition in the market;
- They needed employees to take greater autonomy and greater responsibility;
- They realised this could have a big impact on their wellbeing;
- So, what did they do? – basically everything.
They appointed me, a psychologist, to work with the occupational health physician.
First I coached the managing director – a powerful bullish sort of man. He got it. Then the managers.
We offered free health screening, health advice and opportunities for exercise on site.
We laid on workshops on communication and teamwork so they were confident voicing opinions.
They put traffic lights in the canteen so that people could still have the deep-fried pizza, but knew it was red, so on occasion they could choose an amber or even a green option. It was nudge before nudge was conceived. And so on. . .
Performance was transformed. We just need to ensure that leaders have a strong basis of the science of human functioning.
Positive psychology research demonstrates what we need for a healthy and successful life – PERMA. Our working day ought to be supplying these needs:
Positive emotions: optimism, positivity and gratitude correlate with both success and wellbeing. In some organisations, people don’t even say thank you. It comes up every time in engagement surveys. Leaders set the tone for this.
Engagement: A culture where your strengths are recognised and you are encouraged to use them in everything you do will be happier and more successful. We are only aware of shortcomings. Sometimes not even that, as people are often unskilled in giving feedback. Leaders need to give strong messages and enable key strengths to be used daily for success and satisfaction.
Relationships: where people form good relationships at work they are more successful and fulfilled at work. This does not happen by chance. Good leaders build team relations. Bad ones make everyone vie for their approval or attention. It is a straight choice.
Meaning: I believe I have one of the most meaningful jobs possible – enabling people to find their potential and fulfil it. But every job is meaningful when you understand your place in the big picture. Good leaders inspire with the vision they portray of the significance of each employee
Accomplishment: At the end of every day many feel, ‘I got nothing done’ despite working hard. Work gives the ideal opportunity for mapping month-to-month achievements and seeing your own growth. Annual appraisal is such a waste of opportunity if we don’t recognise how much we have accomplished.
So that’s a crash course on some of the science that leaders have not had the time to pick up on the way up the organisation.
We cannot afford psychologically dumb leaders. If people are truly your most valued asset, then don’t stay an amateur. Learn how to be an expert in the human condition.
That’s real leadership. Nothing soft about it.
Check out Positive Psychology for Dummies by Averil Leimon and Gladeana McMahone if you want more practical insight.