Leadership is psychology

Leadership means to encourage people, individuals and teams to get involved in shaping reality in a meaningful way, through communication and your own actions. 

However, this is only possible if the manager understands the people’s mental state, at least in part – which includes the managers themselves. 

Only when managers are aware of themselves and their needs, drivers, values, imprinting and behavioral patterns, they are capable of communicating with others in a meaningful and targeted manner. This requires a high degree of introspection and self-reflection, acceptance of feedback as well as knowledge of basic psychological concepts.

Managers can use these concepts to help them better understand the people they interact with. As a consequence, managers can tailor their communication style, the way they allocate tasks and responsibilities as well as the feedback and management style to their team’s needs. 

Such psychological concepts include:

  1. Values: What set of values does a person live by, what do they stand up for, what are the issues that are closest to their heart, how important is family to them, etc.? Understanding this allows the manager to enter into an empathetic dialog with the employee.
  2. Drivers and beliefs: We are all shaped by the things we experience in our past, and to a large extent by our upbringing and early childhood. This has an impact on our today's thinking and behavior, especially in situations where we feel stressed and do not find our inner balance. The effects of this could be: excessive perfectionism, a desire to please everyone, always being in a hurry, not asking others for help, and making excessive efforts. Each and everyone of us usually has a tendency towards one or two of these five drivers. It is the manager's responsibility to recognize these drivers and to ensure that the employee does not risk a burn-out due to such drivers. (please refer to transaction analysis)
  3. Closeness or distance, stability or change: People tend to have various inclinations as regards the axes of tension of “closeness – distance” and “stability – change.” It is important that the manager keeps an eye on this and, for example, does not assign a task that is difficult and possibly conflict-laden to a person who needs a lot of closeness. (please refer to the Riemann-Thomann model)
  4. Personality types according to MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator): The personality type represents how people make decisions, how they take in information, whether they prioritize logic over harmony, and how they structure and organize themselves. When people with very different ways of working collaborate to make decisions, take in information, etc., misunderstandings or even conflicts can easily arise. By being aware of these different personality types and perhaps even making them transparent to the entire team, a manager can make daily business much easier. Managers can prevent conflicts in advance or at least resolve them quickly through open communication regarding different approaches or by ensuring suitable team constellations. (The origins of MBTI can be traced back to psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung.)
  5. Intrinsic motivation: Although intrinsic motivation differs from person to person, Daniel Pink found out in 2009 that there are three elements that, while they may well have varying degrees of importance, increase motivation in all people – regardless of cultural background or income group. These are autonomy, mastery and purpose. If managers provide their employees with a suitable framework for developing these three elements, they can ensure their workforce can achieve high levels of impact and satisfaction. However, this presupposes that monetary remuneration already results in some form of basic employee satisfaction.
  6. (Reality) Constructivism: Each person describes a certain situation from their very own point of view, i.e. their own world, which in turn is shaped by personal experience, assumptions, desires, expectations, explanatory models, etc. Their assessment of a particular situation might be very different from that of another person. Hence, each person lives in his or her own truth or reality. Against this backdrop, it becomes apparent how quickly misunderstandings can arise. The means that a manager can use to resolve or at least reduce misunderstandings is to offer a change of perspective. For example, the manager might help both parties to the conflict by making every party involved familiar with each other’s world. (Constructivism has its origins in the philosophical epistemology of the 20th century.)
  7. Self-image and external image: We all have some blind spots. Therefore, giving and receiving feedback is extremely important. Received feedback allows us to compare our self-image with our external image, i.e. the image other people have of us, and thus reduce the gap between the two. You will be able to make a better assessment of yourself and the impact you have on others by regularly comparing your self-image with your external image. This is essential for the manager, but it also makes it easier for team members to interact with each other. (please refer to Johari-Fenster)

In a nutshell: In my experience, the psychological concepts presented above have proven to be extremely helpful when it comes to self-leadership and personnel management. In my view, the ethos of a manager forbids misusing them for manipulative purposes – even in the slightest form. To ensure this, managers are advised to make those things they observe in their employees or the psychological concepts they use transparent to their employees or respectively the entire team.

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here

Further reading and watching:

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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