Why Being Psychologically Astute is Important

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“Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior, according to the American Psychological Association. It is the study of the mind, how it works, and how it affects behavior.”

medicalnewstoday.com, February 2018

While it would be unreasonable to expect all business leaders to be degreed psychologists, it would be desirable for all business leaders to at least understand human nature basics (how most human beings are hard-wired, e.g., we talk more than we actively listen), plus what makes their fellow co-workers “tick” (our motivators that, when fueled, bring out the very best in us).

Let’s use Jill, an authentic leader, as our example, with authenticity being a critical aspect. Without authenticity, the work that follows takes on an air of manipulation versus collaboration. If Jill first identifies her key stakeholders, including her customers, manager, peers, co-workers, and staff, then systematically invests the time in observing and learning about each person’s motivations, Jill would, no doubt, be in a position to genuinely connect with each individual in an extremely impactful way.

 However, the information gathering piece is only one part of the equation. Jill must simultaneously develop trust-based relationships with her key stakeholders if there is any hope of getting to know “the real person” beyond a superficial level. As Jill is cultivating these relationships, she must be willing to allow her vulnerabilities to show through in order for others to also let their guard down. 

There’s nothing worse than a leader trying to get to know us when the leader comes across as being stiff as a board with all protective shields engaged or leaders who have phony smiles plastered all over their faces, pretending they genuinely care for us when we suspect that they truly don’t. As human beings, our radar immediately goes up when we believe that leaders are trying to deceive us.

As Jill is gathering key stakeholder information and allowing her true self to be exposed, she must also create a “safe space” so that others know that Jill would never pull the rug out from underneath them or, said differently, surprise them in a negative way. To accomplish this, Jill must behave and/or react in a positive, constructive, and predictable manner on a consistent basis. This does not mean that Jill must always agree with us, which would be unrealistic. It does mean that Jill would:

  • Establish clear and reasonable expectation
  • Socialize those expectations with others
  • Provide others with the environment, methods, tools, and coaching that would enable expectation attainment
  • Be transparent as she interacts with others
  • Hold herself and everyone else equally accountable for achieving the defined expectations.

Aka, Jill would stick with the “game plan” and would only change course if fresh information surfaced and was discussed with her key stakeholders. 

Pivotal to creating a safe space, Jill would also use self-discipline to curb destructive or negative behaviors during stress-filled times, which is a true sign of an authentic leader. Leaders who succumb to pressure and, in doing so, take on an erratic persona, must recognize that their instability will break trust and ultimately cause irreparable relational damage.

Now that Jill has gathered important key stakeholder information while building trust, conveying a spirit of genuineness, and creating a safe space, she is ready to put on her “advanced” psychology hat as she interacts with her key stakeholders at an even deeper level. What would “a deeper level” look like? Imagine a workplace filled with Jill’s who, by intention, excel at:

  • Showing others they are valued
  • Empathizing with others
  • Appreciating how their actions might impact others
  • Seeking out common ground and win/win outcomes for all parties
  • Anticipating other’s needs, wants, and desires

We know that many organizations lack people like Jill if we simply look at their abysmal Employee Engagement scores. We also know that increasing Employee Engagement scores directly and positively impacts an organization’s bottom line. As leaders of organizations, we cannot afford to exclusively focus on the non-human elements of our jobs, which, quite frankly, many of us are doing. We must choose to embrace, invest heavily in, and take deliberate action to get to know our people in a meaningful way AND to effectively position them for success. 

To accomplish this, we must genuinely care about people, take specific steps to build out our psychology-based capabilities, and operate from a place of integrity as we seek to inspire and elevate those around us.

Today, more than ever, there is a need to lead with empathy so we may impart the importance of adaptability and resilience within our organizations and on our teams. These capabilities collectively build our minds, improve cognitive function, and create a space to affect positive behavior. 

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Sarah Richardson

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