3 Key Leadership Psychology Skills

Last week I introduced the concept of leadership psychology. This blog will examine three crucial psychology skills that all leaders should master.

Psychology Skill #1:
Know Yourself Well

Knowing yourself, and knowing the forces that affect the people who work for you, holds the key to being a successful leader.” ~ Kenneth M. Settel, MD, Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, CEO Psychology: Who Rises, Who Falls and Why (RosettaBooks, 2012)

You probably have a sense of your personal talents and liabilities. Learning how to leverage them at work—amplifying your strengths, while minimizing your weaknesses—sets the stage for good interpersonal relationships.

You’ll also learn more about your leadership constitution:

  • Do you have the drive, personality and desire necessary to shouldering executive responsibilities?
  • Can you cope with the associated stressors and the job’s highs and lows?

You won’t gain self-knowledge in a vacuum, so consider working with a mentor or experienced leadership coach.

Psychology Skill #2:
Lead through Engagement

Engaged employees are 22% more productive, according to a new Gallup meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees. They also enjoy double the rate of success, lower absenteeism and turnover, and fewer safety incidents and quality defects.

In an engaged workforce, people want to come to work. They understand their jobs and appreciate how their specific responsibilities contribute to the organization’s overall success.

If you expect your people to back initiatives with focus and enthusiasm, develop five essential skills that Dr. Settel describes in his book:

  1. Maintain your focus. Don’t lose sight of your personal and organizational goals as you face the everyday onslaught of complex information and technology (yet another reason to retain an executive coach). Ask yourself:
    1. What are my guideposts? My first priorities?
    2. Am I sticking to my path, or am I getting distracted?
  1. Maintain your values and integrity: Regularly assess whether you’ve strayed from your personal and organizational values. Ask yourself:
    1. Am I keeping to principles and standards in spite of pressures and frustrations?
    2. Do I resist the lure of competition and greed?
  1. Effectively prioritize and allocate resources: Keep resources aligned with long-term goals and strategies. Strong voices, from inside and outside the organization, will place conflicting demands on you. Maintain a clear sense of what truly matters in the long run.
  1. Understand your people’s expectations: Subordinates have expectations from important parental figures, including their bosses. They count on your love, support and approval. Understanding these desires makes you a better leader, especially when expectations become irrational.
  1. Serve as a role model: Everything you say and do is magnified and interpreted, often in unintended ways. Your communication and behavior carry weight, influencing others. Employees want to know that you love your work and appreciate their contributions. They closely watch how you handle challenges and achievements, and they will mirror your behavior.

Psychology Skill #3:
Manage Emotions

We want to be liked, appreciated, rewarded and respected. We need friendships at work—some level of closeness and affection. We thrive in a work environment that allows us to safely express our opinions and feelings, including our aggressions.

If you expect your people to put aside their emotions and “just do the work,” you’re failing as a manager. Emotions are a fundamental part of what makes us human.

Regardless of your industry, you’ll encounter three common emotional needs at work:

  1. Attachment and connection: Some people’s social needs are minimal, while others are more pronounced. Some prefer to work alone, viewing social interactions as obstacles to productivity. At the other end of the continuum are people who never want to be alone. Be sensitive to people’s basic needs.
  1. Dependency, independency and interdependency: People depend on others for approval, validation and love. Even when these needs are satisfied outside the workplace, people seek to satisfy them at work. A good leader is sensitive to how much direction and interaction each employee needs to thrive at work.
  1. Aggression, anger and conflict: Aggression is a primal human behavior. When properly harnessed, it can energize a team and be productively channeled into creative projects. That said, aggression can also be disruptive. Many people are embarrassed by, or uncomfortable with, anger—especially their own. It’s up to you to recognize the early signs of aggression and talk openly about people’s feelings. Channel it away from destruction and toward innovation.
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