Psychologists' Tips for Leadership


By Susan Posada
on 31 July, 2016

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British Psychological Society Tips for Leadership

The BPS have just launched their new guide to leadership sponsored by Goldsmiths, University of London; Institute of Management Studies and written by Ella Rhodes, staff journalist for The Psychologist. Here are the ten top tips from psychologists for effective leaders:

Leadership is about ‘us’ and for all of us

Leadership is at the heart of all group activity. When staff teams succeed it is because everyone shares a sense of ‘us’ and the group becomes ‘leaderful’. Professor Alexander Haslam at The University of Queensland says that ‘leadership is all about creating and advancing a sense of group membership that is shared with followers. He talks about the 3Rs of leadership; Reflecting on what the group is all about, Representing its interests and Realising collective aspirations.

Be an example for employee wellbeing

Professor Gail Kinman from the University of Bedfordshire proposes that leaders must see themselves as role models for healthy behaviour in maintaining healthy boundaries between work and life outside of work, otherwise attempts to manage the wellbeing of others will be ineffective.

Good meetings, demonstrate good leadership

Respect your staff’s time and only hold meetings for a specific purpose. As Roxane Gervais, Chair of the BPS Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology stresses, one of the key components of leadership is awareness of self and others. Meetings should be productive and for a specific purpose. Your team relies on you for guidance, support and commitment and these qualities can be conveyed in how you manage their time and yours.

Develop your leadership potential away from the workplace

Get involved in other leadership roles within your family, community and leisure groups if you can. Think more broadly about what it takes to lead people and appreciate others who demonstrate these qualities outside of their work. Take time to get to know your staff team and what leadership roles they may have outside of work.

Don’t underestimate the impact of emotional intelligence

The understanding, regulation and use of emotions by leaders can have a substantial impact on their ability to lead. Business psychologist, Alan Lyons, stresses that the more someone progresses through a hierarchy, the more important emotional skills become in their success. Value, measure and develop emotional intelligence in order to improve your effectiveness as a leader.

Beware the glass cliff 

Professor Michelle Ryan (University of Exeter) reminds us to beware the tendency to ask women to take on temporary leadership positions in situations of crisis when things can go wrong. Ensure that you reflect not on just the quantity of leadership roles in your team for women, but also the quality of these roles.

Know your worth and don’t be afraid to negotiate

Negotiation skills are essential for leadership as you need to sell ideas and influence others to your way of thinking. Organisational Psychologist, Claire Mulligan, advises “Know your worth, what you want and why you want it, be prepared to compromise but don’t miss chances to influence”.

Embrace a new era of management styles

Professor Cary Cooper of the Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, has recently pointed out that we need a new era of managers now within the public and private sector. In particular, those who are more socially and interpersonally skilled in an effort to prevent employee burn out and ill health and to retain good people. Give your staff more autonomy and control over what they do and allow them to work as flexibly as possible within the confines of their role.

Clear your mind of mental clutter

As a leader you need clarity and focus to deal with the uncertainties and complexity you face. Mindfulness is proving to be a very effective technique to help people put distance between themselves and annoying, thrilling and boring thoughts, strengthening your ability to focus attention, build self awareness of your reaction to stressful situations and foster an acceptance of things as they really are. (Dr Henry Ford Executive Mindfulness Coach and leader of RSA Mindfulness Network).

Be aware of your own power

John Amaechi OBE and research fellow at the University of East London suggests that as leaders our every word, every action, even a stern glance has greater consequences. Our whispers are shouts and our outbursts explosions. He proposes that as leaders we need to treat the world around us like its tissue paper and avoid accidental damage so we can be more successful in our ultimate goals. Leaders need to behave with the mindful vigilance of a benevolent giant. This ensures that the same power which allows you to lift people onto your shoulders, treads none underfoot.

Final thoughts on Leadership

In a recent article in the Psychologist, Leicester’s Lesson in Leadership, Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher give many useful tips for leaders of organisations:

  • Leaders are only as effective as their ability to engage followers (Bennis 2003) ‘Without special followership, special leadership is nothing’
  • The task of leaders is not to impose what they want on their followers but to shape what followers want to do for themselves. For this to happen leaders must shape and articulate what they and their followers jointly believe and to do this they must start by listening
  • The ‘new psychology of leadership’ is that leaders must speak for the group (Haslam et al 2011). Leadership emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by the understanding that they are members of the same social group. In these terms the primary task of leadership is to forge, promote and embed a shared sense of identity in your team. One way to do this is to always use the term ‘we’ when talking to your staff team
  • To be more specific: leaders need to communicate three things:
    • That they are one of the team
    • That they are doing it all for the team; advancing the good of the team
    • That they are making the team matter; their actions and achievements are a practical expression of the shared beliefs and values of the team.

For more information around the psychology of leadership, contact our team of educational psychologists led by Dr Susan Posada on 0844 967 1111.

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