Wednesday July 7th, 2021

Does Leadership Make Sense?

These are challenging times: Competitive pressure, permanent crises, uncertainties everywhere. How to deal with them? Everyone’s eyes are on the management team. And what do they do? Just a suggestion: They make sense, for a start!

Not long ago, the magazine ‘Managerseminare‘ asked HR specialists “how much psychology companies can tolerate”.” The experts agreed:

Psychological knowledge is at least helpful, if not necessary.

How trivial

I thought. After all, the purpose of leadership is to organize people and processes in such a way that they successfully create lasting value. How should that be done without addressing the employee’s needs and concerns – including their psyche?

Moreover, in many areas we have long seen that psychology is used for good reason: Advertising, sales, sports. Why should we refrain from using it in areas where it is more than appropriate: when leading people?

Daily Routine in the Kindergarten

On the other hand, daily business routine often looks different: Who doesn’t know a specialist who has come into a management position unprepared and then worked his way through interpersonal diplomacy - more and often less successfully?

Who has not yet had to deal with bosses or colleagues who tried to push what they wanted by using brutal force and almost violence? Which project manager is not familiar with the kindergarten arguments that crop up at some point in every project?

And be honest now:

Don’t we work with sandbox methods ourselves from time to time? Hand on heart: What do we really know about how we function, or our fellow men, colleagues, employees and managers?

Practical psychological knowledge? Well…

So it still is a long way

to psychological understanding in companies. The many work-related mental health problems indicate this, too. However, it is not necessary to look into the ugly lowlands of spreading stress diseases to find evidence for this.

Even inconspicuous developments say enough, such as the fact that fewer and fewer people are willing to seek leadership positions and refuse to follow appropriate career paths.

To the great astonishment of many alarmed companies, the motivational tool of status, power and money no longer works as it used to. What is the matter?

There is no doubt

that HR managers and executives today have difficult tasks: Finding qualified personnel that fit the company or even get employees to take on (leadership) responsibility, be innovative, perform well and stay healthy.

Companies are slowly but surely finding answers to many open and pressing questions: flexible working hours, today even with home office, childcare, specialist careers, etc.

But as welcome and necessary as these offers are, they only aim at the structural conditions. However, they do not touch the core of the company: the (managerial) daily routine and daily interaction.


People Make Sense

This daily interaction is shaped solely by our essential attitudes. In the face of competition, the pressure to act and perform, hierarchical, structural, and process thinking, we often lose sight of the essentials:

Companies exist to serve people. People work for people. And they do this together with other people. Therefore, business activity is above all: human activity.

Those very people

their actions and interactions are the object of psychology: What makes people feel, think, and do what they feel, think and do? What are their motives?

One of the most important findings is: People are always striving for sense, meaning, purpose. Constantly. Only when there are emotional or rational reasons — meaningful to us, not to others — we are ready to really get involved. Only then we are willing to really perform. The more meaningful something seems to us, the more we get involved — and vice versa.

So how much psychology can organizations tolerate? Especially in these times of increasing competition, this question seems bizarre. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to ask why we think that we can get along with so little psychology?

Company Purpose Humankind

Everyone should gain practical psychological knowledge and skills as early as possible. At least, this applies to managers.

After all, their only job is to ensure the company’s success — in the long term — by shaping the work environment accordingly. That is what they are paid for. They are fully responsible for the long-term performance of their employees, their well-being, and their health.

The best way for them to fulfill this responsibility (meaning to do their job well) is by providing psychological security, explaining to individual employees why they have what job, and promoting good behavior.

For this, it certainly is helpful to know as much as possible about how people “function”. However, for a start it could be enough to become aware of why we call meetings, manage projects, make phone calls, fill Excel lists or set up budgets:

We do this — exclusively — to serve people. And to give our actions a real meaning. Put it that way: Start making sense.