The Psychology of Leadership

A few weeks ago I attended a seminar by Myers Briggs on the Psychology of Leadership. It was one of the most encouraging seminars I’ve been to and confirmed all of the beliefs I have about leadership, in a quantified, scientific manner.

We all know the world is changing. In fact, I believe the world has changed. Compared to when my parent’s generation were in the beginning of forging their careers, there was this mentality that work was work. It didn’t matter if you enjoyed it or despised it, it was a means to put food on the table and clothes on your back and no one complained. Work was endured, not enjoyed.

Times are different. We want to feel a sense of meaning and satisfaction from the work we do. After all, we spend nearly a third of our lives at work so I think we are well within our rights to fight for this change. I don’t want to just endure a third of my life.

However, the emerging problem is becoming more apparent the more I work with high level executives. They were raised with an iron fist. They didn’t grow up in an environment where they were nurtured in their careers, or where their health was a priority in the workplace. They weren’t searching for a sense of purpose, higher meaning in the duties they performed. Work was a place you went to graft, put your head down and get things done. They have had to learn to adapt with the change in the new work environment where millennials want more. Some of them have welcomed the changes with open arms, embraced it and thrived even.

While others are still stuck in this tough love mentality, which brings me back to the seminar.

With a psychology background bred out of a fascination with human behavior and now working within People & Culture and Training & Development, I am fascinated with individual’s personalities, leadership style and learning styles – and the interaction of these on (under)performance.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you need to get read up on it real quick. In short, it’s a self-reported questionnaire that indicates your psychological preference on how you perceive and interact with the world. There are 16 possible personality types where you will score on a continuum on Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E), Intuition (I) or Sensing (S), Thinking (T) or Feeling (T), and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). Each personality types demonstrates distinctive ways in which they interact with and perceive the world.

What was interesting that came from the seminar is that in today’s world, most C-Suite leaders have personality types act and lead in ways that are very much task orientated, with a Thinking and Judging disposition. In contrast, most employees have personalities that interact with the world by Feeling and Perceiving where they are flexible and like to seek the view of others. Not only is there a difference in psychological disposition, but also in communication style. Leaders tend to be more factual but the recipients are mission driven. This creates an incongruity between leading and learning styles where employees feel like they aren’t heard or organizations don’t align with their values, which reduces employee wellbeing and therefore, stimulates high turnover.

So how do can counteract this misalignment? Perhaps it could be as simple as a self-awareness of the indiscrepancies between a leader and employee? Interestingly, an outcome from the seminar was self-awareness can increase wellbeing and in turn, predict performance.

Leadership teams want results and oftentimes when business or the economy gets tough, they revert to telling employees what to do, raising the bar, expecting more output with less resources and dismissing anyone who doesn’t measure up or get on board. But results are built on a foundation of trust. Trust to ask for help which allows a space of positive conflict and challenge to move past barriers, workshop ideas and come to a unified solution. If there is trust in a team, there will be commitment from employees where leaders can assign accountability, leading to results. When there is a positive culture and a unified goal between employees where they believe in the work they are doing, they will work harder and endure tougher times together. They will want to obtain the desired results for the betterment of the team and wider business. In times of stress or uncertainty, leaders often expect commitment, accountability and results without first building the foundation of trust which is where this toxic, high turnover environment is bred.

This is their personality preferences and how they were expected to work but sometimes, leaders need to take a step back in order to nurture and build a team up before they can expect results. To some managers, this can seem counterintuitive to attaining results as it can be time consuming and intensive but the results are astounding.

We all need to feel like we are a part of something bigger. Like we are listened to and appreciated and our work isn’t being done to make someone at the top wealthier. The world of today has a long way to go in terms of bringing their executives in line with their workforce but I think conversations and research like this is a really positive starting point.


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