The psychology of leadership

The concept of leadership sounds very simple, but the real story is that being an effective and true leader is hugely complex – and this complexity gives us a fantastic array of people that we can call ‘leaders’.

Today’s leaders are expected to be agile, flexible, ROI-driven, socially-aware and relationship-oriented, open-minded and supportive collaborators actively seeking out different perspectives and breaking down traditional non-functioning barriers in order to achieve exceptional results.

Whether this is Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Sir Alex Ferguson, the captain of the local rugby team or a teenager with the right stuff, leaders come in different forms.

If we accept the need for flexible, agile and relationship-driven leadership, then it is important to develop a leadership model that nurtures such people – regardless of where they are in the organisation.

Over the last 10 years or so, I have been delivering various flavours of leadership development ranging from one to one mentoring through to fuller blended programs. What I have seen over time is the growing importance and relevance of the integrated psychology of leadership.

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Essentially, the ‘hard’ leadership skills (business knowledge, technical know-how) in themselves are not strong enough to make a great leader and it is necessary to get into the values, beliefs and psychology of the person to understand why certain behaviours manifest themselves.

Let's be honest, we see a lot of 'leaders' who are actually managers in the wrong place at the wrong time – and (usually unsupported and left to their own devices by the people who have put them into this post), they struggle.

The point is this: the modern leader has modern issues that some of the established leadership theories (whilst having some validity) do not address:

  • Traits theory (originally mooted in the 19th century) suggested that leaders are born and not made
  • Behavioral styles theory (first mentioned in the 1960s) used a managerial grid model that assumes a slower world pace – it may not be suited to 21st century organisations as other more flexible approaches
  • The majority of situational and contingency theories assume that leaders can simply flick a switch and adopt different behaviours
  • Functional theories (e.g. Action-Centred Leadership) assume that the leader applies leadership behaviour as needed, regardless of their personality

When you consider some of the leaders mentioned above, we think of their personality too – we don’t necessarily say that Richard Branson is brilliant at reading a balance sheet, but we DO refer to charisma, self-publicity, and friendliness. The psychology of the leader determines the actions of the leader (which, in large part, informs the success of the leader).
 

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I’m not suggesting that we dismiss all previous leadership theories – the great thing is that we can pick-and-choose the best bits (the bits that work for us at any particular time) in order to develop a model that suits the organisation.

This led me to build the Integrated Psychology of Leadership model (IPoL) - a blended approach that flexes with the corporate and leadership need.

Read more: How to become a limitless leader

Being prescriptive and suggesting that one-size-fits-all is inappropriate and I would advise any leader who is self-aware enough to recognise the need for continuous professional development to work with someone with the ability to build a solution for them.

Here are a few things leaders can do to develop:

  • Social emotional learning – with emotional intelligence as a foundation, the 15 aspects of social emotional learning can be applied in the workplace – how to be better leaders and collaborators
  • Talking therapy – working with different talking therapies as a way to understand yourself and your colleagues – breaking down resistance to change by appreciating how negative perceptions and thoughts impact your effectiveness in the workplace;
  • Performance coaching – when you have explored your past and identified your thoughts and behaviours in the present day, it is time to plan for the future – how to achieve positive and empowering visions
  • Reflection – reflective thinking is often overlooked but is an essential part of leadership - take the time and space to look at how you have felt, thought and acted - and how this will inform your next move
  • Collaborative Intelligence (CQ) – the 15 elements of collaboration that ensure productive co-working

In my experience, a strong leader should be able to not only encourage the leaders of tomorrow but consistently build the capabilities of the leaders of today – and the people supporting them should be just as able. 

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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