Today, successful business leaders are not simply admired, they are also analysed — what is the nature of their authority, how do they make successful decisions, how do they encourage and inspire their employees to high performance? At the centre of this is trying to understand how successful managers not only set the right goals and strategies for the brand or organisation, but how they inspire their employees to similar loyalty and work dedication (without the giant executive salaries).
Modern management science often incorporates theories of mental processes. However, the field of psychology itself has independently described the many complex factors — social, environmental and contextual — that come together in human behaviour. This approach leads to a bottom-up evaluation of workplace behaviour from the broader context of individual psychology. Hence some knowledge of pure psychology over and above strategic management allows leaders to have a greater empathy for employees, an understanding of individual differences and a knowledge of the different viewpoints and emotional reactions to situations in employees.
For example, cognitive psychology provides an understanding of how the mind processes information, and how this is both biased and individualised. These biases affect our decision-making and responses to situations. But, cognitive biases are known and can be predicted. This helps us better understand, for example, issues of miscommunication. Instead of trying to employ a well-worn conflict resolution strategy, cognitive psychology allows for an analysis of what is actually happening here, which could mean managing the conflict in a more idiosyncratic and therefore successful way.
Similarly, social psychology, which looks at the systems and emergent properties of groups, provides managers with a wider range of tools for understanding a particular situation and developing solutions. For example, there is an assumption that the best teams are tight-knit, smooth running and well organised. Yet psychology tells us that similarity and intensity will lead to less creativity as a single group mentality develops. For innovation it is important to have outlets for breaking free of this, for informal chat beyond meetings and even arguments.
Of course, some successful managers have a feel for other human minds intuitively, but for those who are interested in enhancing their ability to adapt their management style to different organisations, a general knowledge of pure psychology can complement your understanding of management and enhance your ability to become the business guru of tomorrow.
— The writer is Head of Psychology, Heriot-Watt University, Dubai, which is currently the only university in the UAE to offer Business Psychology programmes.