Is Your Boss a Psycho?

As a young man, I spent two years in Ohio as a volunteer missionary. Some people would want to contend with my views. I was tempted to debate but a wise leader explained: "You can't afford to win the argument and lose the people."

I believe that people matter most. This is what I tell delegates on our training courses for senior people managers. But there is resistance from some. They mistakenly think that performance is the only thing that counts.

Now, a person with a psychopathic personality can manifest a lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, or extreme egocentricity…

I am not accusing your boss of being a psychopath (which often is associated with perverted, criminal, or amoral behaviour!). I’m obviously exaggerating to make a point. Plenty of managers will admit that they see people as an inconvenience that get in the way of them hitting their targets. They even pride themselves on being results-focused and claiming not to care about feelings.

In the 21st Century, knowledge-based economy, this approach is just plain wrong.

“You manage things, you lead people. Get interested in your team’s feelings and perceptions. People are not machines. Psychology is the people manager’s essential new best friend."

If you want to improve performance fast, focus on the people you lead. Performance naturally flows from engaged, motivated team members who believe their work has meaning. You want to know how to achieve this? Psychology.

If you haven't read the work of Daniel Kahneman, I suggest you stop what you're doing. Now. Because once you've understood how decisions are made, you will do your job better.

The way our team members make decisions is never determined by logic alone. Perception is a psychological process. Perception not only creates our experience of the world around us; it allows us to act within our environment.

My position is that leaders in all walks of life ought to be fascinated by, if not fixated on psychology.

How audiences perceive their ability to affect a decision is critical in how well-received the decision will be. Framing and re-framing is the major purpose of any management of yourself or others. [NB – this is NOT implying manipulation. Understanding the psychological impact on perception should result in organisations changing their actions to be more appropriate – not simply increasing semantic subtlety!]

An example is given by Rory Sutherland, in a TED Talk. He cites the example the London Underground. The single biggest improvement in customer satisfaction on the tubes, per pound spent, was not adding extra trains but putting dot matrix displays on the platforms.

This is because the nature of a wait is not just dependent on its numerical quality (the duration) but the level of uncertainty experienced during that wait.Waiting seven minutes for a train with a countdown clock is less frustrating and irritating than waiting four minutes, not knowing when the train is going to arrive.

Sutherland is not suggesting we should value psychology over technology and economics (and neither am I). But we should view them equally and try to find the “sweet spot” where they overlap.

It may actually be that the circumstances of our lives matter less to our happiness than the sense of control we feel over our lives. As a result, re-framing may actually be the key to our happiness. And highly effective teams.

So, in summary, I believe leaders ought to be fascinated by psychology. Perception is not (necessarily) reality. But how people perceive reality, what they believe, will affect their attitudes and actions. If performance is your goal, people must be your focus.


Co-founder of training firm, Mission International Ltd, Justin is a sought after coach, teacher and trainer. Justin delivers interactive workshops globally for corporate and not-for-profit organizations. This includes team development, leadership and communications training for Europe's best business school, HEC Paris, Invesco and VMware.

He has collaborated on significant published research in the field of human systems. Justin counsels with senior executives at organizations including the ...

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