A Foundation for Leadership in the Workplace

Leading people requires that you understand the nature of people and their needs. This is why, as psychologist/business consultants, Lee Hersch and I have tried to carefully delineate the six most important psychological principles needed to understand people in the workplace. Leadership is not just a list of good things to do; it is a coherent approach to addressing what people need so they will be motivated and work productively with you.

Leaders who don’t understand the psychological responses that people bring to work, who fail to incorporate these fundamental psychological insights in their approach to management, will never be able to harness these responses to meet their organization’s goals. They are always going to underperform. Smart leaders will use these basic facts of life as a starting point, adjust their leadership strategy appropriately, and create a more productive, more motivated workforce.

Grounded in the latest thinking from evolutionary psychology, our first principle states that the brain works from the bottom up. Human responses reflect the underlying design of the brain, which has been fine-tuned over hundreds of thousands of years for survival. Primitive emotions like the need for security take precedence over higher order rational processes.

Put simply this means that if you expect people to act in purely rational ways, you’re kidding yourself. People are people, not Vulcans. Leaders not only know that people have their rational and irrational features, they relish in it.

What moves people is not a rational argument about the good of their organization, but the passion people feel for their organization (or team, or country, or other personal connection). Leaders engage the passion of their people for a cause. Passion provides meaning, energy, and commitment.

Fundamentally, leaders don’t fight human nature; they accept people. The acceptance makes leaders safe and comfortable for those around them. The acceptance allows a positive passion to develop and lays the foundation for all the other components of leadership.

Tom DeMaio, PhD


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