Work Place Psycho(babble)(madeup)ology

images (33)Love it or hate it psychology in the workplace has an impact on all or working lives. From applying for a job and taking a psychometric test, an interview that is semi structured or structured toward having to attend an assessment centre etc. When you attend a training/L&D programme hopefully your learning transfer is measured and an assessment will be conducted over time to ensure a good return on investment for the business. Research & models of leadership, management,groups/team function, H&S, HR, culture, behaviour etc etc, Notwithstanding the burgeoning area of coaching psychology that helps numerous people in and out of the workplace daily. Now I could go on and discuss every area that work psychology gets its sticky little fingers into, but this will probably start the collective yawn that work place psychology can evoke.

Psychology has physics envy, there I have said it. An ex-colleague and good chum who is a physicist & statistician takes a dim view of this adolescent science of psychology. Our conversations go like this – psychology is madeupology and just a load of psychobabble that doesn’t make any sense. After all you do is confirm the bleeding obvious, its all common sense! I won’t go into my reply as it is unprintable. So why does psychology have this problem and sometimes negative perception in the workplace? Why is it some businesses and individual see us as just confirming what they already know or perhaps think they know.

Well firstly the thing about common sense it ain’t that common. We generally see the world though a perceptual lens that suits our beliefs and values. Therefore it may be that psychology at work is of little value due to the seemly obvious nature of the results. However, without all the research behind the theories and models of the workplace and facets within the organisation, how can we ever confirm the bleeding obvious as it stays as perceived common sense? This is where the issues exists as a lack of understanding of the years of work on theory and modelling on so many different areas of the workplace that sometimes it just gets overlooked as business white noise. Perhaps then its down to us to make psychology more understandable and more applicable to everyone’s working life? Something I believe should be the case.

To use psychology in the workplace is a valuable tool that is excluded at the detriment of any organisation. Many guru’s are employed to cast upon the masses their pet understanding of how things work with people and groups. Thing is it is just one person’s one eyed view without any commitment to ongoing development of their subject, organisation or clients. Though I do understand you pays your money your takes your choice with all things. However, without any background in the subject apart for a nice certificate and a great chat up line where is the substance of the offering?

So as a geeky psychologist who cares about the profession, I see physics envy is a positive thing as it make us work harder to find answers to the big organisational questions. We are all psychologists, we love people watching and making broad generalisations about groups and their views. So why not find out about the science of the bleeding obvious and how uncommon common sense actually is. Its not that bad you know and we might be able to make some sense of how you and your organisation ticks.


A Leadership Question – formal or informal?

images (32)I am sure you have seen LinkedIn and other social media platforms awash with articles on leadership and becoming a better leader. How many articles and promotions do we see “10 ways to become a great leader” or “Essential Leadership Training” etc, along with countless banal quotes from eminent business characters. You have all seen them I am sure. Now if I was a cynic there could good reason for this in terms of leaders & managers may well have a resources to pay for management consultants fees? As I am not a cynic I am sure that this is not the case. However, most of the leaders we hear and read about are those with formal power, influence and position. What about those who have no formal power in an organisation or a group, what is it that draws people to them? What is it that perhaps creates a more authentic sense of leadership and vision for the followers?

Needless to say, a person can influence others, and in this sense be a leader. Others look to them for ‘leads’ and follow their direction or probably more importantly their behaviours (health and safety is a good example). I am sure we have often seen someone have a negative influence on behaviour within a group/team when they flout rules or reject authority. Similarly a person can have a positive influence by being clearly supportive of an initiative and engaged in a process – particularly where their involvement is discretionary. In many cases, it is the informal leaders that will be the strongest influencers of behaviour within a group as their influence is more direct, closer to the group and constant.

Informal leaders have capabilities that more formal leaders do not, simply because they do not hold a position of designated authority. They can suggest things to other team members that could not be said by a person in an official management role. Their ability to influence is different, since informal leaders are often perceived differently than formal leaders. The informal leader who might take on this task is respected, perhaps trusted, based on his/her performance and relationships with the others within the group. While the formal leader is more likely to be in a leadership role due to his formal authority and power.

So what do we make of the informal leader? Dean Pielstick at North Arizona University published a fascinating paper a few years ago “Formal & Informal Leading: A Comparative Analysis” where his findings suggested that informal leaders are higher levels of leading than formal leaders overall but notably in vision, communicating, relationships, community, guidance and character. All of the vitalcomponents of authentic leadership. Informal leaders seem to have more fun are personable and treat co-workers with more respect. The informal leader is less likely to use coercion or have a need for power and perhaps more importantly less likely to use fear. Although this study is not without its faults the finding suggest informal leaders are more authentic that may well provide a lesson for more formal leaders.

This topic is much under researched perhaps for the cynical reason noted above. Though we may need to pay more attention to informal leaders and identify their qualities. Perhaps it is a more pure sense of authentic leadership as they have no formal power within the organisation? This may then fuel the need to strip away titles and trappings of power to provide the organisation a more transparent form of leadership that the group engage with fully. Therefore inverting the organisational pyramid with the leader & leadership team no longer sitting at the pointy end at the top but facilitating the organisation to function without barriers. Food for though at least.

Drop me a line or call today to find out more of how to nurture your informal leaders or leadership style .



CD Pielstick – Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 2000 –


Self Employed Motivation

images (31)Now I have to declare my hand here as this post is a bit of a catharsis for me. Bring self employed there are times when its a bit like being a resting actor. The Peter Sellers character Warrington Minge was forever lurching between feast and famine taking his play Fulfilling less Last Finale around the provinces to less than eager audiences. So keeping motivated through times of feast & famine as self employed person can, like Warrington Minge, be a challenge that needs constant attention.

As a psychologist you would have thought motivation would not be a problem. Like most things its one thing motivating others than doing it for yourself. So with theories & models of motivation as long as both arms, how many work for a self employed person? What one or two models of motivation work for us to keep us going through the “resting” times?

If you are self employed (or even thinking about it) you have probably read the usual stuff of keeping good time management, not selling yourself short, keeping in touch with cash flow etc etc. Though this practical stuff can be a challenge if you are not thinking positively during your “resting” period.

So what theories are there to keep you motivated thought the days and the weeks when times are tough. Well dear old Maslow & his hierarchy of needs probably won’t help. There are those that feel this theory is pretty self- indulgent navel gazing stuff and for those that have the time and inclination to self actualise. Most other theory’s and models of motivation are to help people within organisations perform better, so may not help the self employed individual either. Most other motivators just go into a raft of things the self employed might not need to consider as they are no longer an office prisoner.

What do we make of all this then – what theory or model of motivation might help the lonely self employed person working at home? Here are three that seem to fit the bill but I am sure there are many more that may work to.

Goal Setting – Developed by Locke et al is perhaps the most important and practical for helping us stay on track. Using the simple and much derided SMART goals will begin the process of ensuring your self employment goals are achievable & measurable. Creating challenging and stretching goals with milestones will help stimulate and motivate you to focus upon those important reasons why you are self employed in the first place.

Learned Optimism – I am sure you have heard of learned helplessness in mental health; well learned optimism from Seligman helps us understand our style of interpreting events. In principle how we explain and interpret events that may seem the same into a positive or negative. Therefore to change our view may need a change in explanatory style. So if we believe we can achieve & focus upon the great reasons why we are self employed regardless of drawbacks i.e. “resting” it will help our overall sense of optimism. Granted this model is not without its criticism but certainly worth looking into more.

Attribution Theory – At its simplest Weiner’s theory is about how and why we explain events as they seem even when they are the same. Fortunately this model fits in with learned optimism/helplessness so well worth looking at together. Our attributional style may predict how we react to to certain circumstances and the likelihood we could enter into learned helplessness or perhaps start to be more optimistic. Again this theory is not without criticism but at least starts the process of helping us understand how we can learn to see things differently, even when times are tough. There are plenty of attributional style questionnaires on-line, so might worth looking into that.

These are only potted versions of these extensive theories and models but there is a great deal of good stuff in them to get the grey matter going.

So what does all this mean to a self employed bod who is trying to stay motivated. Clearly controlling how we think about the situation we are in and setting realistic goals will help us stay focussed. Putting processes in place whilst we have the time and perhaps looking at “resting” periods with a chance to plan better with more optimism could be the answer?

Good luck and I would like to hear about those self employed motivational strategies that can help others.

Kindest regards,

Warrington Minge