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The Ins and Outs of Leading with Psychological Intel

Beth Thornton

May 15, 2018

When we think of what makes a great leader, many adjectives pop into our heads: honest, focused, passionate, respectful, persuasive, confident. One of the most underrated aspects of leadership, though, includes a firm grasp on psychology. When leaders can understand beyond just the symptoms of issues i.e. reasons employees are procrastinating, or coming up short in their deliverables every week, showing up late and so on, we can adjust the way we address and coach them long-term. This is more than just recognizing a problem in your team, addressing it and calling it a day. This is taking a look at your team, understanding the core of rising issues, addressing them, but also addressing the way you are running the office.

In order to lead effectively, #leaders must understand anxiety & dismay, ambiguity and incentive. Read more by @InspireSoftware:Tweet This!

Take a deeper look into these three psychological traits effective leaders know how to coach, then learn how to apply them to your management style.

Anxiety & Dismay

Workplace related anxieties and fears are common in most industries. Just to name a few facts…

  • 40% of people experience persistent stress and anxiety in their daily lives.
  • Employees say stress and anxiety most often impacts performance (56%), relationships with coworkers and peers (51%), quality of work (50%), and relationships with superiors (43%).
  • Common culprits for workplace stress and anxiety:
    • Hitting or keeping up with deadlines (55%)
    • Interpersonal relationships (53%)
    • Staff management (50%)
    • Dealing with rising issues (49%)

That’s a lot to digest - knowing the majority of your workplace is uncomfortable and it’s very likely affecting their work performance. Leaders who understand how to identify stress and anxiety in themselves, and in others, have a lead on how to assess each individual effectively. Did you know people who suffer from anxiety worry their employer will interpret their behavior as a lack of interest or unwillingness to do the assignment or activity (38%)?

Show your employees you do understand the general pressures and anxieties of the modern workplace. This CEO’s response to an employee who requested a few “mental sick” days off work went viral on Twitter, “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.”

Give your employees the ease of mind that they are not only allowed, but encouraged, to take time for themselves to rest and restore.


Humans, while fantastic at looking into the future by making predictions and taking action, are also very fearful of change. The biggest question of “what if” looms over us as a natural protection against poor decisions or unfavorable outcomes. Change, especially in a workforce evolving as quickly as the one we’re all living in now, is inevitable.

As employees, that natural reaction to panic and wonder what could happen to them will likely come up. As leaders, it’s important to see the fear and help employees manage it. Present change with an understanding that there are uncertainties, but as the leader, you’re going to make sure forward-thinking choices are being made, not based on fears, but on educated ideas and predictions.

Effectively leading change isn’t just for one person to do on their own. To take an educational risk, leaders must collaborate with others within their circles (both internal and outside company walls), form ideas and the best concoction of solutions and direction. Once you have your change management plan, find the best way to communicate it and stay committed to your plan. When a leader is finicky in their delivery and how change is going to be executed, you’re only feeding the already existing change anxiety.

Lastly, make yourself an available resource for employees to come and speak to you about curiosities they have during this time of change. The more information you can give them, the better.

Learn more about a leader’s commitment to excellence and how you can encapsulate it for positive workplace outcomes.


Workplaces have been going through some fuzzy areas lately with identifying what motivates and engages employees; from bringing in gaming tables and free lunches, to company outings, and volunteer days, what has actually proven effective? Generally, people are more motivated by reward and the opposite when experiencing pain. This leaves new leaders in a tough place as they’re not always able to balance pushing through struggles to get to the reward part without bumping into pain first. It is important to note, however, that reward and punishment alike as motivational tactics, but it is sub-optimal motivation that will not last.

Effective leaders use the power of psychology to lead their teams. Are you using these three traits in your #leadership strategy? Tweet This!

Effective leaders will acknowledge the pain of working through hurdles and tough projects and keep their people motivated, engaged and empowered throughout. Employees are most motivated when they’re assured the work they’re doing has meaning behind it. We want to strive for purpose and valuable impact.

Shane Snow, Journalist and Contently Founder, speaks on the ineffective motivators many leaders subconsciously use to instill fear, Most companies (and managers) default to two types of motivation to get their staff to do what they need: economic pressure (performance bonuses, etc). Or emotional pressure (managerial hovering, “I’m depending on you,” etc). It turns out that these kinds of motivation may work in the short run, but they yield consistently negative effects in the long run.”

Instead of defaulting to these which can create a culture of pressured anxious workers, work on building a culture of purpose and potential. Identify the mission behind your employee’s work, tie it to your company goals and missions to give it meaning.

Engaging employees is a challenge. Learn more about understanding engagement and solving it.

Being a smart leader means understanding yourself first, knowing how to read your own emotions, learning what motivates good intention and seeing those emotions and intentions in your teams so you can adjust your approach accordingly. Don’t lead with fear, but with confidence, educated risk, consistency and value.

How will you use psychology to lead forward? Ready to start inspiring your teams? We offer a full suite of leadership development and software services, including: implementation, training, consulting, and coaching services to help maximize your results. Learn more about Inspire Software’s services and reach out to our team to get started.