Occupational Psychologists as Leaders video transcript

My name is Michael West. I’m the executive Dean at Aston Business School and an occupational psychologist.

I think it’s really important in terms of the development of modern organisations and of institutions in society that psychologists play much more of a leading role in their development, so I would like to see psychologists as chief executive officers, as people entering politics, as people who will really lead within organisations.

Organisations and institutions are made up of people and psychologists study human behaviour and so have a deep and evidence-based knowledge about human behaviour. So if we want leaders of institutions and leaders of organisations then I think psychologists are actually ideal. In many ways we offer many more strengths than do for example engineers or economists or financiers or lawyers and yet strangely few psychologists end up being chief executive officers, leaders of organisations, politicians. So I think as a profession, as a discipline, we need to embrace the concept of psychologists being trained to be leaders in organisations who will really make a significant difference to the world based on their knowledge of human behaviour.

The richness in our discipline as a result of research across all areas of the sub discipline is absolutely enormous. The difference we can make to organisations and societies consequently is huge but I do think we need to embrace that concept of the psychologist as leader in organisations and in society if we are to really make a positive difference and fulfil the potential of our discipline and profession. That means a concern with issues like performance and strategy and so on. In addition to really changing our self-concept I think we also have to interact with other disciplines like economics, strategic management, finance as well in order that we have our psychological knowledge contextualised in the issues which are of concern in organisations and concern in government and concern in society.

The second important element of the message that I would like to get across is that if we are to fulfil the potential of organisations knowing what we know from psychology about human well-being and growth and development, that we need to create organisations and communities where there is a high level of positive emotional experience. Negative emotional experiences are enormously important in human behaviour but we accept too readily the creation and development of organisations that are negative places for human beings to be in to work. So there’s a lot of conflict, people are not given positive feedback, they’re not given opportunities to grow and develop and we know that if people experience positive emotion, they’re more creative, they’re more cooperative, they extend their behavioural repertoire so we must take responsibility for getting the message across that people need to have by and large positive experiences within their workplaces if they’re to really fulfill their potential and enable the organisation to fulfil their potential. That also means that we must take responsibility for encouraging positive relationships within organisations and not tolerating the long-term hostilities and anxieties that are often characteristic of organisations.

So the key message that I want to get across is that really psychologists should take on the mantle of leadership, they should have a vision of the changes that they want to make, the difference they want to make to organisations and societies and communities. In addition to that vision they need to have optimism and confidence because that’s what leadership is about inspiring other people with confidence and optimism. It’s also ensuring that they are encouraging good relationships, as leaders we need to encourage good relationships within our organisations, within our communities and our discipline, our science has given us a great deal of evidence about how we build trust, how we build good relationships and we must take responsibility for ensuring that occurs within organisations and communities. It’s also about building effective teamwork. We have so much evidence that teamwork makes a real difference to the productivity and creativity of organisations so as leaders we must take responsibility for creating effective teams and communities of teams within organisations.

Increasingly for organisations and societies and institutions to be effective, collaboration is necessary. We have to work across boundaries. We have to work across cultural boundaries, organisational boundaries, disciplinary boundaries and psychologists have developed a good deal of understanding about how to work cross culturally, how to work cross organisationally and again this is an area where we can provide real leadership. The challenges that we face in society demand cooperation and collaboration between disciplines and between organisations and indeed between countries for example in the case of dealing with climate change we have the understanding and the knowledge of how those relationships can be built and maintained and therefore I believe we should be playing a leading role in encouraging cross-cultural understanding collaboration and communication across organisations, across industries, across institutions.

All of that will take an immense amount of courage because taking on the mantle of leadership, taking on the role of the discipline that seeks to make a profound difference in society, requires the courage to have a vision and the courage to promulgate that vision and courage to manage the conflict that ensues when you seek to innovate in society in an organisation so as a discipline I believe psychology must become much more courageous.

Finally, the message that I’ve gleaned from research and study of psychology over my career has been that kindness is absolutely fundamental in any human community and in building relationships, between individuals, between groups, across cultures, between countries and that our role as psychologists should be to build institutions and organisations and communities that are kind places where human kindness is a key value and that’s the critical thing that we can bring as psychologists as well what we’ve observed over the last two or three years is the failure of financial and economic institutions as a result of failure of values and I think that what we need to do in addition to sharing our scientific knowledge is to encourage institutions and organisations that are characterised by wisdom, by courage, by humanity, by justice, by temperance and by wonder and indeed spirituality. So I think we must be brave and build value-based kind communities that are informed and enabled by scientific knowledge from psychology as good as said or whatever you can do or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it. Begin in now.

Occupational Psychologists as Leaders video

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