What Keeps Leaders Up at Night: Recognizing and Resolving Your Most Troubling Management Issues

by Nicole Lipkin

In this excellent book, clinical psychologist Nicole Lipkin explains the psychology behind many of the human behaviors that affect productivity and sound decision making in the workplace. “Good leadership requires dealing effectively with messy, quirky, unpredictable, confusing, irrational, and clumsy people. That is what makes the business of leadership so insanely difficult and complex.”

The author asks us to think about our best boss and our worst boss. “The best boss made you feel respected and valued. The worst one made you feel unimportant… I wager you performed better under the best boss. What separates the two experiences? Referent power… A successful leader often relies on referent power to influence people because it most effectively breeds credibility… This power depends on personal traits and values, such as honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness.” The six other types of power are also explained.

Why is story telling an effective way to persuade? “People tend to reason from the concrete to the abstract… This means that people will find it easier to accept a story at face value, while they may question an abstract argument… A story told from personal experience by another person carries the greatest influence.”

Why do people resist change? “Learning something as simple as tying your shoes takes a tremendous amount of initial brainpower, but once you get the hang of it, it consumes very little.”

Emotions are contagious. “One angry, critical, and nasty personality can bring down the whole team. By the same token, one joyful, supportive, and lovable team member can lift the whole team up… As with most everything a leader does, maintaining accurate self-awareness of your own mood and your nonverbal behaviors goes a long way toward fostering positive emotional contagion.”

On Stress: “Effective stress management makes you and everyone around you more efficient and productive… Listen to that inner voice; does it talk to you in a way that you would not tolerate if a friend spoke those words?”  Remind yourself: “I cannot stop stress… I can control my reaction to stress.” The book includes a section on resilience—“the ability to operate with grace under pressure.”

On optimism and pessimism: “Sometimes a proper amount of pessimism reflects healthy reality testing. But chronic negativity “shuts out options and possibilities… Anticipatory worrying may not only contribute to or trigger the stress response, it may also burn up the cognitive energy that you should invest in actually performing the dreaded task… A realistically optimistic person maintains hope, even in dire circumstances, by planning to make things better.” Lipkin also cites Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism.

On teamwork: “Common sense suggests that a team will accomplish more than an individual.” But this is often not the case. In an experiment in 1913, “the more men there were pulling the rope, the less each man pulled. Each man worked almost half as hard in a group as he did when he worked alone.” The author offers seven tips to address this.  Sometimes a competitive climate can turn nasty. “Create friendly competition, but not an ultimate ‘win or lose’ challenge among team members. Focus on how everyone’s individual efforts help the entire team achieve success.”

On group decisions:  Groupthink “helped demolish Enron and Lehman Brothers… A leader can prepare the team for an important meeting by urging them to do their homework individually and bring to the meeting information and ideas free from team influence.”

On engagement: “Employees who feel fully engaged in their work [have] higher rates of retention, lower rates of turnover, reduced absenteeism, greater productivity, enhanced profitability, fewer workplace accidents, and more intense customer satisfaction and loyalty… In a positive culture of engagement, people naturally go the extra mile for your team, for your customers, and for your company… Intrinsic motivation fires people up from deep inside their heart and soul. It engages them.” Positive feedback increases intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic rewards can actually decrease intrinsic motivation. Quality guru W. Edwards Deming wrote about this as well.

Self-awareness is a recurring theme in this book. “Self-awareness begins with admitting that you are human… Self-awareness always precedes any transformational change in thinking and behavior.” Another recurring theme is empathy.

I think a course called Psychology for Business Majors, using this book and Daniel Goleman’s Primal Leadership, would be far more useful than Psych 101 or any Human Resources course requirement I had (back in the day).

Lipkin, Nicole A. What Keeps Leaders up at Night: Recognizing and Resolving Your Most Troubling Management Issues. New York: AMACOM, 2013. Buy from Amazon.com

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