3 psychologists share their best research-backed leadership tips

How to Become a Leader with Goldman Sachs's Dina Powell
How to Become a Leader with Goldman Sachs's Dina Powell

What the latest psychological research has to say about becoming a great leader.

As a discipline, leadership may be as old as the first tribal headman who led his band on a victorious mammoth hunt. But that doesn't mean the art and science of being a great leader isn't always evolving.

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Just as every year physics expands our understanding of how the universe functions and medicine finds new ways to treat disease, psychology is constantly turning out fresh research into how to be a better leader. What are the latest findings?

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The always intriguing British Psychological Society Research Digest blog recently did entrepreneurs a favor, rounding up ten tips from top psychologists for leaders. Here are three of the most interesting to get you started.

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1. Great leaders model balance.

It's impossible to work like a lunatic yourself and expect your team to make healthy choices that will keep burnout at bay, professor Gail Kinman of the University of Bedfordshire warns.

"If you expect staff to go home on time but you often work late, they will follow your lead. If you send emails during evenings and weekends you're sending a signal you expect them to be read and replied to--even if this isn't your intention," she says. You might think you're working long hours so they don't have to, but that's not the message that is going to be received.

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2. Hobbies make you a better leader.

What's another reason spending every spare moment at the office is a bad idea? Because outside interests make you a better leader. "According to Professor Kevin Kniffin and collaborators from Cornell University, people who play competitive youth sports tend to show more leadership, self-respect, and self-confidence when surveyed decades after their playing days," BPS claims. Other studies back up this conclusion.

3. Get the voices in your head under control.

"Creating that distance between 'you' and annoying, thrilling and boring thoughts strengthens your ability to focus your attention, builds self-awareness of your reaction to stressful situations and fosters acceptance of the way things truly are. Leaders need this clarity and focus to deal with the uncertainties and complexity they face," executive mindfulness coach Dr Henry Ford tells BPS.

No bonus points for guessing that he recommends mindfulness as the best way to go about cultivating that distance.

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