Risk of leadership culture without attention to personal psychological development

Leadership in companies plays a crucial role in shaping the work environment and the success of the company. However, a leadership culture that does not pay adequate attention to personal psychological development can pose risks and cause harm to both individuals and organizations.

Let’s look at the example of Mathew, a production manager, who finds himself in a difficult meeting with his colleagues Jane, the sales manager, and John, the company’s director.

Mathew: (enters the office where Jane and John are already present) Good day.

Jane: (quickly) Mathew, you’re late. We need to give a response to the client urgently. Did you receive my email?

Mathew: Yes, I did. Both the requested quantities and specifications.

John: And? Will we be able to fulfill this?

Mathew: (slowly formulating his sentence) I know this client is important. But such demands are unrealistic. And this isn’t the first time you’ve put me in this position, Jane.

Jane: I believe we’re a team. And every team member needs to fulfill their responsibilities. I don’t understand why there’s always an issue with you, and why we’re the only ones having delivery problems when clearly, our competitors don’t face these issues.

John: (interjects) Alright, let’s not take this in the wrong direction. From my perspective, we have the capacity to fulfill this order. I don’t see any serious issues. Mathew, I suggest you organize an additional shift, and I’m confident we’ll get things done. Is there anything else you need from me?

Mathew: (takes a deep breath, raises eyebrows, looks at both mockingly) You’re the boss. (stands up and leaves the room)

Three months later, the situation is as follows:

a) Task-wise: The company fails to deliver to the new client within the agreed timelines. While the client is willing to seek solutions for the situation, they demand penalties and make it clear that this is the first and last deal they will make with the company.

b) Interpersonal relationships: John tries to smooth things over with the client and resolves most of their issues. Meanwhile, he puts pressure on Mathew, who, in addition to this conflict, also deals with a conflict with Jane. She is furious and demands that John fire Mathew.

c) Personal level: John wonders how he can’t trust anyone because nobody takes responsibility. Jane blames Mathew for all the problems and harbors hostility towards him. Mathew feels inferior and angry because nobody ever listens to him.

The company finds itself in a drama that not only jeopardizes business but also creates an extreme situation, undermining basic trust among colleagues and fostering feelings of low self-esteem. All this is an ideal breeding ground for burnout and depression.

What went really wrong?

Such, more or less dramatic events, are part of the daily life of many companies. Most often, I hear companies blaming inadequate communication for such problems. Of course, communication is important as it forms the basis of collaboration and leadership, but it’s only one part of the problem. Learning new communication techniques may be useful in a small way but cannot solve similar situations in the future. Team coaching can already help raise awareness of what exactly happened, what behavior patterns have developed, which are the reason for the emergence of such situations, and what agreements and actions the team can take to prevent such problems from occurring again. But still, the impact will not be as leaders usually expect from such interventions.

What the above example shows is not just inadequate communication. All actors lacked knowledge of different mental models through which people interpret the world; there was a lack of understanding of their own responsibility in the situation by all three actors; there was a lack of demonstrating their own integrity through confronting unfeasible demands, and there was a complete absence of authentic and healthy communication.

This happens for various reasons such as fear of conflicts, fear of anyone appearing incompetent, fear of exclusion, or even simple passive-aggressive behavior through compliance with instructions and pressures, despite realizing that the problem from the meeting has only been postponed for three months, where it will be even bigger and less manageable.

So how do we prevent such and similar situations that lead to confusion, frustration, anger, fear, lack of responsibility, distrust, conflicts, and failure?

Personal psychological development is a key element in fostering a culture of responsibility, trust, and creativity.

Living in a complex environment, personal psychological development is necessary if we want to meet the complex challenges that the environment presents to us. Unexpected situations, demanding expectations in the workplace, the ability to connect and collaborate, the development of mental, emotional, and spiritual capacities… all these are challenging internal and external processes. It is illusory to expect people to just somehow handle it. Failure to cope manifests in high levels of stress, mental and emotional problems, and burnout.

To successfully lead ourselves and others, increase our capacity for creative problem-solving and achieving ambitions, and successful collaboration cannot be done without psychological development; a process that involves self-awareness, the integration of various aspects of personality, and the realization of our innate potential. This includes the integration of conscious and unconscious parts of our mind and the harmonization of many internal contradictions.

Such an approach helps us introduce three key elements necessary for a healthy company culture:

  1. Radical Responsibility John, Jane, and Mathew from the above example did not demonstrate radical responsibility. Mathew took on the role of a victim, felt powerless, and submitted to the authority’s will. Jane assumed the role of an attacker and shifted all responsibility for failure to Mathew. John took on the role of a heroic leader who had already solved the problem and unilaterally decided how to tackle the challenge.

None of the three felt responsible for the failure; instead, they all shifted the blame onto others. Blaming led to evasion and evasion led to conflict.

Radical responsibility is when we are aware that we are the central player in any situation. Therefore, someone who co-creates the situation and also has the opportunity to influence its outcome. This is a very different perspective than seeing ourselves as heroes, victims, or accusers, where we believe we are subject to the consequences of others’ behavior and decisions.

As human beings, we have the ability to consciously respond to a situation. Radical responsibility empowers us and helps us focus on those aspects of the situation over which we have control. It gives us the opportunity to respond regardless of the situation, to express our perspective, or to find new possibilities.

John could have responded by investigating the causes of the production issues, checking what Jane had promised and why, and together with the client, seeking a solution that would satisfy everyone. Despite possible limitations, he would strive to maintain a long-term relationship with the client and find a way to successfully collaborate in the future. There are several options for conscious action and seeking solutions that would benefit all involved.

Instead, John, probably without conscious thought, decided to find a solution himself. As we saw, this was not the case.

  1. Personal Integrity Mathew from the above example succumbed to his internal survival mechanism of submitting his truth and avoiding necessary confrontation with authority. The reasons for such behavior are multifaceted but certainly not effective for business, nor for Mathew’s self-esteem and sense of worth. Despite knowing there was no realistic possibility of keeping the promise to the client, he didn’t confront the decision but passively aggressively submitted to it. Later, he rationalized his behavior from the victim’s perspective, “Nobody listens to me” and “If someone like Jane behaves so disrespectfully, I won’t even bother talking.”

Personal integrity teaches us something entirely different. It teaches us that regardless of everything, we adhere to our personal standards and values and actively demonstrate them. Regardless of the consequences we fear, such as losing a job, ridicule, criticism, and other tactics by others who want to dominate or enforce their right. When we act from integrity, we express our higher self. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee the desired outcome or success, but it gives us inner strength, self-confidence, and inner peace. Acting from personal integrity is the basis of our mental and emotional health and empowers us, giving us a sense of vitality and loyalty to ourselves. And undoubtedly, it prevents many business risks.

Not only would Mathew have prevented the drama that later ensued because the company failed to fulfill the promise, but Mathew would also have benefited from a sense of self-worth because he didn’t compromise his values and his truth due to temporary discomfort that would have arisen from the discrepancy between all three actors.

  1. Authentic Expression Most of the time, when we communicate, we believe that people understand the intention behind our words. We assume that they operate from the same mental model as ourselves. Therefore, most often, if not mostly, the conversation is essentially a monologue, where all parties involved in the conversation do not listen and understand the “agreement” they have made differently.

Authentic communication is essential in business environments. Daily challenges require coordination, resource allocation, risk management, and more. Each such situation poses a challenge to communication because it requires us to manage our emotions and express our truth, both in facts and in our needs. Without calmness, there can be no effective authentic communication.

Authentic communication focuses on three levels:

  • On the task/business challenge at hand. So what is the challenge, what needs to be done, who does what by when.
  • On the interpersonal relationship. This concerns the emotional aspect of communication, where our brains try to evaluate people or if we can trust them. It’s a necessary element of communication, where we learn to clearly express our views and needs respectfully and inclusively, while also trying to understand others’ perspectives. All to maintain high trust among the participants so that we can find the best solution for the task or challenge at hand.
  • On ourselves. This aspect relates to self-esteem and the identity of ourselves or individuals participating in the communication. Dilemmas arise, such as whether I openly share my view or not. What will others think of me? What does this situation mean for me personally?

If we want to communicate successfully, we must focus on all three levels; on our integrity, on trust among the actors in communication, and on solving the challenge.

In tense situations, the story becomes even more dramatic. We then have zero or very limited capacity to understand others because we are preoccupied with our stress response. In a state of stress, we are incapable of empathy and holistic or creative thinking. Therefore, it is so crucial to focus on the personal psychological development of people in companies.

Jane from the above example was already in a state of stress, as her communication was directed towards attack and finding blame. If Jane understood where her attacking tone was coming from and took radical responsibility for the outcome of the conversation and the situation itself, she would have behaved significantly differently. Both towards Mathew and towards John. Thus, Jane succumbed to her fears of not being successful in the eyes of the client and the eyes of John. In this way, her self-esteem would be shaken. If instead of an attacking tone, she expressed her concerns, such as “I’m worried I’ll appear incompetent to the client, so I’d like to find a common solution on how we can resolve this situation,” Mathew would not have taken a defiant attitude but the dialogue would have gone in a completely different direction.

Business environments as promoters of personal evolution

To introduce radical responsibility, personal integrity, and authentic communication, training in these skills is insufficient if our internal attitude does not change. Learning skills here doesn’t help us if we don’t change our internal stance. For quality communication, we need self-awareness, and awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and behavioral patterns. This can only be achieved through regular and systematic self-reflection and personal development.

Focusing only on tasks is insufficient in today’s environment, as the dynamics of the business environment are too unstable for people to maintain the composure and tranquility necessary, which are essential components of successful company leadership.

All of us working in communities, whether they are business or other environments, are aware that success depends not only on knowledge and resources but also on quality interpersonal relationships. However, good relationships are insufficient if we do not support people in better understanding and leading themselves.