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Alan Cutler on Leadership Psychology

7th November 2014 | Alan Cutler

The author of new book Leadership Psychology talks about motivating factors, the 'psychological contract' and what we can learn from leaders in combat situations.

What makes your book different to the multitude of others written about management and leadership?

Well, there certainly is a plethora of books written about leadership. A speaker at the 2010 Executive Leadership Summit estimated that a staggering 50,000 are written every year! My book does not propose any unique solutions to this age-old quandary. It does, however, offer readers food for thought from a number of perspectives that are not contained together within any other leadership book, namely:

•An exploration of the relationship between psychology and leadership

•A balanced approach, combining rigorous psychology academic theory with pragmatic guidance for twenty-first century leaders

•Unique material from interviews I undertook with recognised leaders from organisations recognised by their staff as being ‘Best Companies to Work For’

•Chapters that explore forward-looking issues, such as Extreme Leadership, which has sections covering leadership during international conflicts; emergency response leadership; and armed forces leadership - the lessons from which are condensed into those applicable for modern business leaders.

What, for you, is the connection between psychology and leadership?

A definition of psychology could be ‘understanding the mind and how it affects behaviour’. When I was undertaking a psychology course at the Open University I had somewhat of a ‘light bulb moment’ – that is exactly what the most effective leaders do: they understand the concerns, values, and motivational factors of their followers and then they modify their approach as a means of inspiring them to ever-greater performance. It is leadership with a crucial emotional component.

What do you see as the challenges facing leaders during the twenty-first century?

They are, undoubtedly, many and varied challenges, but in my book I suggest four significant ones:

Innovation – creating an innovative and entrepreneurial culture that meets ever-increasing customer needs

Talent management – not only attracting exceptional individuals, but developing and retraining them

Communications – harnessing the communication opportunities of the internet, and social media in particular, in order to innovate, differentiate and encourage positive customer and staff interaction

Globalization – both in terms of multicultural teams working in one location, and across international borders

What do you think are the best ways to motivate people in the workplace?

Again, many motivational theories exist, and more are regularly expounded, but I prove time and time again in my work that one conceived by American psychologist Frederick Herzberg and his research team in 1959 is as relevant and effective now as it was in 1959 when he wrote his book The Motivation to Work. He proposes five motivational factors:

Achievement – being allowed and supported to successfully complete a task

Recognition – of good performance by supervisors, peers, customers and subordinates

The work itself – offering creativity, challenge, variation and an opportunity to see it through to a successful conclusion

Responsibility – including being allowed to work without supervision; being responsible for one’s own efforts; being given responsibility for the work of others; and being offered a new job with different responsibilities

Advancement – a factor often related to feelings of personal growth, recognition, achievement and responsibility

Interestingly, salary does not feature within Herzberg’s motivational factors – an issue I explore within the book.

You mention the ‘psychological contract’- could you describe what this is?

This is an interesting, and comparatively new, concept within workplace relations. It could be best described as ‘the unwritten expectations of leaders and followers’. New employees will expect to receive a written contract that lays down what is expected from them by their employer in terms of behaviour and performance, as well as what they, themselves, can expect. However, both parties will also have unspoken, unwritten expectations of each other that began to be formed during the recruitment process, and will develop throughout their future working association. We call this a psychological contract. Interestingly, these unwritten employee expectations vary considerably between different generations and so I explore those of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials in the book.

What do followers look for in their leaders in extreme situations?

Obviously, they differ to some extent according to the nature of the extreme conditions being faced. In situations where life is threatened, for instance, the professional competence of the leader is valued by followers much more than any motivational quality. However, some of the required leadership qualities are pretty universal, such as the creation of supportive teams based upon mutual trust and respect; personal qualities such as calmness, confidence, and integrity; and the development of a positive organizational culture.

What can business leaders learn from those who lead in combat?

For me, even after serving as a senior officer in the Royal Air Force, my visit to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and interview with Captain Simon Cupples CGC was one of the highlights of the preparation for writing my book. The case study includes the story of how, the then, Lieutenant Cupples, as quoted in the citation for his Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, ‘With exceptional courage, purpose and determination led his men forward into the killing area under concentrated and withering enemy fire, and with complete disregard for his own safety, in order to extract the casualties’, when facing a Taliban attack.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to interview this admirable and modest young man and then to write the case study based upon his insightful leadership beliefs. Here are some of Captain Cupples’ principles, with my suggested amendments in brackets:
•Put your soldiers (employees) before yourself
•Listen to your SNCOs (line managers)
•Cope with the aftermath of battle (change situations)
•Focus firmly on the mission (business objectives)
•Develop an understanding between officers (managers) and their troops (employees)

Pretty transferable, don’t you think?

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