- The majority of decisions are unconscious, fueled by past experiences and the meanings one has attached to them.
- Analyzing feelings, behaviors, and sensations can offer valuable insight into inner core beliefs that one may not be aware of.
- A "depth psychology" approach can help leaders transform their disharmony and reactivity into something more positive.
Cognitive neuroscientists estimate that at least 90 percent of the decisions we make are unconscious. We do what we do because of brain activity that comes from beyond our conscious awareness, fueled by experiences from the past and the meanings we have attached to those experiences.
We all know the wisdom of “sleeping on it” when we can’t find the solution we’re seeking, but have you ever considered what is happening while we sleep? We tap into a deeper sense of knowing than what we’re normally aware of, free from the tyranny of the waking brain that overrides that knowledge with repressed or denied impulses as well as wishful thinking.
As leaders, we evaluate and make decisions, and are very sure of the beliefs and motives underlying them, but neuroscience continues to surprise us with an understanding of the extent to which unconscious, automatic behaviors run our decisions and actions. Surprisingly, the drivers of our feelings, beliefs, and actions are, more often than not, coming from events and patterns long before the current precipitating problems present themselves.
Let me share an example from my consulting practice that I recently encountered with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. James, a Fortune 500 CEO, was upset about another subpar result from his team. He berated them in a meeting, saying they lacked accountability, decisiveness, and a clear strategy. I spoke with James one-on-one and learned he was embarrassed, afraid of failure, and believed he could have done a better job himself. His harsh feedback devastated the team and damaged their relationships with him.
Instead of coaching James on his communication style, I explored his feelings and beliefs. We uncovered his deep-seated belief that he couldn't trust others and had to do everything himself. Once we understood this, we could work on changing his mindset. James learned to share his feelings and make decisions with his team from a different state of mind. He also learned how to deliver feedback in a way that preserved and enhanced relationships. This experience taught me that it's important to look beyond the surface when coaching leaders. By understanding their underlying beliefs and feelings, we can help them make lasting changes.
What if you discovered that there was a missing piece in the puzzle of your leadership decisions and performance such that, if you could learn about it, cultivate it, and apply it, would have an astoundingly beneficial impact on you, your teams, and your organization?
"Depth psychology" vs. a solution focus to improve leadership
The key to that discovery is that the “solution-focused” approach to improving your leadership style and skills was really only a superficial approach, like putting a Band-Aid on a wound. A solution-focused approach would usually utilize analytical leadership training and coaching, and even leadership articles, to get ideas and learn better behaviors for that situation. The goal of this type of improvement in one’s leadership is to address style, substance, and relating from only this perspective. This approach ends up dealing with the outer layer of your leadership potential.
Instead, I'd like to describe a “depth psychology approach” to developing your leadership. In order to do so, we'll have to delve into the realm of the less conscious parts of our brain and psyche. Depth psychology interventions aim to access a deeper knowing that exists in our less conscious brain. That knowing is less linear or prescriptive. It is mainly formed from our past experience and is very unique to our individual library of historical struggles, strengths, and desires. When we do this work, we must listen deeply to the feelings, behaviors, and sensations, we experience, all of which offer valuable insight into the parts of our inner core beliefs, or inner-decision making that we may not be aware of that is the operating system running our decision-making program in everyday life.
Benefits of the depth psychology approach
Growth and development from this approach depart from the measured outcomes that solution-focused development aspires to accomplish. As painful and confusing experiences from the past are, when they are explored in a safe way, you can connect more honestly and compassionately with your struggles, and with this awareness, you become less reactive. You find new ways of relating to yourself and others. Unanticipated possibilities come into view and ultimately you gain greater choice in your life and enhanced capacity from making the use of those same solution-focused decisions without resistance or static.
This journey into the depths of your own psyche to uncover evidence that your thinking and your beliefs are part of the problem is just the beginning. Ultimately, this awareness and information will allow you to understand yourself more effectively and transform the disharmony that you often experience in relating to others and decision-making to be able to empower your development as a leader into new realms. The faulty, yet powerful belief systems and resulting voices of the reactive mind are housed in your ego, the psychological construct that yields triggering mechanisms in your psyche and causes you to react in an attempt to feel safe and in control, to protect yourself in some primitive manner.
The need for balanced leadership
Our planet and society are at a critical juncture. We need leaders who can heal themselves and their relationships, and create cultures based on love and healing. The traditional male-dominated model of leadership has not worked, and we need a more balanced approach that brings in the energy and emotional intelligence of the feminine perspective.
Here are some specific examples of how this new approach to leadership can make a difference:
- Leaders who are clear in psyche and spirit are less likely to burn out or become narcissistic.
- They are better able to meet challenges without resorting to conflict, winning, ego, or aggression.
- They are more likely to create cultures that are inclusive and supportive.
- They are more likely to use technology for good and to address the misuse of AI.
- They are more likely to develop technology that benefits people and the planet.
- They are more likely to restore dignity to our politics and bring equal opportunities for everyone into our health care and educational systems.
This new approach to leadership is essential for creating a better future for our planet and society.