Developmental psychology may hold the key to strong leadership.

A man places blocks as steps while a figure climbs up the steps.In 2015, publishers released an average of four new books on leadership every day.* Why so many? Obviously there is a high demand for tips on being a good leader. But just as importantly, there’s a low bar for writing a leadership book. In fact, anyone can write a book on leadership, no matter their qualifications or expertise. This can make it difficult for the public to know what advice is worthwhile and what advice is meaningless. Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on our instincts.

There is a particular psychology behind the skills and traits that leadership demands, and psychologists—particularly developmental psychologists—have conducted years of research on the topic. Developmental psychologists study the physical, cognitive, emotional, health, social, and cultural aspects of human development and in doing so have a unique insight into what it takes to be a leader. Through their research, they have uncovered several methods that can help foster leadership skills in those seeking to be strong leaders. Here are some of the strategies being taught by psychologists:

Know the Difference Between Leadership and Management

Some people use leadership as a synonym for management, but developmental psychologists know the two are not the same. Management is mostly about having the competency and skill set necessary to advance your organization toward its goals. Leadership, on the other hand, is mostly about positively motivating others to give their best. There is overlap, but the two are distinctly different.

Increase Self-Awareness

Once you’ve moved beyond the notion that competency and skill sets are at the core of leadership, you can focus on what good leadership is truly about: self-awareness. What does that mean? To mental health practitioners it means that if you want to be a good leader, you should develop your ability to understand and recognize how your behavior affects others. Good leadership begins on the inside.

Master Emotions

Once you are self-aware enough to understand how your behaviors affect others, you need to react appropriately. This means you need to control your own emotions so they fit the situation and the emotional needs of those you are leading.

Understand Differences in Behavior

We’re not all built the same way, so why try to lead employees with a one-size-fits-all mentality? To be a good leader, you need an evolved understanding of human behavior so you can anticipate and then handle the ways different individuals react to interpersonal dynamics. Mental health practitioners, such as developmental psychologists, can help you—and other aspiring leaders—understand how to use modern neuroscience and psychological research to better reach each individual employee on a level that works for him or her.

Take Charge of Your Own Development

Becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight, or after reading a book or taking a seminar. The best leaders know that, to keep being a great leader, they have to be committed to continually growing. One way to do this is by taking time for reflection and introspection, evaluating your behaviors, your leadership goals, your successes, and your failures. You may have begun your path to leadership with the help of book, seminar, or developmental psychologist, but, in the end, only you can do the necessary, career-long follow through.

How Can You Learn More?

Whether you want to become a strong leader or want to help others develop their leadership skills, you should consider earning a degree in psychology, specifically an MS in Developmental Psychology or a PhD in Developmental Psychology. These developmental psychology degrees can strengthen your understanding of the interaction between cognitive, physical, emotional, social, health, and cultural aspects of development so you can help others overcome critical challenges.

While enrolling in a master’s in psychology program or a PhD in Psychology program once required you to move near the university that accepted you and/or dramatically rearrange your schedule to accommodate class times, you can now enroll in an online master’s in psychology program or an online PhD in Psychology program and avoid the burdens of attending a traditional university. When you earn your degree in developmental psychology online, you can keep working full time and complete classes and coursework on a flexible schedule that fits your life.

Developmental psychology offers key strategies for developing leadership skills. There’s no better way to learn how to be a leader—and how to help others become leaders—than with the right online psychology degree.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Developmental Psychology degree program and an online PhD in Developmental Psychology degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*J. Larocci, Why Are There So Many Leadership Books? Here Are 5 Reasons, LinkedIn, on the Internet at www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-so-many-leadership-books-here-5-reasons-joe-iarocci.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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