As a BeUpstanding champion, you will be leading your organisation in forming healthier habits and creating a dynamic workplace culture; but it’s no secret that taking on new leadership roles like this one can be daunting, especially if you feel as though you don’t fit the bill. Recent research suggests that just having self-doubt about your successes and leadership abilities may in turn stifle them. Findings from a study on the consequences of imposter feelings and self-doubt showed that they negatively impacted students’ ability to career plan and strive, and decreased motivation to lead in a professional working environment.
Previous and more traditional psychology theories of leadership might perpetuate these imposter feelings by focusing on the “innate” qualities that all great leaders have, or a prescribed reward and punishment system that all great leaders use. For example, the Great Man theory of leadership is the idea that “leaders are born and not made”, possessing inherited qualities which make them better suited to lead (i.e. confidence or assertiveness). Transactional leadership theory, on the other hand, asserts that great leadership is determined by one’s ability to set expectations and enforce them with the effective use of rewards and punishments.
These theories are problematic in the sense that they focus on leaders as individuals, and attribute the outcomes of the groups they lead to their leadership: a group success is because of great leadership, and a group failure is because of them being led astray. In effect, traditional theories of leadership make being a great leader seem unattainable, especially to those already not sure about their capacity to lead.
The good news is recent theory suggests that you don’t have to be a “natural born leader” to be the best champion for your workplace. These leadership ideas instead shift their focus towards group processes; more specifically, how leaders and the groups they lead work together for success. One such theory is transformational leadership, which abandons micromanaging and constant monitoring, and instead proposes that the most effective leadership involves inspiring and encouraging others to work towards a group goal. Transformational leadership also emphasises the need to create an environment culture that is in line with your goals.
An extension of this model of leadership stems from social-identity theory. Social-identity theory sees leaders as “managers of group identity”, where people are motivated by a desire for group membership, belonging and social identity. A salient social identity, in theory, motivates the according congruent behaviours (for example, identifying as a valuable employee increases your likelihood to act in a way that benefits your workplace, or identifying as a healthy person increases your likelihood of maintaining healthy habits). From this perspective, leaders are most effective when they:
- Are representative of the group: when group members can identify with a leader, they are more likely to accept their leadership and see it as an advocacy rather than a false representation.
- Champion group interests: group members are more likely to follow leaders who they believe act in their best interest
- Can shape the group’s identity: leaders promote an identity that is prototypical or idealistic of the group
- Manipulate their perceived social reality from within the group: leaders create structure (goals, activities, practices) that embed identity (i.e. embedding healthy habits in your workplace identity)
According to social identity theory, a BeUpstanding champion represents and embodies their organisation, and wants to act in their best interest. Most importantly, they know how beneficial an active workplace is, and work with their colleagues to create an active workplace culture together. The BeUpstanding toolkit is a great place to start building a workplace identity which emphasises wellbeing, making it easier to stick to your goals.
At the very least, understanding leadership theory from this wide array of psychological perspectives can help you on your journey to becoming the best BeUpstanding champion you can be for your workplace. Specifically, by viewing your potential role as a BeUpstanding champion as an important part of a larger group process, and remembering that great leadership is for anyone- not just “Great Men”.
This blog post was written by Millicent Seeto while she was on placement with the BeUpstanding team at the University of Queensland.