HomeAnalysisLeaders must understand the human side of business

Leaders must understand the human side of business

LATELY, one of the most interesting subjects I have become fond of is neuroscience. The first time I came across the word “neuroscience” was when I was preparing a strategic communication seminar for communications and public relations (PR) executives, which was held in Victoria Falls. Then it dawned on me that unless people acquire some understanding of the functioning of the human brain, be it at the workplace or otherwise, it would be difficult for them to connect and influence positive action on one another.

People Management Issues with Robert Mandeya

For the purpose of this article, I will attempt to couch an appropriate definition of neuroscience in a way it would be understood by a layman. Neuroscience, also known as neural science, is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure and what it does. Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behaviour and cognitive functions. From this definition already we can discern that it is something to do with the human psychology. It is therefore imperative for those in leadership to at least acquire some general understanding of psychology vis-a-vis human behaviour for them to be able to connect and influence desirable behaviour in their subordinates.

In the workplace, where executives need to change the behaviour of potentially thousands of employees, some understanding of what goes on in the human brain at any particular moment cannot be over emphasised. This issue applies to communication in as much as it does to any human engagement endeavour. But getting people to change their behaviour is easier said than done. Change literally hurts us. Why this is so is because the part of the brain used to build new habits uses a lot more energy than the part that is used for old habits. A simple example is when someone that has been driving a car for years goes somewhere in the world where they drive on the other side of the road. They will find driving incredibly difficult. Or if you are used to an automatic vehicle and suddenly switch to a manual, you will face a challenge before you get used to it.

Why understand human psychology

Why understanding of the psychology or brain functioning of people matters most to leadership is that it can give you insights into things like how people feel about how much freedom they have and what their relationships at work are like, which as you will soon see, are very important when planning employee engagement programmes. This knowledge will help leaders to have an understanding of how to treat employees so that they are more engaged and enjoy their work, ultimately leading to a more successful business. More importantly If managers could have a better sense of their employees’ behaviour, they would be better able to help them grow and be better at work. It goes without saying that humans are so fragile and complex, and we have not even come close to fully understanding how our minds work — although incredible progress has been made.

Please note a few theories discussed here are only scratching the surface of the amount of research that is out there on what affects human behaviour. I will share with you a few of these theories and hope this will ignite your sense of inquiry to dig deeper into the intricacy of this subject.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

A lot many of us are familiar with this theory but essentially what the theory is, is that a person’s basic needs must be met before they can go on to higher level needs. According to the hierarchy, you need to achieve the first, before moving on. The way that leaders can apply this is by making sure that all of your bases are covered particularly the issue of salaries. With the current economic crisis we have so many organisations struggling or even failing to fulfill this very basic need.

Authentic self-expression

According to recent research, the secret to making employees happy is by encouraging self-expression and letting new employees bring their unique values and perspectives to the job. This has to be done from day one.What the research indicates, is that many onboarding processes are flawed, where they try and indoctrinate employees into the way the company does things instead of simply allowing them to express themselves and bring their insights to the job. However this issue is subject to debate.


Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that happens in a group of people, where the search for harmony and conformity leads people to not innovate and not express their true opinions; which usually leads to poor decisions being made. This is particularly true of our culture in Shona where people do not freely express their mind for the sake of being polite. (Kuita gudzira mukanwa) In Chimanyika where I come from they call it “Gwawa.” This is a very bad culture in business. We have situations where people tell you what you want to hear for the sake of avoiding offending you.

Managers need to be aware of this during brainstorming sessions. While a great idea in theory, what usually ends up happening is the loudest person in the room ends up taking over and end up controlling the meeting.

Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory

The theory is, that “motivation” factors, like recognition, growth, autonomy and enjoying the work itself are what really lead to job satisfaction. On the other hand, job dissatisfaction comes from “hygiene” factors, like the physical work environment, salary, and job security.Why this theory is so interesting, is that fixing the issues that lead to job dissatisfaction (like paying someone a higher salary) will not necessarily lead to job satisfaction. All those fancy perks and bonuses do not mean anything if we have no autonomy, recognition, or growth at work.

Even more interesting, being recognised and having that autonomy will not offset being paid poorly or not enjoying your work environment.

There are so many other theories which might help managers understand human behaviour but because of space I cannot go into a lot many of these now.

Mandeya is a senior executive training consultant and communication in management advisor, a personal coach in leadership and professional development with the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. — lead.inst.dev@gmail.com or mandeyarobert@gmail.com. The views contained herein are personal views.

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