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Mr. Humphreys, in your day to day business as a psychologist you are not only dealing with couples, children or families, but also with companies. With what kind of problems are they coming to you basically?

A lot of people come to me with the issue of bullying or conflicts within the workplace. Others come with early signs of heart diseases, stress and burnout. Mainly the managers themselves ask me for help, but sometimes also employees who are being bullied and who want to know how to deal with it.

And how can you help them?

When managers come to me, I need to look at their own level of maturity, because that is the main reason for these kinds of difficulties in the workplace.

Event note

HRM Expo 2010, Cologne

Keynote Speech 

of Tony Humphreys


Tuesday, 12 October 2010,

9.30 – 10.30am, keynote forum,

Subsequently public interview


What does maturity mean for you?

You work from a mature place, the more that you have a solid interiority, the more that you are separate from everything that you do and not determined by success. Maturity is not measured by success in your life, but by how independent, free and reliant on yourself, how separate from the behaviours and criticisms of others you are.

Your book about the psychology of management is called “The mature manager. Managing from the inside out”. That sounds a little bit like when we are getting older and wiser we get better managers.

Age is no index of maturity. There are two-year-olds who are more mature than a 90-year-old. And gender is no index of maturity either. If you look at all the politicians, bankers and top managers of the multinationals, then they are mainly men. But that doesn’t mean that with women in charge we would have mature organisations and the danger of another crisis like we had recently would disappear. It’s not education either. Some people are highly educated, but at the same time so competitive and perfectionist. The real index of maturity is: How well do you know yourself?

So in your opinion managers tend to be immature?

I actually have 75 characteristics for what makes a mature manager. And very few of the managers I meet are coming up to five of them. Mature management means for example being consistent and persistent. Managers must challenge, be just, fair and unconditional in their regard for their own employees. But most managers are conditional and so people become fearful of them, because they are afraid of not meeting the conditions. That creates a very unhealthy climate within the workplace. The point is: We don’t get people to examine their life before they take on responsibilities – and that includes parents, teachers, managers and politicians. And we have seen the results with the recession: It was poor management that really lead to the whole breakdown. Management needs to be recognised as a profession on top of an existing profession.

Could you give an example?

For example, I am a clinical psychologist, and when I was head of department at an Irish Health Board, a provider of workplace health solutions, that didn’t mean that I knew how to manage. And the same happens in universities: people who have PhDs and a lot of knowledge are put in charge of departments and it’s assumed they know how to manage. But actually very often they don’t. That means management is a profession in itself and the training and preparation for management is a little bit back in the dark ages. There is no adequate preparation at the moment.

What exactly could be better?

Management training should be an interiority issue, asking: What level of personal and individual maturity have you reached? If you come into a managing role being dependent and fearful, perfectionist, aggressive or passive, you have to fail. When I was talking with bankers in Amsterdam recently, I was asking: “What’s the most common phenomenon at the staff meeting?” And they said, “The most common phenomenon is silence”. That’s passivity and you can’t progress within an organisation when people are afraid to talk. So managers have to find out why they are afraid of anybody. That’s unconscious and we need to make the unconscious conscious so that managers can begin to change things. Management training should go back to Socrates who said, “Know yourself”.

What do you tell your clients how to get there?

I don’t tell them anything because that would be prescriptive. What I need them to do is to discover how they actually approach life. For example, managers need to decide what kind of employee they are. Literature describes three different kinds. The first group are the highly engaged employees that companies would do anything to hold on to. The second group of workers are the disengaged. They do the least for the most money. And then there is a third group called the cave dwellers. They are against virtually everything and always causing trouble. What has not been described in the literature until now is the mature worker. That would be the one who is engaged, but not highly engaged, success addicted or perfectionist. The engaged worker loves his work but he is not determined by it. Generally, managers belong to the first, the highly engaged category. To change this attitude I need them to find a source of their dependencies which goes right back into childhood.

But problems in the workplace also depend on their relationships to other managers or employees.

You are thinking dependent again, but we need to think individual. If I am waiting for other people to transform themselves nothing changes, because everybody is waiting. Managers need to look at themselves first before they can actually work with the employees. But many of them are playing the employees without reflecting their own behaviour.

So if all depends on the self, do managers need the same management style for every employee?

No, each employee is unique and different. The most important need of an employee is to be seen in his or her individuality. Every person in a workplace has a unique story. Unless we examine these stories we don’t get to know each other. Managers have to see the adventure in discovering the unique stories of their employees with all the darkness and all the possible maturities that are in there. But individuality has been lost in the workplace – instead people have to conform. People working in the banks for example have to leave their individuality, their own thoughts, beliefs and values in briefcases outside their office door – they daren’t bring them in. And companies who treat their employees like that do so at a great price, like bullying or absenteeism.

What are the main mistakes that managers make in the relationships with their employees?

They are not reflecting on their own practices. Lately, I was contacted by a company that had a very high rate of absenteeism, and so it was decided to have the concerned employees interviewed by three managers who should go through their attendance record with them. More or less they were to say: “You need to take more responsibility and get into work on time, because if not, it will cost the company a lot of money.” I said to them, but didn’t you ask the employees, How is it that you are coming in late, how is it that your absenteeism is so high?”. They just didn’t ask. The employees told me, the reason why they were not coming into work was bullying. Companies fail in making it safe for people to speak out the real issues that need to be spoken. They need to create emotional, intellectual, social and creative safeties within the workplace.

With the demographic change and the war for talents, more companies are launching programmes for a better work life balance. Does a manager also have a psychological influence on it?

I don’t like the word work life balance, because it suggests that work is something that you get out of the way so you can live. I want to integrate work as one important part in the other social, creative and spiritual aspects of my life. It is integration rather than a balance. But to your question: Like children look to their parents as models, many employees look to managers. So managers need to live this integration first. And recently, some companies have recognized that they need to bring the highly engaged workers to an engaged level. They realize that a too highly engaged level is not productive, because too many employees are in danger of getting burned out. It is still very unusual. But the interesting thing is: It is beginning to happen.

Which role can HR managers play concerning the maturity of managers and employees?

We used the term “personnel department” in organisations before the 1980s and it suddenly changed to Human Resources. With this change we lost sight of the individual and of the relationship. When I work with HR, I always suggest, can you please change the term HR to Human Relationship, because if you see me as a resource you really insult me. You do not see me as the unique individual that I am and I will rebel against that insult. HR could establish mature relationships within the organisation between managers and employees, between employees and employees and between themselves and employees. But often they have a loveless reliance on some HR management books that are mind-boggling in terms of methods, models, processes and projects. So they lose sight of the fact that we are talking about people here and not about kinds of systems.

If HR managers and managers in general prefer to think in systems and “hard facts”, how is their attitude towards psychology?

Many managers don’t operate from their heart but only from their head, from the so called factory place. They miss out all the affective emotion issues that they need to deal with – within themselves as well as within the relationships in the workplace. When they say to me all this emotional, psychological stuff is soft stuff – my response is: “And how is it that it is the hardest thing for you to do?” Being stuck into facts and ignoring people’s emotions is actually very blocking of human potential. If you only deal with fact, you are assuming that what you see in front of you is what the reality is. Actually it is quite the opposite, because most human behaviour is actually unconsciously driven. Many managers in the top level are afraid of psychology, because they are afraid of themselves.

Can you observe some change in this attitude after the financial and economical crisis?

There is not too much change to be seen yet. What has not emerged yet is accountability: Very few managers have said “mea culpa”. They have been highly defensive, because there is a lot of anger out there and they are afraid. But we need to go back into the dark places that brought about the recession and bring life into those hidden alcoves that existed within a lot of the major players in the governments, the banks and the multinationals. I hope when it does settle, the accountability and reflection of what has happened will emerge and changes will be possible. For example, we need to disestablish bonus culture. When you introduce bonuses you work just for them not for the intrinsic love of work. And we need to get to authentic leadership, not leadership where things are just covered up and many secret deals are going on. We need authenticity if we want progress.

Interview: Stefanie Hornung