Managing staff: Personal Lessons in Management; Part IV


Managing staff: Personal Lessons in Management; Part IV

  • By Ian Bradley
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This is a continuing series in an open letter to psychologists thinking about accepting that promotion to department or service director.  In previous posts I talked about the fantasies around promotion as well as the inherent organizational conflict that comes with being a middle manager, organizational change and today, dealing with staff.


As Chief Psychologist, I managed a large group of highly trained people with many diverse interests and clinical skills.  Some worked with kids, others with chronic mental patients, still others with oncology patients in palliative care.  As a group, they also reflected many different theoretical approaches each with their own school of therapy.  There were those who identified themselves as classical psychoanalytic therapists, existential, family systems, behavior and of course cognitive behaviour therapists.  One of the many problems with psychology is our tendency to identify with schools of thought and therapy orientations –something that easily lends itself to debates. In graduate school, it’s stimulating to have a vigorous debate among students as to the relative “depth” or “meaning of change” in psychoanalysis versus CBT.  However, in a department where people have established identities around their approach and orientation, such debates quickly lead to bruised egos.   Self-esteem wounds then produced departmental fractures and internecine battles among people who have to work together.


As a result, I viewed my job somewhat as an ecumenical leader of a church comprised of multiple religious denominations. In this quasi-religious organization, I saw my job as pointing out our common interests, opportunities or dangers.


As a result, I would never have a staff meeting that didn’t have an agenda.  In a psychology department, a meeting without an agenda is a whirlpool that can quickly bred a discussion of perceived individual or group differences, competition and dissension – in other words, it quickly goes down the drain. Instead the agenda reflected issues common everyone with solutions that could be contributed by all.  I wasn’t able to eliminate intra-departmental battles, but I minimized those needless battles by getting everyone to think of themselves as psychologists first and foremost.