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  • Writer's pictureRichard Waite

10 Therapy Terms That Can Make You a Better Leader

As I was browsing online, I came across this great article on Psychology Today by Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC titled, "Therapy Terms Everyone Needs to Know." Having a background in Social Work, I was instantly hooked on this article.

As I was reading through these terms, it struck me that these concepts are not only good to know as individuals, Social Workers, or as therapists, but that these concepts are also integral to know as successful leaders.

6. Enable

10. Schema

Active Listening

We've all had that experience: we go to our boss with a concern that's been weighing on us. Maybe it is a safety or performance concern or maybe it's an idea on how to improve a workflow.

You knock on their office door and after a momentary pause you hear, "come in!" When you open the door your boss is eye locked on their computer screen, probably reading or writing an email. "What's going on?" they ask without looking away from their screen. You start to tell them your concern or idea as they continue on their task. The phone rings, they answer it, you pause while they complete their call. When they hang up you continue talking and at the end of your prepared words you receive a "thanks for bringing this to me; let me look into this and get back to you." You leave the office with the distinct impression nothing you said sunk in and there will be no follow up.

As a leader you may be thinking, "I can't give all my attention to every person who knocks on my door; I'm too busy!" Here's the problem with this way of thinking: when you fail to actively listen to employees they eventually stop talking to you. As a leader, you need employees to talk to you, to tell you what's going on during the day-to-day so you can make effective decisions.

Active listening occurs when you are fully present and engaged in the conversation. Not half paying attention and not waiting for them to stop talking so you can say what you have been thinking while they've been talking. Your whole intention and only activity is to hear and digest what is being said to you.

Another thing that happens when you actively listen to your employees is that they are 4.6x more likely to feel empowered to do their best work and can reduce turnover. In 2020, 64% of workers cited a "lack of being heard" as a reason for leaving their current positions.

You're driving home after a rough day at work; you made a mistake and are basically kicking yourself over it. You think to yourself, "I am so stupid." Then, this other voice inside your head speaks up, "No, you are not stupid, you just made a mistake. It happens. Tomorrow will be a better day." - - - You just engaged in metacognition; your ability to think about your thoughts.

The Cognitive Model, at the core of Cognitive-Behavioral Theory, explains the relationship between a person's thoughts or perceptions and their actions and behavior. In other words, what a person thinks is then acted out in both subtle and non-subtle ways. Metacognition gives us the ability as employees and as leaders to evaluate how our thoughts are influencing our actions and decision-making.

Leaders, trying to implement a process change for example, may receive resistance, complaints, or even refusal from employees to the proposed changes.

Leader 1 thinks, "they're just lazy; they just don't want to do more work." How do you think they'll manage that change with their staff and what actions will they take? Perhaps they'll become accusatory, or even hostile towards their teams. Maybe they'll stop listening and overlook a legitimate road block to implementing this process change.

However, Leader 2 approaches this situation with curiosity and thinks, "most people want to do a good job and what's best for the organization. There must be an underlying concern I can learn more about." Leader 2 asks their staff more questions and engages in motivational interviewing with their teams. Leader 2 hears about the road block to successfully implementing this process change and is able to work with their team to update the process and address this roadblock. Additionally, Leader 2's team feels heard and listened to (see "Active Listening" above).


You've heard the phrase, "they talk the talk, now it's time to walk the walk." That's congruence - when your values, words, and actions are aligned.

This plays itself out in numerous ways in organizations and in leadership, but in particular when it comes organizational mission, vision, and values. A 2019 Glassdoor survey found that 79% of adults consider a company's mission and purpose before applying.

When leaders behave in a way and make decisions that align with an organization's values, this is congruence.

In other words, it's not enough to simply say that your organization values, for example, Equity. The behavior, actions, and decisions of the organization's leaders must support equity as well. Ensuring equal pay for equal work, having a diverse team at all levels, evaluating organization policies in order to dismantle systemic racism, and much more is required in order for an organization to walk the equity walk.


Related closely to congruence is dissonance: the psychological impact that occurs when there is a lack of congruence. This can take the form of anxiety, anger, sadness, disappointment, and decreased performance. How does this play out in organizations?

An organization had the stated goal of being "the employer of choice" in the city in which they operated. However, organizational leadership would take actions in direct conflict with this goal. For example, an Associate Director on a call with a number of staff members at various levels of the organization stated multiple times that employees (who were in one of the lowest pay brackets in the organization) would do "whatever they're told" because that's why the organization "gifts them their salaries."

Now, first, I hope it is clear that a gift is something you give with nothing expected in return and that compensation is something provided to someone in return for completing a job or task. Next, I hope it is obvious that this organization would never become "the employer of choice" when its leaders see compensation as a gift they can lord over their staff.

As expected, this resulted in disappointment, anger, frustration, anxiety, and (ultimately) resignations and difficulty filling vacant positions. Would people have felt anger and disappointment at hearing this from the AD even if the organization didn't have their stated goal of being "the employer of choice?" Definitely. However, as Judge Judy Shiendlin says, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining!"

The ability to assess how people would feel in a given situation is an essential leadership skill. Empathy and sympathy are similar sounding and similar meaning words. Where sympathy is based on how you would feel in a given situation; empathy is based on how they would feel in a given situation.

So, as a leader, even if you think you would feel fine about a policy change, for example, not everyone may react the same way. During an All Teams call one day, one of the Directors comes on and announces that a COVID vaccine is required by a given date and anyone who doesn't receive one will have their resignation accepted.

This announcement was made without giving any notice to any of the managers or supervisors and they had no FAQs prepared. Immediately, the all the managers in the organization were receiving phone calls, text messages, emails, and knocks on the door from concerned employees who were on the call. We had no information for them; we had received the exact same information on the call that they had.

It was determined that everyone would see this as a good policy change just as organizational leadership did and so they didn't empathize with staff and come prepared to address questions and concerns.


Having a conversation with an employee who isn't meeting performance standards can be difficult and awkward for both employee and leader. Yet, it's one of the most important conversations to have as a leader.

It's important not only for the other employees, who are likely having to make up for these performance issues, but also it's important for the employee you are talking to. Like I've said, most people want to do their best. Some people don't know that they aren't meeting their performance goals, or maybe they do know and can't figure out how to improve. Using the techniques we've already reviewed, these coaching opportunities help ensure you are not enabling poor performance and giving every employee the best opportunity to succeed.


When boundaries are blurred in relationships it can become difficult to differentiate between the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of another and your own. As a compassionate leader, it's important for your own self-preservation to be able to approach situations objectively and thoughtfully without becoming enmeshed in how others are approaching the situation.

Projection happens. There's no other way to say it. We attribute the issues and concerns we are experiencing to others. When we do this we can become very defensive. As a leader, when you find yourself having a negative reaction to someone, rather than thinking what it is about them that causes you to have this reaction, think about what it is about yourself that's causing you to have this reaction.

Do you feel under pressure to implement a new policy? Maybe it's a policy you don't necessarily agree with? Do you find planning tedious and you are more of an implementer? There are a number of reasons why we may react negatively to someone we work with, and many times it has nothing to do with them.


The relationship between mental and physical well-being is a strong one. Poor mental health has been shown to contribute to other physical health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and joint issues. In the same respect, poor physical health can affect our mental health. Many people experience short tempers, depression, anxiety and more when we don't feel well.

As leaders, it's our responsibility to recognize this link between physical and mental health and to promote activities and programs that support both. Many companies today have employee services programs that provide free (usually limited to a few sessions) of counseling or health incentives as part of their benefits package. These resources are severely under-utilized. Promote these resources and approach your employees' mental health just as you would their physical health.


"Which of these is not like the other?"

"Group similar objects together."

"Divide the candies by each color."

When we are learning, it helps us to group things into categories, or schemas, that help us make sense of the world around us. When we are younger, our schemas grow and expand at an incredible rate. We learn the word "car" and now everything with wheels is a car. We then learn that there are cars, trucks, vans, trains, buses...all kinds of things that have wheels.

A number of licensed professions (Social Workers, Physicians, Nurses) have continuing education requirements; a certain number of hours of additional learning the professional must complete in order to retain their license. This is also why you commonly hear that folks practice their profession. They're practicing medicine. They're practicing Social Work.

New things are discovered every day and even if it's something that's been well known for a long time maybe you don't know it yet. Never stop learning and never hold on to your individual experience of the world so tightly that you are incapable of expanding your schema.

Be a life-long learner. In your profession, as a leader, as an individual...never stop expanding your understanding of the world around you.

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