An Interview with Nicole Lipkin

“I enjoy being able to bring human nature back into the way that people think about business. A lot of companies are so driven by profit that they overlook the role of human interaction. So I help people think about the way that group dynamics affect a project and how personal interactions enhance or detract from productivity.”

Dr. Nicole Lipkin consults with organizations and leaders. She works for Equilibria Leadership Consulting, an international firm based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She holds a PsyD in Clinical Psychology, a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice and a Master of Business Administration, all from Widener University.

Dr. Lipkin is a licensed psychologist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania who has been involved with business since she was 5 years old. She is also the author of Y in the Workplace: Managing the “Me First” Generation and is working on her second book, which is due out in Spring 2013.

In your own words, what is an organizational psychologist?

An organizational psychologist helps clients improve the management of their organization or business by building up employees’ skills in the areas of communication, problem-solving and decision-making. They also help to improve leadership and management skills across the organization.

As an organizational and leadership psychologist, I consult with the management of a given company to determine strategies for developing leaders within the organization. I focus on improving the skills of emerging leaders and young talent within a business. I also teach current leaders how to advance their leadership and management skills.

If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming an organizational psychologist,” what would your response be?

I would tell that student that this is a wonderful and rewarding career that lets you meet all different kinds of people from around the nation, and even the world, if you choose to work internationally. You will be able to help people see their organization from a different perspective while helping them grow their own skills. My business focuses on recognizing people’s strengths within an organization and helping them to develop their skills in order to reach their full potential.

What level of education is necessary to become an organizational psychologist?

There are many different routes you can take to become a consultant for organizations, including earning a PhD or a PsyD. But you do not have to become a licensed psychologist in order to consult. There are also masters degree programs that specialize in organizational dynamics.

Why did you decide to become an organizational psychologist?

I decided to become an organizational psychologist because I have always been fascinated by business. I started my first business with my older brother when he was 11 years old and I was just 5. We wanted to sell toys, so my parents gave us $200 apiece to start a bank account and buy our merchandise, which we sold at flea markets. They taught us how to keep books and run a business. So I have been involved with business since I was a little girl, and I feel like entrepreneurship is in my blood. I have since built upon that experience, which has made me interested in the way that businesses run and the way that people work together.

What do you enjoy most and least about being an organizational psychologist?

I enjoy being able to bring human nature back into the way that people think about business. A lot of companies are so driven by profit that they overlook the role of human interaction. So I help people think about the way that group dynamics affect a project and how personal interactions enhance or detract from productivity.

But this job does entail a lot of work, so I would say that I sometimes dislike the hours. When you run your own ship, so to speak, you are constantly thinking about ways to improve the business, and it bleeds into your personal life. I think it takes a lot of maturity to learn how to balance a career with personal obligations.

What is a typical day like for you?

I find that my days are never the same. Some days I have back-to-back meetings with clients, and other days I am either working on my book or prepping for keynotes, trainings or workshops. I travel a lot for work, so I have become accustomed to doing a lot of prep work and writing in the air. There really is no typical day for me, which is why I love what I do.

How do you balance your work and your personal life?

To be a successful business owner, you have to be smart about your time and find a way to maintain balance. I love what I do with a passion, and I probably do work way too much. At the same time, I play hard. I have phenomenal friends, and I manage to keep up those relationships and have fun. I feel blessed to be able to do what I do and still squeeze that in.

What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as an organizational psychologist and what traits would hinder success?

An important personality trait is to be outgoing. The willingness to self-promote is very important if you are going to work for yourself, which you very likely will if you are going to consult for organizations. Many people are uncomfortable selling their skills, but it is necessary if you are going to be an entrepreneur.

Traits that would certainly hinder your success in this field are being neurotic or standoffish. You have to be sincerely interested in talking with people and understanding them so that they can trust you.

Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?

I would not do anything differently when it comes to the route I took to becoming educated. In fact, when I started college, I wanted to be an actress and a dancer, and I double-majored in dance and psychology. Even though I ended up pursuing psychology as a profession, the performance skills that I learned through dance have been valuable to my career. I learned how to be up on stage and how to present myself. Then I got dual masters degrees, including an MBA, which has given me credibility when consulting with organizations. I think all education is worthwhile, and I am happy with my path, even though it was a little crazy at times.

What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most valuable for the work you do today?

One of the classes that was very valuable to me was group psychology because it taught me about the way groups operate. I also found social psychology to be useful. I also gained a lot from my capstone class for my MBA, in which I conducted an analysis of a company to target its weaknesses and propose solutions to them.

What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming an organizational psychologist?

If you are specifically interested in organizational consulting, you need to use every opportunity that comes your way to network. It is vital that you get to know people and be open to learning from them. As to becoming a psychologist in general, I would caution people to care for their own mental health, because it is not easy to help people who are struggling. You will not be able to help others if you are not feeling good yourself.