“Leadership and influence aren’t rocket science ... they’re brain science.”
A CEO’s Encounter with Brain Science and Leadership
“Andy” is the CEO of an amazing company. His heart for his people is as big as the globe and pure gold. Every day he fights the business dragons that his workforce doesn’t see. He does it behind a closed door to shield his people from the knock-down-drag-outs he endures for their sake.
When he comes out of his office, he intentionally walks quickly through the work area and keeps an unemotional look on his face. This is to shelter people from the negative emotions he battles all day, every day on their behalf. But Andy is confused by some things.
Many of his people are afraid of him. They think he’s mad at them and they’re afraid to bring up outside-the-box creative ideas or challenge him on his actions and opinions. How can that be? It has nothing to do with Andy’s heart or intentions. It has everything to do with the “internal pharmacy” in the brain of each of his people and the chemicals he unknowingly triggers.
Andy, like many leaders, is writing unintentional neurological prescriptions.
The Internal Pharmacy
Bottom line: Leadership and influence aren’t rocket science. They’re brain science.
You don’t have to buy in to Kumbaya, but you might be wise to understand the neurological and biochemical impact of your behavior on those you lead. If you want to change people, culture or performance, it’s not about being Mr./Ms. Nice Guy. It’s about giving people’s brains and talents the chance to work at their highest levels, to help you create something better.
This three-part series will look at the brain science that helps you become a leader more people follow because they want to, not because they have to.
The science is neuroscience (neuro = brain), i.e. what happens in people’s brains when you do what you do and say what you say, and how that helps or hinders performance metrics.
The key is, what you do and what you say are always creating involuntary, subconscious, neurological and biochemical reactions in the brains of people you interact with. They don’t have a choice. These reactions happen in nanoseconds and flood their brains with either good or bad juices. These juices either help or hinder them in getting where you want them to go.
No Group Hug — Just a DOSE of Brain Chemistry
No deep dive into brain chemistry here, just a brief description of how the internal pharmacy works and how it ties to leadership and influence. Leaders constantly trigger predictable neurological and biochemical responses in people’s brains — some helpful, some not.
A key group of brain cells involved is the mirror neurons. They help us feel safety, empathy and connectivity with others, they influence our decisions in moral dilemmas and more. Here’s the nanosecond process. A spark jumps across the synaptic gap between neurons. Electricity flows along the axon of the neuron to the chemical nodules (vesicles) at the other end of the neuron. This releases neurotransmitters and neurohormones that communicate messages to the brain and body. The types of chemical messages released radically impact the types of results you’ll get.
DOSE is a simple model describing four major chemicals involved: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. More are involved, and there isn’t consensus on a simple 1-1 explanation of what each does. However, these and other chemicals create, support or inhibit how we think, feel and do. Here are a few admittedly over-simplified examples of what the DOSE chemicals do.
Dopamine motivates us towards goals and rewards us with pleasure for achieving them. It creates a high level of alertness, a wake up to the brain. Any leaders want more alert, goal-focused behaviors from your workforce?
Oxytocin fosters positive mood, intimacy and trust, and builds healthy relationships. Any leaders looking for higher levels of trust and better relationships and interactions from teams and the whole workforce?
Serotonin is flowing when you feel significant, important, valued, etc. (More about the high cost of not feeling valued in part three, “The Chemical Consequences of Listening – or Not.”) Depression and loneliness happen when serotonin is missing. Any leaders have depressed people working for you?
Endorphins activate opiate receptors, mask and fight pain, increase pleasure and are associated with the fight or flight response. Laughter triggers endorphins. Is your workforce laughing? Any leaders out there with a workforce in pain and resistant to change?
A fifth contributor to mention is cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. It works with adrenaline to help your body deal with stress and put you on high alert. However, when there’s too much for too long it can hurt more than help, and affects the digestive system, immune system and more. This was one of Andy’s issues. His people were being stressed out by cortisol triggered in response to his behavior. They were continually in fight-or-flight alert status, like living with your finger stuck in a light socket.
Leadership Behaviors, the Pharmacy and Performance Metrics
Obviously, people are more creative and perform better when the right (DOSE) juices are flowing. Things as simple as the look on your face, the tone of your voice, the speed and intensity of your walk or even using all caps in an email can trigger the negative juices. You unintentionally create negative influence. Knowing how to create the right brain chemistry means upping your skills as a leader to intentionally dispense the best neurological prescriptions.
Three Crucial Components of Leadership Linked to the Pharmacy
Leadership is many things, but at its core are three crucial components. Each of these requires that leaders create the right brain chemistry to fully work. They are:
- Creating a compelling picture of what could be
- Winning the hearts and minds of people to want to go there
- Equipping them for the journey
A compelling picture means different things to different people. Leaders need to communicate in the brain-science language of the workforce, not just corporate clichés. If your picture of what could be triggers dopamine, people will be more likely to pursue the goal because they want to, not because they have to.
To win hearts and minds, triggering oxytocin and serotonin will help. They create trust, better relationships and a sense of significance and ownership of the vision.
Equipping people includes transferring knowledge, skills, technology and more. Learning is faster and stronger when endorphins are flowing. People engage willingly and have fun in the process.
Bottom line: The workforce runs on brain juices, and leaders are juice makers.
In part two, The Brain Science of Influence, we’ll look at the Cycle of Influence™, a four-part framework that defines what influence is, and the pattern influence follows inside every person, in every encounter you have with them. We’ll see how this cycle triggers good or bad juices.
Give your business its best possible leadership team.
About the AuthorMichael Clifton is a globally experienced leadership and influence coach, culture transformation guru, speaker and trainer.
His focus is transforming leaders and corporate culture to drive tangible improvements in business metrics. With 30 years of experience across 20 countries at over 100 companies, he fixes people issues that hurt performance.
Michael helps leaders accelerate and sustain change, motivate without manipulating, create authentic, trusting conversations, and drive better team performance, collaboration and innovation. He develops leaders people follow because they want to, not because they have to.
Michael is recognized globally as a man of integrity, wisdom and skill, who not only changes businesses, but changes people’s lives. His coaching and workshops give leaders many specific tools to create positive juices in simple, practical ways. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.