Listening is the most powerful vehicle for transformation known to man – and woman. When we listen without judgment we open up a part of our brains and hearts to accept another person in their fullest into our lives. When we listen without judgment, our hearts are able to connect and we experience a new level of awareness of what it feels like to step inside of their shoes and see the world from their perspective. When this deep level of connectivity takes place, we move from I to WE.
When we listen without judgment in a team, something magical happens. We connect mind to mind, heart to heart, and a common consciousness emerges that has a powerful energy to lift us up from fear of the future, to embracing the possibilities of the future. Somehow, it feels as though our ability to live in a ‘what if’ state of mind stretches to embrace more possibilities – and when this happens we are shaping the future together.
NEURO-TIP:Successful communication has the ability to meld minds through the experience of neural coupling, which is experienced when the listener’s brain mirrors the activity of the speaker’ brain.*
As you step up into higher levels of leadership, the challenges undoubtedly multiply. One of the most significant challenges will be managing the increase in the number of interactions and new relationships that come with leading a larger team of say 100 to even 1,000.
Staying connected and sustaining relationships while driving for results across a growing employee base is a hurdle, but it must be jumped to successfully hit the ground running as an influential leader in any company. Taking the time for personal interactions with employees is how good leaders of the past became great leaders in history.
It is a leader’s thoughtful interactions with their team that will create an environment balanced with both personal communication and results driven communication; this is ultimately at the heart of being a “humanizing leader.”
It’s amazing how often I find leaders trapped into thinking the higher they go up the corporate ladder, the tougher they need to be. Ironically, the opposite is actually true.
As leadership titles get bigger – from director to VP to EVP to CEO – they increase in the weight they carry, which is also known as positional power (discussed further in this older post). As a result of this growth, the members of the leader’s team tend to refrain from healthy push back and from challenging his/her authority. To offset these sorts of problems associated with positional power, leaders need to thoughtfully connect with their employees at a more personal level and encourage open and honest conversation.
These are a few identifiers that may help you evaluate if your employees fear your positional power:
- Perpetual deference to your authority
- Fear of speaking up
- Avoiding talking about challenges and difficult issues – fear of disappointing the boss
Ask Yourself Where You Stand
How can you build an environment where people feel safe to speak up, to challenge issues together, and to put difficult conversations on the table? How can you create an environment that thrives on the humanity?
Practices for yourself:
- Remember that relationships are the building blocks for success
- Catch yourself criticizing people
- Make it a habit to find what can be appreciated in every person
Practices with your staff:
- Point out things people are doing well
- Cultivate an environment that’s safe for people to speak honestly and openly with one another
- Be specific about what you’re giving others feedback on
- Be timely with your feedback, and sensitive to its impact
- Give coaching in private
*Biological Sciences – Neuroscience – Social Sciences – Psychological and Cognitive Sciences:
· Greg J. Stephens,
· Lauren J. Silbert,
· and Uri Hasson
Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication PNAS 2010 107 (32) 14425-14430; published ahead of print July 26, 2010, doi:10.1073/pnas.1008662107
When people work in concert, they learn from each other and are more apt to develop the higher-level skills and wisdom needed to meet the organization’s performance goals.
When we connect, we learn how to turn breakdowns into breakthroughs — we become high performing team.
I was destined to be a child psychologist. I did my Research Fellowship in Child Development and was heading into a Ph.D. program in Human Behavior and Development – and then I had a change of mind.
I lived in Kansas at the time, and my husband Rich was getting his Ph.D. in Medicinal, Bio and Pharmaceutical Chemistry – and I took a job at the Bess Stone Center, a Center for Mentally Disabled Adults. On my first day at work, I was introduced to Larry, a 24-year-old mentally challenged adult. He was very tall and thin. Perhaps the most striking feature of his appearance was the wide suspenders that held up his pants. His teeth protruded and his head was over-sized.
"His name is Larry," Mary Jean said to me. "He is 24 but has the mind of a 2-year-old." He doesn't talk. He just grunts. As she spoke those words, his head tilted, and I immediately knew he understood her harsh words. Larry looked different, and even though his outward appearance was unusual; I was about to learn that there was much wisdom beneath his surface.
Larry, who did not possess the ability to communicate through words, put his talents to work. He made an invention by inserting the 'foil' from the inside of a ketchup bottle top into a clothespin. Larry could gaze into the small foil 'rear view mirror' for a fully encompassing view of the world. He used his invention to watch the man who came to polish our floors once a week. Larry watched the up-and-down motion in his 'rear-view' mirror, and once his mind mapped the rhythm he was able to imitate floor polishing even when the polisher was not there.
I asked him if he wanted to 'try it' and sure enough, Larry polished the floors everyday and became the best floor polishers ever. Then he took me outside and motioned with his arms that he wanted to polish the grass. After it clicked in, I realized he wanted to transfer his new found skills to learn to mow the grass. And he did. He became the best grass mower we had ever seen!
Larry's energy and passion for learning became contagious. Soon enough, everyone at the Bess Stone Center became alive in a new way. Bertha wanted to play the piano, and she did, in her own way. Albert wanted to have 'money in his pocket' and so Mary Jean gave him money to carry to the store for food shopping. Mark wanted to build a house, and so we gave him some wood to build a miniature house which upon its completion was donated by the Bess Stone Center to its 'sister home' for mentally disabled children. The local newspaper heard about the change at Bess Stone and wrote a feature story, which greatly inspired our small town in Kansas.
Larry taught me about trust. Rather than see him as a 'retarded adult' with no capabilities to do much of anything, I saw him as a whole, creative human being. At the movement of contact, I experienced him as someone special, someone I wanted to get to know and understand, and someone of value. Larry changed my life. He was one of the reasons I wanted to understand more about how our minds work, how our brains work, and why we do what we do.
Music to Your Ears
We can acquire wisdom from everyone.A man sat at a Metro station in Washington, D.C. and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on to meet his schedule.
A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw money into the till and without stopping, continued to walk.
A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly, he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped and looked at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. Several other children repeated this action, yet all the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston, and the seats averaged $100.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell played incognito in the Metro station and was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people.
Think about the labels that frame your world – narrow your appreciation, and stop you from seeing others through a lens of their strengths.
- How do labels influence you?
- What do you perceive and why?
- Do you stop to appreciate what is going on around you?
- What blinds you? What influences your sense of reality?
- Do you recognize the talents of others in an unexpected context?
Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books:
Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization – winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose; and editor and contributor of 42 Rule for Creating WE, an Amazon bestseller.
How Leader’s Lead: Brain Landscapes
Through advances in neuroscience, we are now able to see inside of the brains and minds of people while they are experiencing different emotions. What astounds scientists and practitioners alike is the dramatically different ‘brain landscape’ for people who are in fear states, compared to those who are in states of joy and happiness.
What this surprising difference in our brain’s activity is showing us is so profound that it is changing the very foundation for how leaders lead.
Once a person has been triggered by fear – let’s say from an angry boss, a yelling, or merely a passive-aggressive or blaming boss who is embarrassing that person in front of colleagues – a cascade of neuro chemicals starts in the lower brain – and literally spews out into the rest of the brain – like someone was spray painting their brain! This cortisol bath sends messages to the other parts of the brain – there are actually 5 brains working in concert – and tells them to move into hyper-gear to protect the person from harm.
This triggered reaction is not momentary – it is sustained over a half life of 13 hours or a full life of 26. If the leader continues to irritate, embarrass or outrage the employee during the next period of time, the cortisol and associated chemistry continues its cascade and the person is now not just in a moment of fear but in a prolonged state of fear.
Parts of the brain needed for thinking, empathy, and getting along with others are now closing down and the person is being driven into strategies for self protection. This includes talking with people who can console them, or help them think through, talk through and work through feeling so bad. This person needs to find solace with others to elevate their fear and pain – and so begins their journey to find comfort from others who care.
How productive do you think this person is now?
Neurochemistry of Growth and Motivation
Most leaders don’t realize that punishment and embarrassment to get people to perform is not only an outdated strategy for employee motivation – it is a harmful strategy – with both short-term and long-term unexpected consequences.
Inspired leaders would be further inspired if they understand the neurochemistry of motivation – how praise and support can unlock the neurochemical patterns that also cascade chemistry throughout the brain. This powerful and almost drug-like dopamine state that comes with appropriate, honest and well-deserved (sincere) praise will set into place a pattern of intrinsic motivation that will open up new pathways for the employee to access new skills and talents.
How we enable our brains to have neuroplasticity – to help us change and grow – is a science that all business people need to learn to understand and practice. There is a neurochemistry behind praise that actually triggers neurotransmitters that release specific chemicals that impact ‘confidence’ and ‘social composure’.
Once these chemicals are released, they give a person’s brain the ability to sustain working on projects even under stress – which means that a person essentially will have greater intention and attention to staying on a project longer to get a result – rather than bailing out midstream and only achieving a fraction of what they could otherwise accomplish.
Rather than ‘replacing employees who aren’t’ cutting it’ or punishing them for not achieving leaders can now learn practices that release or trigger skill-building new neurochemicals – propelling good employees to become great employees.
NEURO-TIP: When we say ‘no’ or reject people, our bodies go into self-defense, turning on our proactive-disengagement system, but when we say ‘yes’, our bodies turn on the social engagement system that connects us to others.*
As you reflect on the condition of your organization’s culture, you must understand the dynamic tension between protecting what you have and creating what you aspire to have. Understanding the pushes and pulls of these tensions gives you a better handle on driving energy in positive ways and reducing the negative pull of downward spirals.
Consider the following 'I' vs. 'WE' behaviors that might be holding back your organization from becoming what you know it can be:
1. Only talk to those one level up; corner office; get my coffee
2. Senior executives own the strategy; information kept close to the vest
3. Using status to impress; keep the distance
4. Exclusion; closed doors
5. Lack of respect
1. Senior executives discuss the strategy with employees
2. Information about company’s health, wealth and business strategy shared with employees
3. Employees included in change process; involved, engaged, empowered
4. Inclusion, open door policy
5. Respect abounds
To shift an organization from exclusion to inclusion, a leader must be willing to help people understand the direction of the company and how to be a part of creating success. Discourage “we-they” thinking.
Help reduce your co-workers fear and stress caused by exclusion by cultivating an inclusive work environment. Set a positive and inclusive tone and help people feel that they are all working together toward common goals and strategies. Create a sense of “WE are all in this together.”
How does your company fair on the inclusion/exclusion spectrum? What are the practices that are holding back company progress without you even realizing it?
Receptive-Reactive State of Being
Researcher: Daniel Siegl, MD