Where the journey of a good leader begins.
Few leaders and executives are at ease admitting their feelings. Putting a good face on things, no matter how it’s looking inside, is more than often standard routine. But sometimes, the emotions boil over. Both inwardly turned stress as well as emotional outbursts are signs of something going on inside of us. We might not giving it our attention. Where it can lead to
when we disregard our inner voice over an extended period of time, we can experience first-hand when bodily signals appear. An ear noise stays longer. Eye twitches appear. The sleep becomes restless. These are signs that our body is reaching the limit of it’s abilities, coming close to exhaustion and overwork.
Be a good leader - what’s the brain got to do with it?
Who doesn’t want to be a good leader, manager or supervisor? Having a vision and leading the company or the team towards the next goal. Ignite the fire inside employees, enthuse them for change and inspire them to take action. Developing employees and supporting them in their responsibilities. Having an open ear. Communicating and acting with clarity and fairness. Giving recognition for good performance and praising employees for their engagement and achievements. Seeing mistakes as a chance for learning and improvement. Being open to proposals, fostering creativity and displaying a sense of humor...
Studies in neurochemistry reveal that for expressing a such leadership behaviour, circuits in a specific region of the brain have to be activated. It is the prefrontal cortex at the frontside of the brain, which is steering conscious action. This brain region, the youngest part of the brain in evolutionary terms, is part of the neocortex or ‚new mammalian' brain. When sufficiently activated, the prefrontal cortex is the emotional manager of a person. It brings a more analytical and appropriate reaction into our emotional impulses and reactions by muffling the amygdala, directly responsible for behavioral and physiological responses elicited by threats, and the other parts of the limbic system.
The limbic system or ‚old mammalian' brain is regarded as the emotional center, in charge of feelings, attention, learning and long-term memory. The limbic system immediatly spots friend or foe and activates the alarm system, impacting the functioning of the prefrontal cortex which is susceptible to over-excitation. In an alarm situation, only the more robust old regions of the brain function reliably, namely the limbic system and the oldest part of the brain, the reptilian brain.
The reptilian brain is in charge of the survival functions like breathing, heart beat, bowel movements, waking and sleeping. Here our knee-jerk reactions to real or perceived dangers and threats manifest in flight, fight or freeze reactions. These are often headless stress reactions which mobilize all available reserves. Too frequent stress reactions with no refuelling possibilities lead to exhaustion and overwork in the long run.
Today, scientists like Joseph E LeDoux Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, think of brain functions as products of systems rather than of areas. The terminology of 'brain areas‘, however describing brain models in a convenient way, gives a simplistic explanation and misses out on the latest findings and details in scientific studies.
Good leadership requires energy and balance
In order the prefrontal cortex to do his job and steering other brain regions in a way to display our desired leadership behaviour, we have to be balanced, e.g. the reptilian brain and limbic system are not too much activated by fear and stress.
The prefrontal cortex also needs high amounts of energy in form of glucose. When hungry, stressed or sleep deprived, this energy often is lacking because the body is not producing glucose. Although the body has a greater desire for caffeine or sweet, it cannot process and utilize them efficiently.
When the prefrontal cortex is put on the back burner, we often are losing perspective. We don’t see things clearly anymore, as they are. Our mental capacity is depleted and automatically, our routine inner programs and thought patterns are turned on. Creativity is not possible in those conditions. We keep being stuck in our stress reactions that are running automatically when our alarm system is activated, and when the prefrontal cortex is not exerting his moderating influence.
The 3-minute strategy
We all have our well-worn patterns to put a little distance between ourself and a stressful situation. For some it is the cigarette, for others it is the cup of coffee or chocolat. Those little retreats let us breathe a little sigh of relief, but they don’t change our patterns.
If it would be possible to stop our routine program within 3 minutes and to be fully present and aware in this moment, how much more possibilities could we discover with the potential to chose our actions or to change our mood?
Give it a try. Here’s how :
1. STOP :
- Coming to a stand or sitting down. Taking a few deep breaths into the belly. Then releasing your breath. Where in the body can you feel your breath?
- Tuning into your body, gently turning towards any tension, thoughts or feelings that come into your awareness, without any desire for it not to be there. Letting go and blowing it out with the exhale.
- Observing, maybe you need to change the channel, taking a moment to notice what is pleasant in your moment to moment awareness.
- Now you have just stepped out of Auto Pilot! Maybe opening your awareness to the new possibilities, choices and options available to you.
2. Ask yourself : what is the one thing right now to significantly reduce my
3. Check-in : How do you feel? What changed for you? What are you going to do
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.“
Dr. Wayne Dyer
Ignore stress symptoms or bring them to the surface?
Some people ignore the stress symptoms to protect themselves, being anxious that their mental strain could increase when dealing with the inner stress. Not admitting the inner stress can be because of fear that others or oneself could consider us not being psychologically chargeable, or of believing that we are letting down the boss, the co-workers, the team or the company when we take care of ourselves and of our needs.
This opinion is derived from our social conditioning. We judge ourselves because we are used to base our orientation on external standards.
The path to mental strength and serenity
This path leads us to our inner being. We connect to ourselves when we are present in this moment.
“When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world.”
It requires to regularly train the awareness-muscle to deeply get in touch with the inner landscape of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, and to observe them in stillness, with loving kindness, not judging, from a distance, without getting carried away by the sensations and emotions.
With practice, we will recognize that our perception of stress is related to our inner attitude. The less we are drawn to identify ourselves with our thoughts and feelings, and the better we can adopt in our introspection the role of a friendly observer, creating space, a certain distance to what is going on inside of us, the better we can cope with the situation as it is, right now. We are then able to choose a better answer instead of displaying our usual, often headless, reaction.
Sylvia Kaldenbach is a renewing and transformational Coach for personal and organizational innovation with an inspiring vision of Well-Being from an authentic and self-directed personal
lifestyle. I support growth with entrepreneurial creativity and I help you realizing your ambitions and intentions with the desired impact.
I focus on the Human Side of Business and I foster personal and organizational innovation based on the systemic transformational process of Theory U. I help developing fundamental meta-competencies like trust, connection and beneficial interpersonal interactions and conversations. I guide company owners, executives and entrepreneurial, customer focused people to navigate empathically, lead innovatively and collaborate equally within and outside the organization.