Who doesn’t want to be a good leader, manager or supervisor? Excellent cognitive capabilities, creative and strategic thinking and analytical, planning, problem solving and decision making skills are the basics in a leader’s toolset. Creating mutually beneficial interactions with others based on emotional and social intelligence is also a well proven characteristic of good leadership. Instead, how many times are leaders unable to show their best leadership behaviour in their interactions with others when, in a blink of an eye, flipping into a headless or careless behaviour?
Bounce back from dis-stress
Instead of being at ease, attentive, interested, empathetic, clear, calm and composed even in difficult situations or under time pressure, leaders often are dis-stressed. A state of dis-stress comes with one or more of the following : feeling mentally depleted, fear, anxiety, anger, inner arousal, and loosing awareness and control of emotions.
The behavior which is displayed in stressful situations is very individual. Personal patterns of stress reactions are formed and these programs run automatically when facing the stress trigger.
The impact of the behaviour in dis-stress often does not correlate with the well-meant intentions. Inappropriate reactions when interacting with others can have detrimental effects on relationships and on business results.
How much leverage could we bring to our leadership quality if we could recognize and interrupt the reactions from the state of dis-stress and return to our conscious state?
The capability to bounce back from dis-stress into a calm and conscious state is not only relevant to leaders. It matters to everyone who cares about the quality of interactions with others. For leaders, it can mean being successful at :
leading the company or the team towards the next goal. Igniting the fire inside co-workers, enthusing them for change and inspiring them to take action. Developing employees, supporting and empowering them in their responsibilities and holding them accountable. 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...
Being a good leader - what’s the brain got to do with it?
Studies in neurochemistry reveal that for expressing our best 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 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. 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 balance and energy
In order the prefrontal cortex to do his job of complex cognitive planning, problem-solving and decision-making, and steering other brain regions in a way to display our desired leadership behaviour, we have to be balanced. Only when the brain is not feeling threatened and stressed, the reptilian brain and limbic system are not too much activated.
When our alarm system is activated, the prefrontal cortex is not exerting his moderating influence and we keep being stuck in our stress reactions that are running automatically.
The prefrontal cortex 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 our mental capacity is depleted, we often are losing perspective, which is detrimental to our leadership quality. We don’t see things clearly anymore, as they truly are. Automatically, our routine inner programs and thought patterns are turned on. Creativity is not possible in those conditions.
The 3-minute strategy
Even when we have solid strategies in place to keep our balance and energy up over the long run, adding to our resilience account, there will always be moments where we need a boost to our leadership quality. In moments of stress, pressure, powerlessness, feeling angry or overwhelmed, a little practice can help to push the reset button.
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 stress
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
What triggered you to try out the 3-minute strategy? What held you back? What else works for you?
How likely is it, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 meaning absolutely sure), that you are going to invest 3 minutes to reconnect with yourself when feeling stressed, under pressure, powerless or angry?
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.