Don’t Let Your Amygdala Dictate Your Leadership Style
As we mentioned in a recent post, emotional intelligence is not only real, but having a high level of it is important for successful leadership.
Today we will talk more about emotional intelligence and what it means in the workplace. Even better, it can apply to all human relationships
For example, have you ever had a reaction to something someone said or did and then later realize that your reaction was way out of proportion to the situation?
Psychologist Daniel Goleman is author of the book “Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.” And in it he coined the term “amygdala hijack” to describe these types of situations.
What Is the Amygdala Hijack?
I once went to a conference where Panelist Winjie Miao, Senior Vice President at Texas Health Resources, asked the room of almost 200 people if they were familiar with the term “amygdala hijack”. There were actually very few people who were, or at least who raised their hands.
I’ve experienced amygdala hijacks myself. And I’ve also worked for at least one boss who experienced them on what seemed like a daily basis. So I know first-hand how damaging these outbursts can be in the workplace and how commonly they occur.
Without going into too much depth or being overly scientific, here are some brain basics – as I interpret them. (For a more scientific explanation, you will want to consult Google). The amygdala is located at the base of our skull and controls, among other things, the “fight or flight” response. When we feel threatened, our “thinking brain” is overridden. The amygdala takes over and triggers a “fight or flight” response.
What Does Amygdala Hijack Mean for Our Human Relationships?
In today’s business world, the threat is primarily emotional and the fight response is typically an outburst of angry words. As damaging as the verbal outburst triggered by a fight reaction can be to relationships, there is another damaging consequence to organizations and society.
When we are under stress, and especially when we are under the influence of the amygdala, research has shown that we can see only three options to a problem or situation: fight, flight, or freeze. Not very resourceful options when you are leading a business, department or team and trying to solve the multitude of problems facing organizations today.
When we are less stressed and operating from the more developed portions of our brain, we are able to see a wide variety of potential responses to a problem or situation. This is when we are more creative and innovative. And hence why happier people tend to be more successful and why organizations like Google more closely resemble an “adult playground” than a corporate office.
There is a growing body of research that supports the relationship between positive emotions and success.
And much of it is summarized in “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work” by Shawn Achor. The book is also full of practical strategies for increasing positivity in yourself and others. I highly recommend it.
How to Control The Hijacks and Use Your Thinking Brain Instead
Here are some actions you can take to make sure you are leading from your thinking brain rather than your reacting brain.
1. Develop Awareness.
Understand the triggers that threaten your perceived safety. According to The Academy of Brain-Based Leadership, one of our brain’s primary duties is to keep us safe.
They have identified five triggers that we perceive to threaten our safety:
- Loss of security
- Loss of autonomy
- Perceived lack of fairness
- Perceived threat to our esteem
- Lack of trust
Each of us is triggered by these in varying degrees. It is important not only to understand what triggers your sense of safety but how each of these triggers impacts those with whom you work.
2. Monitor Stress Levels.
Be aware of your stress levels and the stress levels of team members. Acknowledge when you are feeling stressed and help team members acknowledge when they are stressed.
Research has shown that labeling the feelings can help to defuse the potential negative impact. I have found when I am unaware of or ignore stress is when I am most likely to get ambushed by my amygdala.
3. Create an Environment of Positivity.
Opportunities for social interaction and to spend time doing activities that decrease stress during the work day are more than “feel-good nice-to-haves”.
They increase creativity and problem solving skills and lead to more effective decision-making. And in turn, this expands or broadens the scope of potential solutions and makes a company more competitive.
Plus, as a side benefit, companies with an environment of positivity are more fun and fulfilling places to work. Less turn around in staff can mean more success for all.
Taking these actions won’t eliminate the risk of an amygdala hijack. But it will certainly increase the frequency with which you and others are being guided by your thinking brain and increase the scope of possible solutions that are within your realm of perception.
These are great ideas to practice immediately for keeping positivity on the brain and making this year more successful.
Ready to make positive changes in your leadership style? Contact me here and we’ll discuss how to get 2019 on the right path.
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