Small shifts in Leadership can Make the Team Dynamic
Thanks to research on human behavior, we know what it takes for the average person’s brain to perform at its best, cognitively and emotionally—even under the pressures of the modern workplace. Following are the two researched insights that may help leaders to spark positive behavioral shifts in their organizations:
The brain’s activity is split across two complementary systems—one deliberate and controlled, the other automatic and instinctive. The deliberate system is responsible for sophisticated, conscious functions such as reasoning, self-control, and forward thinking. It can only do one thing at a time and tires remarkably quickly. Brain’s automatic system lightens this load by automating most of our repetitive activities, but as the brain’s deliberate system becomes more exhausted, the automatic system increasingly takes the reins, leaving us prone to make misleading generalizations and knee-jerk responses. That’s why multitasking is such a problem. We think we can parallel process, but each tiny switch from one conscious task to another wastes a little of the deliberate system’s time and mental energy. Research shows that people are less creative, more stressed, and make two to four times as many mistakes when they deal with interruptions and distractions.
Another way that the deliberate system’s limitations play out in the workplace is that decision-making quality drops the longer people go without a break. However, if leaders can encourage people to go offline when doing their most important work, as well as taking more frequent breaks, they’ll see an uptick in productivity, innovation, and morale.
Our brain is constantly looking for threats to fend off or rewards worth pursuing. When we’re more focused on threats than rewards, we’re in defensive mode. Our brain diverts some of its scarce mental energy into launching a ‘fight flight or freeze’ response, and as those instinctive responses unfold—looking more like ‘snap, sulk, or skulk’ in the workplace. Meaning, some of our more emotionally sophisticated neural machinery has gone offline.
This matters, because it takes surprisingly little to put someone’s brain into defensive mode, which can create vicious circles in the workplace, triggering an instinctive defensive reaction that makes it harder for them to solve the problem at hand.
But then there’s discovery mode, where people’s brains are focused on the potential rewards in a situation—for instance, a feeling of belonging or social recognition, or the thrill of learning new things. If leaders can foster a rewarding environment even amidst the most difficult situations, it’s likely that they can dampen that primal feeling of being under threat just enough to nudge people out of defensive mode and back into top form.
By focusing on something positive before getting into the tough stuff, leaders can help people stay in high-performance discovery mode.
Simple tweaks based on the latest behavioral research can nudge employees into top form and create a more productive environment for everyone.