While I was walking my dog, Riley, yesterday morning along the sidewalks of our subdivision, I heard a mockingbird singing just ahead of us. She was boldly singing her large repertoire of beautiful songs. I admired the way that she sang out and so we slowed our pace while we listened to her.
As Riley and I approached the small oak tree where she was perched, she didn’t wing away but she did stop singing. Her brilliant voice was silenced as we walked by her. Then, as we got a short distance beyond her, she began to sing again.
This reminded me of leadership. (I know, my mind goes to weird places sometimes. 😉 )
When we feel comfortable and safe in our surroundings, we can perform boldly and beautifully.
We can thrive and take chances that can lead to great rewards and value creation.
As soon as we feel threatened… by unworkable timelines, unrealistic expectations, over-competitiveness, negative or disparaging people… we stop singing. When we are feeling uncomfortable or threatened or insecure, we take our focus off of our talents and strengths and turn our attention to the threat.
In Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, he coins the phrase “amygdala hijack.” This phenomenon is when the amygdala, the prehistoric, reptile part of your brain that is designed to detect errors and threats, gets triggered. What happens next? Well, the amygdala signals your body to release adrenaline, norepinephrine, and other hormones and chemicals into your blood stream to instantly prepare you for fight, flight or freeze mode. One other very important thing happens when it comes to leadership… the amygdala also shuts down blood flow to your prefrontal cortex… that’s the logical, rational part of your brain.
So, whenever something threatening or unexpected happens, you physiologically become stupider. Yes, you can’t help it. You are significantly dumber, when it comes to logical thinking, immediately after an amygdala hijack than you were right before it.
What do we, as leaders, do when we are presented with a problem? We get the team together. We quickly and anxiously spew the problem out to the team and then we say, “Come on. What solutions do you have for me?!”
Do you realize what you just did?
You made your team stupider and then asked them for a solution.
How effective do you think that solution is going to be?
So, what CAN you do?
Well, the science of physiology will tell us that those hormones and chemicals will dissipate in the body over 18-20 minutes as long as no other amygdala hijack takes place. So…
- Step #1: Present your team with the problem and all of its trappings. Feel free to display your emotions and energy.
- Step #2: Allow them to go away for 30 minutes or so. Have them take a walk, get a cup of coffee, eat lunch, play Candy Crush… allow their bodies time to physiologically process the amygdala hijack.
- Step #3: Then, get everyone back together and calmly discuss the situation with open minds and open hearts.
Getting Your Team to Sing
As a leader, it is your job to give your team a chance to shine, a chance to sing boldly and beautifully. It is your job to create an environment where they feel safe, and secure, and comfortable… comfortable to take risks and be supported.
In order to do that, you must create a safe and secure environment for yourself. Believe in your ability to solve problems and figure things out. Take the time to completely understand the value that you are creating. If you’d like some help with this, here’s the link to an assessment and a free online short course that I recently created. Give it a try!
Then, be sure to create a culture on your team of acceptance, belief, and collaboration knowing that, as a team, you have the talents, skills, and abilities to sing a beautiful song together.