By Dr. Shar Rai
According to the Oxford Dictionary, leadership is defined as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. While this definition is simple, practical and to the point, I feel leadership needs to be understood from two different perspectives- as an art and as a science. The art of leadership is the ability to create a loyal following of individuals that fully believe in the cause of their leader and shape their desire to help fulfill that specific purpose. The science of leadership focuses on the physiological response that takes place between group members when building a relationship. This intentional connection releases a hormone called oxytocin within each individual which enhances trust, optimism, self-esteem and makes the entire team feel great! However, it does not stop there. Leadership is not just about external actions but also internal reflection. Being a great leader is actually an inside job.
When we take the opportunity to make space and create more self-awareness in our life, we take less baggage to the table. It is very easy for our own programs, beliefs systems and biases to disrupt the flow of any group setting. Bruce Lipton’s (PhD in developmental biology) research shows that our programs, belief systems and biases develop between the ages of 0-7. Children live in what is called a hypnoidal state and are influenced by their surroundings and the people in it. As adults, these same belief systems become a part of our subconscious mind and can hinder the way we interact with our team members. These programs can also prevent us from being open and empathetic. Team members rely on their leader to set the tone and that can often be skewed if the leader is stuck in their own story. Therefore, mastering your mindset is essential. What that means is understanding that our thoughts affect the way we feel, they dictate our behaviour and can change our environment. Tapping into our conscious mind is where change takes place.
So what can leaders do to bring their A -game to the boardroom? Here are a few conscious personal practices they can engage in now:
1. Positive Self Talk
Neuroscience tell us that whatever we focus on grows in our brain. In other words, neurons gather and form networks according to the information we consistently repeat and recall. So if the thought that is being recalled is “I am a not smart enough”, then our brain gathers neurons to build a network to reinforce that same idea. At the same time, hormones are released to make us feel the same way as we are thinking. Our behaviour is a reflection of the way we feel and eventually affects the results.
Can we change these thoughts? Absolutely! However, we have to consistently engage in a healthier thought. “I am smart”, for example, will begin to create that new network, which takes about 30 days. Because our body has been used to the hormones that make us feel bad, when we replace the negative thoughts with a positive ones, our body also starts producing a new set of hormones that make us feel good. But here is the tricky part- our body begins to experience withdrawal symptoms when our hormonal release is different. It is just as easy for us to become addicted to the release of hormones associated with negative self-talk as it is for us to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. If we can remember that withdrawal symptoms are a normal part of changing our mindset, getting over the hump becomes so much easier. Writing down affirmations daily is a wonderful way of building positive self talk.
Gratitude is a state of mind. It is the importance of reassuring ourselves that what we already have is enough and to appreciate whatever that is. It does not matter how small it may seem, being grateful opens our eyes to a lot more beauty in our life. Research show that expressing gratitude can also provide many benefits to your brain. For example, your prefrontal cortex that is responsible for emotional processing, interpersonal bonding/social interactions, and moral judgement, is stimulated when expressing gratitude. The hypothalamus, which is responsible for hormones, sleep, and metabolism is also stimulated when we are thankful.
Robert A. Emmons and his colleagues showed that regularly grateful people seemed to have a host of more positive neurological traits overall, such as being more empathetic, forgiving, helpful, and supportive. Other studies have shown that gratitude increases will power, helps keep us calm, may lessen depression and anxiety, builds resistance to stress, and improve our cardiovascular and immune systems. Writing down things that we are grateful for before bed is a great way to find the hidden gems of the day and also keep our memory sharp.
Dr. Norman Doidge, a Canadian medical doctor and researcher produced some remarkable results using fMRI. What he discovered was that the brain does not know the difference between thinking about an activity or physically engaging in it. The body produces the exact same physiological results. Knowing this information, visualization becomes a solid personal practice when managing ourselves and creating positive outcomes for our teams, especially when we have a something big coming up for us.
4. Goal Setting
Setting up small, achievable goals to help build our confidence is crucial. Mel Robbins defines confidence as “ the willingness to try”. Leaders that take small steps to pull them out of their comfort zones allows courage and confidence to build, therefore being able to take bigger steps in the future.
Our goals as leaders is to be better today than we were yesterday. By consciously engaging in these practices, we can set the example, share our experiences and encourage our teams to do the same. Leadership is an inside job.