Tom Talks about the Biology of Leadership–part 2

In Building a Winning Business, I spend considerable time focusing on important leadership skills, such as listening to others, fostering open communication, staying positive and taking the opinions of others into account. In other words, leaders must be able to relate to and communicate effectively with others.

G/B (see previous post for full citation) cite a study that found in an analysis of new C-level executives only those who could get along with others succeeded—even though all the executives were deemed to be equally smart, ambitious, and self disciplined.  Research also is bearing out the notion that non-verbal communication is more important that what people actually say or hear.

A recent study by Rutgers University professor Marie Dasborough found that employees who received positive information that was delivered critically (frowning and narrowed eyes) reported feeling worse about their performance than did employees who were given negative job performance information in a positive manner.

It’s not what we say so much, but how we say it that truly matters!

Of course, it’s not exactly a news flash to say that leaders must be able to connect with people to be effective. What is really interesting, though, is a recent neuroscience finding: the presence of mirror neutrons in the brain that causes people to reproduce the emotions of others within themselves. Collectively, G/B write, “these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.”

Ever heard the old phrase, “anger spreads like the flu?” It’s the ancient wisdom of our forbearers but science is now proving its biological genesis. Or, as G/B opine, “Mirror neurons have particular importance in organizations, because leaders’ emotions and action prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds. The effects of activity neural circuitry in followers’ brains can be very powerful.”

That’s why I have long believed that leaders must set a positive example, always tell the truth, own their own mistakes and stay calm in the heat of crisis. A leaders’ behavior (or even the behavior of an employee that others respect) can build up or destroy an entire organization through mood contagion. Don’t believe me? Watch what happens when someone starts bad-mouthing your organization or clients. Within a very short time, many other employees will start to share those negative impressions, even if their own experience does not support them. If this goes on long enough, your entire business can begin to fall apart.

Luckily, mood contagion also can be positive. So even if we’re juggling a lot, worried about personal issue or just feeling crabby, effective leaders learn how to put aside their negative emotions and focus on the positive. The health of our organizations depends upon it!