Your brain is not designed to hold ideas, your brain is designed to have ideas.” – Robert Allen, ‘Getting Things Done”
An informal survey of 150 senior managers who participated in the most recent Sustainable Leaders Strategic Planning workshop revealed the biggest challenge they faced was “having too much to do in too little time with fewer resources than ever before… and having to make the right decisions quickly.”
The often unbelievable demands to be both highly productive and accurate bombard us daily. What’s different? The speed with which business must get done today is light years faster than even 15 or 20 years ago. In many industries (technology), change happens too quickly and if you only strive to keep up, you will be out of business faster than you can say “Buck Rogers.”
There are only 24 hours in a day and you cannot create “more time” in a day. The solution for most is to work longer and harder to get the job done. The only problem with that solution is that it is a recipe for burn out.
Let’s break the rules and shift your perspective consider this: Time is a limited resource and energy is an infinitely unlimited resource. You cannot create more time. You can, however, create more energy by taking control not only of your time, but where your attention is within that time frame.
My personal observation is that productive and sustainable leaders who feel happy and satisfied at the end of each day actively focus on BOTH how much they DO and DON’T DO to conserve brain power and leverage energy successfully.
Say “No” 100 times for every time you say “Yes.” If saying “No” is hard for you (as it is for most people), add “No, thank you” so you can get the added benefit of being grateful and appreciative, if not polite.
The latest studies in brain based learning prove that multitasking is not only impossible (we switch attention, our brains are incapable of focusing on two things at once), but to make matters worse, the reduction in accuracy for even the “best multi-tasker” doing the simplest of tasks is almost 50%. Pretty scary when you think about the complex tasks you do simultaneously (driving a car, talking on a cell phone or talking on the phone and typing an email response). Try to focus on doing one thing at a time. Notice how much less time it takes, especially because you don’t run the risk of hitting “send” prematurely then spending time on damage control.
Bottom line, people will feel heard and be able to find their own solutions more easily without unnecessary interference from you. And, you will conserve your brain power for more important challenges that lie ahead.
When you delegate, trust and offer challenges to people, not only will it benefit you, but also they’ll feel better about you if you do. We all know the importance of delegating so that you aren’t seen as the control freak in the corner office. But did you know that when you delegate responsibilities and tasks (with their buy in of course), the meta-message (as long as the deadline is reasonable or they are involved in setting the deadline) or message under the message, is “trust.” The receiver feels you believe in them enough to give them the opportunity to rise to the challenge. Win win.
Indecision happens when we have too many thoughts getting stuck in or out of sequence in the cognitive pipeline. Often we can get thoughts flowing again when we ask ourselves “What’s the one most important thing that needs to be decided and acted upon before that decision can be made?”
Whether you are a list maker or mind map fan, get every thought bouncing around inside of your head OUT of your head and onto paper, a whiteboard or computer program you are in the habit of checking or using regularly (“Freemind” is a simple and free example). Robert Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is a must read for “How To’s” when it comes to being more productive so you can take quick, effective action.
The Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC for short) is the part of your brain responsible for your ability to avoid distraction, make decisions, reason, understand and memorize. Think of it as powered by rechargeable batteries, not a 220v power cord plugged into an outlet in the wall. It needs frequent recharging (among other ingredients) in order for high performance. Taking a short 20 minute walk inside or outside your office building at the most hectic time of day will not only benefit your metabolism and your waistline, but also your brain. Try shutting off your brain for 5 minutes just two or three times a day, talk to a co-worker about a non-related subject (this is probably why gossip is so enticing), play a game of angry birds or juggle.
Think of how many “mindless” automatic patterns you have every day. Repeatedly doing routine tasks (like shaving, putting on your pants or brushing your teeth) the same way every day, doesn’t do your brain any favors. You are just deepening the same brain groove over and over. You are wasting valuable real estate! If you normally put your right leg in your pants first, put your left leg in first instead. If you begin shaving your face left side first, try starting your first swipe on a different part of your face. Do you have stairs in your office building? Which leg do you typically start with as you start up a flight of stairs? Try what you think I’m going to suggest next ….
If you are paid to think, treat your brain and your energy as precious commodities that need daily TLC to function most effectively and with ease. Pick one of these 7 Tips to practice each day and notice what happens to your mind and your mood; you too will become a Sustainable Leader one small step at a time.
Remember your last argument? Neither of you remember how it started or what it was about and before you know it it’s off to the races.
Twenty minutes later a great comeback pops into your head … Aha! “Damn, I wish would have said that instead. Why couldn’t I think at the time?”
Because of Lizard Brain and our brain’s hard wiring, did you know we cannot manage our emotions?
The good news is we can learn to manage our behavior and respond instead of react to our emotions. The bad news is it is harder than we think. The good news is “practice makes permanent.”
A complaining customer, a whiny child, an out of control teen or a grumpy boss, at some point we all lose our cool. People push our buttons and we feel irritated, frustrated, overwhelmed and sometimes we just explode. Or, we hold it in, tell ourselves it’s no big deal, it doesn’t matter what I do, it won’t make a difference what I say, so I’ll say nothing and pretend it’s okay and march on (a recipe for stress-related disease).
Either way, we feel regret, shame, and humiliation at how we’ve just lost our temper again. Here come the “should’ve-s”: I should’ve known better, stayed calm, counted to ten, remembered what happened last time I lost my temper. Lizard Brain makes it impossible to act on the should’ve-s, and here’s why.
What is Lizard Brain?
The part of the brain responsible for survival, our amygdala, an almond-shaped area at the base of our brain way down deep and part of our limbic system, otherwise known as “fight or flight central” still exists, even though we are no longer running from saber toothed tigers. Otherwise knows as “reptilian brain” or “Lizard Brain.”
The good news is our brain has evolved since we were cave dwellers. Today, humans have complex language, use tools to make and fix things, and send people into outer space, due to the evolution of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. But before the “thinking” part of the brain evolved, our reactions were dictated by Lizard Brain.
Despite the existence of the Pre-Frontal Cortex and our ability to reason, in response to stress (even perceived stress), our limbic system goes into high gear and our fight, flight or freeze response gets activated. This is an automatic, instinctive reaction and there’s no thinking or deciding involved.
Triggers might be his/her yelling or icy stare and can often include what I call Universal Lizard Brain Words such as (hands on hips, finger wagging eye rolling optional): Why did you …? You always or You never …! You should… No!
Our limbic system has been triggered and Lizard Brain is now in charge. We feel emotionally hijacked and now our “thinking brain” is rendered helpless. These triggers can bring up strong emotions (i.e., pain) from the past right into the present moment, as if it’s happening all over again. The Lizard’s primary responsibility is to protect us from perceived harm. The Lizard has now jumped into the driver’s seat and we are in the back, a passenger hanging on for dear life, yet the road is oddly, comfortably “familiar.”
How come Lizard Brain happens repeatedly to highly intelligent people? Because it’s not about IQ or an inability to learn from past mistakes. It’s just the default wiring of our very human brain.
The Lizard Brain(LB) switches off the Thinking Brain, or the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), where reasoning, understanding happens and which explains why your aha! moment after an argument comes later in time, probably after a few deep, belly breaths when the reactive
Lizard Brain is no longer driving the bus and your Pre-Frontal Cortex gets the oxygen it needs to regain control. It’s a myth that if we understand “why” we react then we will automatically be able to respond calmly next time our buttons get triggered. The rational PFC can’t always prevent the LB from engaging, it’s out powered and just not that evolved. It is impossible to “not feel” a feeling. Not a weakness, just wiring. So, stop trying.
What’s the Good News?
The good news comes from recent scientific discoveries that our brains aren’t hard and set like concrete at age three, which is what neuroscientists (brain researchers) believed until very recently. Neuroplasticity is the good news. Our brains can and do make new connections and build new neural pathways by the millions every day, most of which we are not even aware of …. Scary.
How? By changing your habits and creating new neural pathways, the process is actually quite simple. Becareful not to confuse the two – I said simple, but not easy. Change is hard, but not impossible.
Pick one person or situation that triggers your Lizard (the holidays are coming up, it won’t be hard family gives us ample opportunity to practice).
Begin by simply noticing opportunities to recognize Lizard Brain as it creeps up on you or identify situations where Lizard Brain gets triggered.
Next, we’re going to create a new habit or neural pathway.
1. Notice the pattern – Simply become an observer of the pattern, as if you are watching from the sidelines. What has to happen to trigger your own, your partner’s or your bosses Lizard Brain? Describe the pattern sequence to yourself or someone else. Do you react to “Lizard Brain Words?” If so, which ones? Do you use them with others? Notice what happens when you replace a judgmental Why did you …? question with a sincere question, for instance How do you see it? When asked with genuine curiosity, words such as What or How land differently than Why and allow you to create more productive pathways in your brain (and his/her brain).
2. Acknowledge the emotion – Use your powers of observation without judgment (ban the should’ve-s). Notice the opportunity to acknowledge the emotion without feeling you “should” change it, stop it, or judge it as “bad” or “wrong.” Instead, see what happens when you respond with an emotion such as curiosity and words such as “Mmm, interesting …” (with your eyebrows up, please!). See if you can get a little distance and prevent an emotional hijack by observing the conversation, as if you were a bystander.
3. Rename the feeling – Label or rename the feeling (not the person, not their motivation, not their intention) as “sad, scared, hurt” instead of ANGRY. Anger is actually not a primary or real emotion, it is a secondary emotion, just a “safer” feeling and often hides primary emotions such as Sad, Scared or Hurt. When we believe someone is angry, our LB gets activated and we can feel defensive. When we can re-label anger as “Sad, Scared or Hurt” or a combination of those feelings, the part of our brain responsible for empathy is engaged, the Lizard can get out of the driver’s seat and our thinking brain can work again.
Practice makes perfect and new neural pathways. Changing our behavior or learning to do something new takes awareness, intention, action and practice. Just like when you learned to ski, ride or play the guitar. There’s no way around it.
By understanding a few simple facts about how our brain works and making small adjustments to the words we use and practice.
Hint: Just the act of imagining yourself taking these steps will create new neural pathways because our brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s imagined and what’s real), you can create new habits and stay cool under pressure, lower your blood pressure and, as crazy as it sounds, begin to see conflict as an opportunity for practice (and have a little fun, too).
Christina Haxton, MA LMFT is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of Sustainable Leadership. An executive coach, business consultant and speaker, Christina assists busy business owners, high potential managers, executives and CEOs to achieve successful work/life balance and peace of mind to become exceptional leaders who are built to last. For more information about leadership training or presentations for your team, meeting or conference, contact Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 387-8935.
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I recently had the pleasure to be invited to be the keynote speaker for the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) Women in Business Leadership Conference (“Women Redefining Business”) where the keynote message was about communication, connection and courage as a pathway to Professional Intimacy: The Key to Sustainable Leadership.
The breakout session piggybacked on how business owners can leverage stress by learning how to have authentic conversations with their employees in order to avoid entrepreneurial burn out.
When I give this talk, I usually ask the audience for a raise of hands if they consider stress a problem for them at work (i.e., negative effect on productivity, experience physical stress-related symptoms and relationship problems like irritability).
When the audience is predominantly male, only about 30% of the men in the audience raise their hands.
This audience was 98% female, and about 80% of the audience raised said “Yes!” to is stress a problem for you at work.
Why such a large difference between men and women?
According to research published by the the American Psychological Association on gender and stress:
” … Men and women report different reactions to stress, both physically and mentally. They attempt to manage stress in very different ways and also perceive their ability to do so — and the things that stand in their way — in markedly different ways. Findings suggest that while women are more likely to report physical symptoms associated with stress, they are doing a better job connecting with others in their lives and, at times, these connections are important to their stress management strategies.”
The bottom line is whether you are a man or a woman, an entrepreneur, a senior manager or CEO, your unrecognized and untreated stress could quickly be the end of your career, your relationships and quite possibly your life as long as you ignore the symptoms or refuse to change your behavior.
While work/life balance is a good solution, I’m not convinced it’s the only solution. There is another most surprising solution, that can be executed at work just about any time of the day and there’s zero financial cost.
A process I have developed over many years of working with highly successful business people whose steps are backed by scientific research and will reduce stress and prevent burn out. Simply stated, you can execute the steps in quick and simple conversations and relationships at work. I call it “Professional Intimacy: The key to becoming a Sustainable Leader (one who is built to last for the long haul).
There are three simple steps to Professional Intimacy … (a special thank you to Heather Martinez, who crafted the Story Map of my Keynote )
1. Connection – Know the answer to these four questions asked by Kevin Cashman, Author of Leadership from the Inside Out:
Who Am I? Where Am I Going? Why Am I Going There? and I’ll add Who is Going With Me?
2. Curiosity – When it comes to brain science, the truth is the same chemicals that are involved in a fearful are also involved when we feel curious or excited. What’s the difference? The story I tell myself to explain the situation, why it’s happening and what’ll be the result. Asking better questions when it comes to making meaning of my environment will result in my responding rather than automatically reacting because I’ve assumed the worst case scenario (which is likely not the case, anyhow).
3. Communicate – Have the courage to communicate you care when it comes to your team. Be a real human being, not some ivory-tower-untouchable-walk-on-water-CXO. Vulnerability, letting people see you sweat, showing your emotions (I didn’t say wear your heart on your sleeve), asking someone “How are you doing? What do you need right now?” when they appear to be having a rough day. Oh yes, then shut up and listen … the most important part. Doing this will build trust and respect, which will go both ways. Try it, I dare you.
If you would like more information on how you can reduce, manage or leverage stress and avoid burning up or burning out in your career by using the 3 Key Principals of Professional Intimacy, join me for a free webinar replay available for two more days: You can get more information or register here to get immediate access: Free Webinar “What Your Brain Wishes You Knew About Leadership Stress: Myths & Solutions” – This full video is packed with practical strategies to reduce stress and feel happier and more satisfied at work AND a special announcement at the end!
My first opportunity to consciously stand up for my professional and philosophical beliefs about Professional Intimacy occurred in 1994. In the last year of my Master’s program, my thesis involved research on the process of creating a successful business partnership.
Using Appreciative Inquiry, our process resulted in a model of a synergistic triangle consisting of three equally key ingredients, where 1 + 1 = 3 (I was never good at math, but this makes sense … read on):
In the early 1990′s the unspoken, unwritten rule in the business world was “Don’t Talk About Relationships, feelings or any of the soft, fluffy stuff humans were made of when delivering leadership or management training or when speaking to businesses, managers or executive leaders about improving productivity or performance. I was directed to leave that stuff at the door and talk about “real” skills. Don’t feel … just get to work!
I followed this advice for a while and felt my hands (and credibility) were tied behind my back.
Then I ignoring that advice. After 12 years in business, our design resulted in not only building our own successful business and partnership, but also served as a model for our clients to build sustainable partnerships.
Through the process of developing Professional Intimacy as defined in my thesis in 1994 and even to this day, I continued to learn and grow both intra-personally and inter-personally as a result.
The truth is this: We learn and grow in relationship, not in isolation. Following the old rule and disregarding the complex and dynamic relationship systems we create through all of our relationships, however brief, is ridiculous.
Here’s the point: My thesis was nominated for publication in the college journal … an honor, for sure. However, the committee stated it would only be considered for publication only if I changed the title.
They objected to the phrase I used to symbolize our design for a successful business partnership: Professional Intimacy.
Because sexual harassment in the workplace was such a touchy (pun intended) topic in the early 90′s, the committee frowned upon my use of the phrase in the title. I stood my ground on principle because even though the rule was “Don’t talk about RELATIONSHIPS and WORK in the same sentence.” I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) in good conscience back down. Besides, I have a strong oppositional reflex.
I ran across the dusty, bound thesis years later and wondered …
“Did I do the right thing in standing up for my values?”
“Would my career path have changed had I decided to belly up?”
“Would I have been able to help more people sooner?”
I suppose I’ll never know… What would you have done?
PS. Check out Chapter 19: “Professional Intimacy: The key to being a Sustainable Leader” in the book “The Character Based Leader: Instigating a leadership revolution one person at a time” on Amazon or your favorite bookseller.
As the boss, have you ever “lost it” in a meeting? Even if your answer is “Of course not!” would your team agree with you?
The way we communicate determines our ability to engage, motivate and inspire creativity in our team.
Unfortunately, the skills needed to communicate effectively are sometimes lost because what we see and hear in ourselves as a leader is not always the same as what our employees experience during conversations and meetings.
By using Brain Based Learning Strategies we can develop a new understanding of our approach and the impact it has on results.
Coming to terms with how we lead is the first step to improving our effectiveness and ability to develop into a Sustainable Leader, one that can face challenges and drive his or her team to success over the long haul.
I wrote a post describing an executive coaching session with “Jeff” (not his real name) where you can see Brain Based Learning, self evaluation and creating a new mindset for improved leadership effectiveness in action:
It was “Jeff’s” (not his real name) third team meeting this week, and after this particularly long meeting he was beyond frustrated. “Why can’t they just get it right? How many times do I have to tell them what I want? Why don’t they get it? Are they that stupid? Or do they just not give a damn?” Click here to read the entire blog post at ManagingAmericans
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Watch your language!
To eliminate “lizard brain” (the emotional hijack caused by stress) avoid asking questions like “Why did you ..??” “WHY can’t you …?” “WHY don’t you …?” “WHY?” not only results in the listener feeling defensive, but also rarely matters when we are looking for solutions to a problem.
A better question effective leaders ask begins with “what” or “how” and helps people think. One example is asked with genuine curiosity (remember to manage your frustration first) … “What did you hope would happen by doing XYZ?”
Then, if you want people to trust you, shut up and listen.
To get the other 20 Ways to Eliminate Leadership Stress for You AND Your Team, click the link below to register for a free webinar:
Stress causes more than just physical symptoms. Did you know stress in the workplace erodes trust, productivity and creativity of you and your team?
Discover 21 Ways to Eliminate Stress to be able to do your best work, feel happier and more satisfied at the end of the day (and help your team do so, too!)
You know them: the managers who ignore the fact that human beings don’t (actually can’t) “leave their feelings at the door” when they come to work.
These managers ignore conflict and avoid confrontation, especially when there’s a “pot-stirrer” in the office and everyone is just wishing the boss would step up and put and end to he drama so we can all just get the job done.
This boss will suffer the consequences: a slow, painful erosion of the trust … or worse.
Read the rest of my article over here: Leaders: Do you lead, manage or are you just in charge?
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Why we turn into workaholics: Innovation, inspiration & creativity inspired by teamwork IS addictive! http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2012/06/the-molecule-behind-effective.html?utm_medium=twitter
“The Neuroscience of Leadership Stress: Myths & Solutions for Busy Professionals, Managers & Executives”
“What Your Brain Wishes You Knew About Leadership Stress & 5 Simple Solutions to Successfully Do More With Less & Have Fun Doing It!”
We all experience stress and to a certain degree need it to be motivated into action. Left unchecked, even low levels of chronic stress will not only reduce your ability to solve problems and make decisions, your stress will reduce your team’s productivity and engagement. Click here to listen to the webinar replay (available for a limited time only):
Whether you see yourself as a leader (or not), have the title of CEO behind your name or have a corner office (or not), if you are in a position whereby you are responsible for managing and motivating others, you are a leader.
The fact is, no matter what our title is, all people experience stress (and to a certain degree we need stress to get motivated into action). Yet, have you ever felt overwhelmed, irritable, frustrated, exhausted or have difficulty focusing? How about physical symptoms of stress: having difficulty sleeping, increased or decreased appetite, using alcohol or prescription medication to reduce anxiety, panic attacks, high blood pressure … there’s many more.
But here’s the thing: Stress will diminish your brain’s capacity to solve problems, think creatively, make decisions, learn, reason and understand another person’s perspective? And to make matters worse, did you know stress is contagious?
Left unchecked, even low levels of chronic stress will not only reduce your ability to solve problems and make decisions, your stress will reduce your team’s productivity and engagement.
If you would like to Discover 5 Practical Solutions to Eliminate Leadership Stress, join me on Thursday, May 10th for a free webinar.
· Learn the latest discoveries in neuroscience (or brain science) about the strengths and limits of your brain (which alone might scare you into making some drastic changes in how you work).
· Discover why saying “it’s just stress” can be the end of your career more quickly than you think.
· Realize how your stress negatively impacts creativity, productivity and motivation, both your team’s and your own.
· Know how to make 5 simple changes in your day so you can get more done, more efficiently in less time than ever before
· Realize which words we use daily in our communication with others that create “fight or flight” reaction in others and which 4 words to use instead to motivate rather than deflate.
· Learn about a unique type of stress leaders experience and a brain-based solution to eliminate feelings of responsibility and helplessness that come with the job.
There will be an opportunity to submit your questions about the topic of stress and leadership prior to the workshop, as well as an opportunity for Q & A at the end.
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