Looming over six feet tall with a scraggly beard, wire-rimmed glasses, a 12 inch ponytail tied with a rubber band, and a vest dotted with military patches, George would be at home riding a Harley with a motorcycle gang.
Instead, he holds a clear plastic jug plastered with yellow smiley-face stickers and filled with dollar bills. And he enthusiastically says, “Welcome to Wal-Mart. Have fun! Want a sticker?”
George is my favorite Wal-Mart greeter.
My second favorite is Jimmy. Unlike George who stands, Jimmy sits…in his motorized wheel-chair. His physical disability keeps him from standing or even holding one of those charity jugs. Yet, with the same exuberance, he makes you feel good with his, “Welcome to Wal-Mart. Thanks for coming.”
I don’t know how well the following statement would hold up under a scientific study, but I believe it to be true. Shoppers who meet George and Jimmy as they arrive buy more stuff at Wal-Mart than those who meet other greeters who, for the sake of not being too harsh, come across with much less enthusiasm.
Both George and Jimmy use their leadership mirror well.
What is a leadership mirror? It’s a concept rooted in science and in the bible.
In 1995 an Italian neuroscientist discovered what are called ‘mirror neurons’ in our brain. Essentially, a part of our brain lights up when we sense intention behind another’s action. When that part of our brain turns on, we feel a connection to that person. Their actions activate our mirror neurons. For example, when someone smiles at us, it drives the same motor response on my face. We smile. That experience then sends signals to our emotional center so that we share a positive emotion with the person. The strongest emotions we portray ripple out to others, whether those emotions are good or bad.
God gave us this magnificent creation called the brain.Weighing less than three pounds, it wields incredible influence over how well leaders lead. Although we usually call the brain a computer, it’s more like a pharmacy that constantly dispenses drugs (hormones) into our bodies which affects our emotions, our thinking, and our leadership
Dr. David Rock, recognized as one of the leading spokesmen in a new field called neuroleadership wrote the book Your Brain at Work. In it he winsomely describes how the brain works and how it affects leadership. I hightly recommend this book to all leaders, especially pastors.
Essentially, neuroleadership describes how brain function relates to leadership.
Brain researchers have discovered that sustained high levels of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline affect our ability to think clearly, creatively, and decisively, thus diminishing our ability to lead most effectively.
And how do sustained high levels of these hormones get into our system?
They get there from chronic anxiety, when we face long-term stress. It’s akin to a car accelerator getting stuck and revving at high rpm’s for a long period of time. If it continues, the engine will wear out prematurely. In the same way, when leaders and pastors stay stressed 24/7, our anxiety, and thus our hormones, get stuck at a high level which dramatically reduces our ability to lead.
Take this simple assessment to discover how many chronic anxiety markers you currently see in your life.
- I react and act impulsively when people disagree with me
- I assume the worst and connect dots where there are none
- I don’t seem to be as creative as I once was
- I often find myself in a mental and emotional fog
- I lose perspective easily
- I don’t listen well to others, not because I don’t want to, but because my mind wanders
- I find it difficult to concentrate
- I find that others often mirror my defensiveness and reactiveness
How many markers did you find? If more than two, your hormone accelerator is probably stuck and you aren’t leading at your best. In a later post I’ll suggest some simple ways to ease down those hormone levels and become a more thoughtful leader. But until then, consider the advice a wise pastor once gave me that has helped me keep my hormone levels in check (at least most of the time).
Recently I’ve been reading about a leadership concept called ‘adaptive leadership.’ I’ve just started an excellent book by Heifetz-Linsky-Grashow called The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. A great read.
One short article by Susan DeGenring on the subject lists 5 decisions great leaders must make. I’ve summarized them below.You can read the full articlehere.
- Shift focus and reframe your job from that of problem-solver, to that of developer of problem solvers.
- Give the work back to the people.
- Ask the important, and sometimes, tough questions, and don’t give all the answers.
- Know how to help people learn, not by telling, but by understanding the perceptions,beliefs and values that drive their action, and help them plug into alternative, moreagile ways of thinking.
- Accept that heartache is inevitable and courage is essential when you lead.
Related post: Leading in Turbulent Times.