Our three-pound, tofu textured body part shaped like a crinkly walnut, the brain, profoundly affects how well we do or don’t lead. Leaders who excel in today’s ministry or marketplace constantly seek to add new insights to their leadership toolbox and neuroscience insight should be in every leader’s toolbox. Interest and knowledge of how our brain works is exploding today, even among Christians. The headline of last month’s Leadership Journal read NeuroMinistry, How Brain Science Informs Discipleship. You can read my article on brain based communication in that issue here. Dr. Carolyn Leaf , a neuroscientist, will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. And, some of today’s best sellers explain how brain insight can improving our lives. Smart leaders stay on the cutting edge of brain based insight.
Three significant brain networks impact leadership effectiveness:
- Our threat system influenced by two almond shaped clusters of neurons (brain cells) called the amygdalae. The brain chemicals called norepinephrine and cortisol are released when we’re under stress or feel fear or threat. This system puts us in a survival state to either fight, flee, or freeze (what a pastor might feel when he’s being criticized).
- This system works to our advantage when we need to solve problems.
- Our achievement system influenced by the nucleus accumbens, our pleasure center. When we accomplish something (like putting the finishing touches on a sermon), the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine that makes us feel good.
- This system helps motivate us to set and achieve goals and repeat good leadership behavior.
- Our friend and befriend system influenced by the pituitary gland. Oxytocin, another hormone/neurotransmitter often called the trust hormone, gets released when we feel safe around others.
- This system helps us build an atmosphere that creates healthy and productive teams.
When we understand how these three systems influence leadership, we can become better leaders. Consider these ideas that can help us engage these systems in a positive way.
Our threat system:
- Avoid creating a working environment that puts staff or volunteers on edge or on the defensive. They will pay it safe and not perform at their peak to avoid getting slapped on the wrist.
- When something unpleasant or disappointing happens to you, control your reactions. When a leader reacts or gets angry, he influences others to do the same. It’s called emotional contagion. Others will mimic a leader’s emotional state, whether good and bad.
- Create a healthy working environment that challenges people to step outside their comfort zone to try new things. Healthy stress helps us perform better.
Our achievement system:
- Help your team set stretch goals.
- Notice and celebrate successes often.
- Guard against getting addicted to dopamine. See my blog here about dopamine addiction.
Our friend and befriend system:
- Provide formal and informal times for your staff to interact to strengthen relationships.
- Have your team read Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. His book offers great advice on building healthy teams.
- Guard against letting the threat system or the achievement system dominate this system. Fear and drivenness, if allowed, will usually trump relational health among your team. When that happens, performance will suffer.
Scripture tells us that God created each of us as His masterpiece. As we understand a significant part of that masterpiece, our brain, and apply brain insight to leadership, we will lead at our best.
Psa. 139.14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. (NIV)
What brain insights have helped you lead better?