The Chemistry of Leadership — Part 1 — Motivation

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

In an organisation, there are many types of leaders. They are different in how they approach challenges and how they interact with you. The role of a leader is to inspire people to take action that will lead to the company goals. Reaching goals requires a team of people to perform individually as well as perform as part of a team. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek (link) has long been one of my favourite reads. It discusses many angles and values that drive successful long term leadership.

When asked to name your best and worst manager, you wouldn’t take very long to have two names. The impact of a leader to each individual and team is quite significant. Your actions and inactions have a daily impact and contribute to their psychological safety and performance by altering the mix of chemicals which are released by our bodies.

In part one of this article, I want to discuss two leadership styles and their direct impact on the biological chemicals of our brain and how it impacts your team’s motivation to get things done.

Dopamine is the chemical that gives us a feeling of reward or also known as the feel-good chemical. An accomplishment as small as finding the lost TV remote, or as big as reaching your 12-week goal can release Dopamine and make you feel good. Dopamine is released when you receive positive feedback or when you get through a task on your to-do list. It is a vital reward chemical that keeps you motivated to do more.

One. Inspiring leaders increases Dopamine. We have all had that one leader that supercharges you after a conversation. Their words are measured, yet sound so natural. They leave people striving to achieve more and aiming to overachieve on goals.

The more goals we achieve and feel like we are winning Dopamine is released, and we feel good. We like feeling good, so our mind craves more of whatever made it feel good. It is a snowball effect of feeling positive. Understanding its power should make you think about how you approach discussions with individuals or teams. The structure of your conversations should target increasing dopamine release to inspire action.

It could be some gratitude for a job well done, or ensuring you have a team ritual for when something is successful. It could also be, breaking up their tasks into smaller tasks, so each time one is completed, they feel the positive Dopamine energy. Being able to make your team feel good about themselves will drive the production of Dopamine which will help their productivity.

Two. Operational leaders lowers Dopamine. At one point or another, we have been part of a team that has a leader that doesn’t inspire the team to push the boundaries. They focus on the scorecard and only on the metrics that are amber or red. Every meeting and conversation focuses on the problems without pausing to give enough attention to the positive results that were achieved. There is a focus on the fire and extinguish model, and it becomes the benchmark to feel productive.

The impact is a sense of achievement is low, and the dopamine release is small. Longer-term, it is hard to find the purpose and motivation every day to build new tools or put fires out. It creates fatigue and self-doubt asking themselves “can I do anything right?”. The lower energy and incomplete deliverables begin to demotivate the team around them and reduce the output of that whole team. With self-doubt spreading, you lose creativity and innovation within the team.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — Simon Sinek

Endorphins are the chemical that is responsible for manage pain and stress. They help mask the pain and help us push through tough circumstances.

Three. A high spirits leader increases Endorphins. Some leaders are optimistic and expressive. Other driver personalities want to focus on results only. There is also a middle ground, whereas a leader, you can be focused on the results while sharing a joke with the team. Creating a safe and friendly environment where your team feel like your work colleagues are your work-family boosts morale and productivity.

When you feel like your job is something you highly enjoy, and you enjoy working with your team and leader. It reduces your overall stress and frees your mind from thinking about ‘what if’ situations. The less time you are stressing, the more time you are able to laugh in your day. Laughing is a great way to increase endorphins to be released. Higher levels of endorphins will enable you to push through those stressful spikes in deliverables we often face.

Four. A stressed leader lowers Endorphins. When your leader is always stressed, and they are not creating a feeling of ‘play’, everything feels like never-ending work. Your endorphins decrease, allowing stress to take over and reduce your resilience. You can only push your team members so far when they are feeling the pain.

You may be able to achieve your results in a short period. But over the more extended periods, your team will face burn out, high attrition and reduced output.

“The ability of a group of people to do remarkable things hinges on how well those people pull together as a team.” — Simon Sinek

In summary, as leaders, we need to be aware of the high and low fluctuations that we are causing and the impact that drives behaviours. The two chemicals, Endorphins and Dopamine, could be simplified into feeling a sense of achievement and having fun. These two qualities combined enhances productivity and the desire to give their best to the role and the team, therefore, maximising the output which will benefit them as well as you. How are you going to make a change to your leadership style to take Endorphins and Dopamine into account?

In part 2, which will be released next week I discuss Oxytocin and Serotonin and how they increase our team bonds.

“Let us all be the leaders we wish we had” — Simon Sinek.

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Leader | People | Innovation | Technology— Experienced people manager keen to share my thoughts and ideas on leadership, personal growth and people management.

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