The Chemistry of Leadership — Part 2 — Trust

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

In ‘The Chemistry of Leadership — Part 1 — Motivation’, I discussed the two chemicals that develop motivated or demotivated behaviours with your team members based on Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. In this article, I will be focusing on the trust a leader builds and what the impact on performance is.

High performing teams work well together and deliver a higher output. As a leader, you work to build your teams skills and develop an environment so they can perform at their best. Trust is one of the foundation blocks to create an environment for your team to thrive. The culture of trust starts with you. The way you act with your team is either increasing or diminishing trust. The focus of this article is on the subtler things that happen every day that have an impact on the biological chemicals of our brain and how it can impact trust levels with your team.

Oxytocin is the chemical that creates intimacy, trust and the feeling of safety and that someone will protect you. It controls the feeling we get from emotional bonds. Oxytocin is contagious in groups which makes it even more critical to get right.

One. The encouraging leader increases Oxytocin. We are busy every day, so there needs to be a way to weave in building bonds with our team members. This can be as small as a quick good morning chat while passing their desk. Or it could be by sending them some messages over your favourite chat app.

The messages are regarding them personally, and not just asking for an update or assigning tasks. You are messaging to engage in a small meaningful interaction that is more human to human instead of the manager to employee. You don’t need to go deep into their personal lives, but you do need to show genuine care.

One on ones is another big area to develop trust. Keeping them regular gives them a sense of importance. Once you are in a one on one, be sure to connect with them and focus on them and their careers. This is not the time to get an operational update for 60 minutes, you can do that in a different time slot.

These sample actions release Oxytocin and create stronger bonds between you and them. It is hard to form a relationship with someone if you only talk to them when you need something. Even with a big team, it is possible to build those connections. It does take up time, but the time investment is worth it.

When an individual has that feeling of trust, extends beyond the formal hierarchy and drives an inner sense of purpose to do more. An individual is more likely to go over and beyond on a task or project and have a deep connection to the leader and the team. They are less likely to focus on ticking the minimum boxes to get through the day . The strong connections radiates through the team and creates a healthier environment for the team to thrive.

Two. The disconnected leader decreases Oxytocin. When you have a leader who does not see the need to interact with you frequently. Or walks past your desk each day but is too busy to engage in a 30 second dialog. A majority of the interactions are to do with your work which makes them feel distant and less caring. These leaders are often described as ‘ivory tower’ leaders. They make decisions behind closed doors and are less open to hearing your ideas.

When a majority of communication is about work or focused on the things that are not going well, it creates an environment where you do not feel trusted or safe. You worry about things going wrong and stress about not delivering everything perfectly. In this scenario, stress builds up and Cortisol is released in our bodies with stops the production of Oxytocin, making team members feel disconnected.

It is tough for a team to be high performing when they are always concerned that their manager is going to look over their shoulder to check-in. Inefficient habits are formed and more time is spent on on tasks to ensure everything is ‘correct’ or worse problems become buried to avoid scrutiny. A surprise message from you can spike their heart rate and stress levels before they have read the subject line in anticipation of what the message contains.

In an environment where people feel their leader is not looking out for them Oxytocin is decreased. This results in there being less motivation to innovate and think creatively to problem solve. As well as the focus on getting the basics of the role completed and not much else.

“Leaps of greatness require the combined problem-solving ability of people who trust each other.” — Simon Sinek

Serotonin is the chemical that makes you feel good when you are respected, feel significant, valued or admired. It boosts our confidence and trust in ourselves and others, creating a sense of organisational cohesion.

Three. Gracious Leadership increases Serotonin. A highly effective practice to aid mental health is to practice gratitude each morning. Reminding yourself of everything that you are thankful for can boost your day. Gratitude is a form of recognition which is something often missed when it comes to our teams. We are quick to move on from something successful, but linger when things go wrong. Taking the time to point out something they are doing well or outlining the impact their work is currently having will release Serotonin and make them feel valued.

Sharing a problem with a team member and listening to their ideas or incorporating the idea increases trust. You are quietly telling them that they matter, their knowledge and opinions matter. Increasing trust in this area allows more free-flowing information back to you, allowing you to have a more rounded view of your business. You hired them because they are good at what they do, so you should be leaning in to that knowledge in a meaningful way.

Increasing Serotonin boosts confidence, pride and loyalty to you and the team. This reduces your regrettable attrition in the organisation and creates a fantastic team culture that quickly makes your team a destination team.

Four. Self-Serving Leadership decreases Serotonin. How do you feel when your manager is not on your side? You think you will be thrown under the bus with any poor result. Instead of supporting you in a meeting, they remain quiet. There is little to no recognition of your positive performance or its impact. But plenty of focus on anything that is below expectation. You are made to feel like a number who should be lucky to be in the role you have.

This is a profound feeling for anyone in any environment. Low Serotonin can lead to a team member feeling unsafe or excluded. When they don’t feel safe, they will hesitate to speak up, put forward ideas, or highlight a problem in the business. They are concerned they will wear the blame, so would instead leave it to be discovered by someone else.

When a team member is feeling low, the damage can be that they retreat in to themselves and are less open with the team. Or it could come with a greater impact where they continually tell others in the team how wrong everything is, lowering the team morale.

“Leaders are not responsible for the numbers, leaders are responsible for the people responsible for the numbers” — Simon Sinek.

Often it is not the grand gestures that wins people over. It is a series of small interactions that raise people up or pull people down. Our actions and behaviours have an impact on all four chemicals Serotonin, Endorphins, Dopamine and Oxytocin. Our goal to get the best from our teams is to focus on making them feel valued, feel a sense of achievement, form strong bonds and have fun while doing it.

“A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.” — 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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