Chemistry of Leadership

February in Texas shows signs that spring is in the air – red buds in deep pink buds bursting on branches and bright green grass pushing through brown winter grass. On top of this season are Valentine’s commercials showing clingy couples exchanging gifts and …my personal favorite are pastures blanketed soon in wild flowers dodging wobbly young animals. I’m intoxicated with beauty, anticipation and attraction. For me, falling in love with life happens all over again in spring and it’s not far removed from the iconic experience of falling in love.     

What is the chemistry of ” falling in love”? What might we take from this force of nature going on inside us that could help us as leaders inspire – and sustain those around us to they’re more resilient? Might this same falling in love chemistry be part of the emotionally intelligent leader’s toolkit?   

The Why We Fall in Love, The Science of Love blog summarizes research on the three stages of love and the brain chemistry behind it. Simply put, the stages.

Brain-chemistry involved and our Chemical Responses are:

Stage 1: Lust – Oestrogen, Testosterone = Attraction/Endurance

Stage 2: Attraction – Adrenaline, Serotonin, Dopamine = Energy/Focus/Happiness

Stage 3: Attachment – Oxytocin , Vasopressin = Affiliation/Attachment/Social Connection

It’s the two final stages, with their dopamine and oxytocin contributing to feelings of closeness, connection, and the ability to read and build positive connections that most intrigue me. How useful could these feelings of loyalty, commitment, and ability to see positive cues be for leaders igniting this chemistry and harnessing it towards common objectives? We don’t have to be ‘in love’ to feel passion for what we do, and why we do it. Leaders who understand that most people want to connect with a greater purpose at work than their job alone, and know-how to help them see and feel the contribution being made towards it, are often some of the greatest.

Leaders can increase the likelihood of igniting healthy levels of brain chemistry in those around them by simple, caring behaviors.

Those are the hardest given time and attention demands. Demonstrating that we see, we care, and are willing to address the concerns of others is good means letting them know that we’re not too busy to notice. Leaders can model and socialize the kind of leadership practices that invite a response of this robust positive chemistry. By doing this, there’s a good chance they’ll also garner the type of loyalty and drive in others that support a healthy work culture.

When we show others that we care, we trigger in them a sense of being connected and more value in what they’re doing/feeling. This, in turn, can help activate the neurotransmitters for Oxytocin and dopamine, which help minimize pain, the sense of helplessness and isolation happens even in a busy, populated workplace. 

What matters to humans at work includes feeling seen, valued, and appreciated. Empathetic listening goes a long way towards this and helping others feel like doing the best that they can in any given situation.  

If you’d like to experiment with leadership chemistry, you don’t have to fall in love – you have to care enough to show people that you care. 

Here are a few simple examples of practices that if genuinely and consistently done, help leaders generate in others some positive chemistry at work: 

  • Share the vision – Nothing calls and connects us like sharing what matters – connecting effort to a story – and image that bigger and better for all helps release adrenaline and Oxytocin – we give and work in ‘flow’.    
  • Start meetings with a call to action that evokes and reminds our teams of our larger vision/mission.
  • Wrap up 1:1’s with how that specific individual contributes to the immediate team and/the bigger vision and acknowledge their strengths.
  • Acknowledge what’s unspoken –    
  • Praise the unsung hero and their specific contributions– either privately or publicly. This surfaces what others notice and helps support the sense of well- being of the community by giving value to those that do much.  
  • Address the elephant in the room – have the courage to seek out and state the uncomfortable truth and with compassion and open-heartedness – seek to solve not blame.  (this is a process – the limbic system is very sensitive to shutting down the brain if it interprets judgement/blame. 
  • Sense that something is ‘off’ with someone you know?
  • Inquire how they’re doing and let them know you care.
  • Have a tough conversation you’ve avoided?
  • Prepare: envision the future you want as if its someone you love; ground the image and with hope schedule a conversation. 
  • Be curious and present in difficult dialogues – seek to own your part and first partner in understanding the other’s perception vs. your own.

These examples help leaders curb the release of brain chemicals released by our fear response that shuts down our ability for strategic, complex and long-term thinking. Workforce resiliency comes both from one’s personal mastery and generating positive brain chemistry through our behaviors at work. When we feel connected to community, cared about and share regular, positive communication, we’re healthier and happier people – in spring time or anytime.

Falling in love is not a prerequisite for positive brain chemistry. It’s a reminder this time of year of the power of this chemistry on our mindset and physiology – and a tremendous gift for leaders that wise enough to use it.       

For leadership coaching – contact me here:

For further reading on emotionally intelligent leaders you might enjoy:

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t: S.Sinek, Penguin Group, 2014

#leadership #coachingleaders #pyschologyofleadership   

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