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Brain Chemistry – what is it and why should your leaders understand it

Published: December 18, 2017

Leadership consultants are increasingly looking to neuroscience to discover what makes employees tick and how managers can use this knowledge to get the best out of their teams. That’s why this week we caught up with John Herbert, managing director of CTL Consult, to find out how brain chemistry plays a role in our teams’ successes…

As a manager or director heading up a team of employees, the buck will more than likely stop with you – junior staff members will turn to you for words of wisdom, supervisors may seek your expertise to fire-fight when things don’t go according to plan and it’s often you who has to explain to suppliers, customers or clients why a goal hasn’t quite been achieved.

However, it’s important for managers – or leaders, as we see them – to recognise that a tailored approach to managing their team is essential. It’s not unusual for managers to simply fall into their role by default; whether that’s via promotion or simply the length of time with a company, such a position is often seen as the ‘next step’. As a result, structured, relevant training programmes can be few and far between, with many employers opting for an ‘off the shelf’-style scheme, filled with endless clichés and generic advice.

What many leaders fail to acknowledge is the importance of brain chemistry and why a baseline understanding of it can go a long way when it comes to creating a productive, efficient and ambitious team.

Let’s take a look at how our hormones come into play in the workplace:

Endorphins and dopamine

These are our ‘happy’ and ‘achievement’ hormones. The latter of the two is the chemical that is triggered when we know we’ve done a good job, completed a task on our to-do list or hit a KPI.

Serotonin and oxytocin

Serotonin is our ‘appreciation’ chemical and is created when we receive signs of appreciation from others. It therefore plays a significant role in in-group bonding and is shown to increase positive attitudes towards one another and our work. The impact of serotonin can be further boosted in the presence of oxytocin, which promotes feelings of interdependency. This enables individuals to let their guards down and builds synergy between team members.

Cortisol

This is the hormone that we all associate with stress so, within a work environment, it should certainly be taken into account. While too much of it can have a negative impact on how we work and feel, we need a degree of it in order to stay focused and on-task.

Adrenaline

As our ‘action’ hormone, it’s the result of our survival instinct being triggered. It prepares our bodies for action, effort and exertion and will be present for challenges; however, it’s more likely to manifest itself when the challenge becomes too much or failure seems probable.

Once you have an understanding of the above, it’s possible to apply such knowledge to various aspects of leadership. For instance, think about you can adapt your appraisal technique to individuals or how scheduled activity within the working day could improve efficiency.

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