Toxic leaders cripple the workplace, undermine their team and allow disengagement to become rampant
Toxic leaders cripple the workplace, undermine their team and allow disengagement to become rampant

Are you tired of wasting time dealing with workplace drama and politiks? Perhaps you are crippled by toxic leaders and uninspired cultures, and you know that there is a better way.

In this episode, we will discover the two questions your brain is asking every minute of every day and the triggers of exemplary workplace behaviour at the neurological level. And we'll tap into four triggers that will #UnLock performance and #UnLeash Team Power. By implementing these four, you'll see higher productivity, well-being, retention and accountability. You'll see reduced absenteeism, less drama, the end of corrosive gossip and fewer accidents.

In Leading Difficult People, I shared with you about our deep-seated human need for safety, belonging, and mattering. The first two of those: safety and belonging are so primal to our personal engagement at work (or in life) that this time, I'm digging in a little more to the neuroscience that will allow us to create the ideal conditions for our teams to thrive.

Human beings are social animals, we need some social acceptance in our lives, and without it, we shrivel and die.

limbic questions whats next and how am i doing.png Your brain doesn't ask these questions every now and again. It asks every minute of every day.
Your brain doesn't ask these questions every now and again. It asks every minute of every day.

Our limbic system is the mid-part of our brain and oversees our emotional lives and is important in what we learn and commit to memory. You'll know about the amygdala, for example, the primary control centre for our freeze, fight, flight mode. That's housed in the Limbic system. Dr Jim Coan of the Virginia Affective Neuroscience Laboratory suggests that the limbic brain spends the entire day asking two questions: What's next? And How am I doing? And whilst these are broad generalisations, it's an incredibly helpful way for leaders who seek actionable models to improve engagement at work and combat disengagement.

What cause disengagement?

How safe do you feel when you do not know what's coming next compared to how you feel when you know what's coming next? Like most people, you'd probably feel less safe.

When leaders become more predictable, consistent, and transparent, they become clear on what will happen next. When a leader seeks closer alignment around shared values, purpose and command intent – they are creating a consistent and predictable and participatory culture with immediate benefits to the limbic system.

Disengagement can begin because you believe that you are not part of the group
Disengagement can begin because you believe that you are not part of the group

Our biological need to belong to a group or tribe drives the question: “How am I doing?” Our survival depends on the social resources of the group and so our limbic system is constantly assessing our membership status. “Am I in?” it asks. “Am I worthy? Do they see the value I add?” The limbic system doesn't ask this question once in a while; it asks every minute of every day!

When a leader validates and recognises a team member, when they are acknowledged or appreciated, that isn't just some silly social gesture. It's a deeply important message direct to the recipient's limbic system: “You have been noticed. You are seen and valued. You are safe. You are in.” “And here's some useful feedback to help you stay safe and remain in the tribe.”

Don Rheem, author of Thrive by Design, says that answering these questions is behaving in a consistent and predictable manner and offering validation, recognition, and feedback. This makes team members (and others) feel safe and that they belong. He shares four ways that leaders should focus their efforts to help their team members feel wanted, trusted and supported which will improve retention, engagement and profits.

Neuroscience points us towards creating the ideal conditions that allow the brain to thrive and perform much closer to their potential. These conditions will help team members be more engaged, productive, healthier and happier in their work and workplace and reduce disengagement.

Encourage trusted relationships and collaboration

We thrive in a culture of trust, caring and collaboration. When our work tribe trusts each other and shares resources to support each other and the overall command intent, team members feel safer, feel that they belong and that what they do matters to the rest of their work tribe and the organisation. Leaders who promote a pro-social workplace can reap these benefits. This helps satisfy our hunger for a social connection that feels safe.

Help employees find meaning and purpose

Gone are the days when job security and a wage are enough to make employees show up every day. If a leader wants to keep talented staff (whilst reducing the massive cost of replacing them) they should strive to create and maintain a deeper connection for team members to their work, their colleagues and to the command intent of the organisation.

Create challenging work

High performers, the bedrock of great organisations, need a positive challenge in their workplace ecosystem. Not just a challenge, but also the recognition and celebration that comes with successfully beating the challenge. Leaders need to set goals that are within reach and recognise victory before rushing into the next challenge.

Give employees authority to innovate and take risks

Hierarchies predicated on fear and distrust stifle innovation and focus the mind on daily workplace survival. Highly politikal organisations or those with key players who talk the talk but do not walk the walk kill off performance excellence. Whilst a workplace grounded in trust and team member empowerment, set the foundation for team members to take risks and make mistakes without the fear of punitive backlash. Innovation and risk-taking may not motivate everyone, but that management respect and has confidence in team members supports a culture where high performers will stretch and challenge themselves.

joe chill scared in bed monster under bed.png

Leaders who create and support these four conditions in the workplace give team members more reason to feel wanted, trusted and supported. They will feel safer, that they belong to an important group and that what they do matters. This will positively impact team member engagement, retention, morale and profits.

How can you make this happen when you are leading from the middle of the organisation?

So you're not the big boss and you agree with all the above, but isn't it the CEO's job to make this happen?

But you can make it happen. Maybe not for the entire organisation, but you can do something for your team, your small part of the whole. I liken this to starting a camp-fire. Camp-fires attract attention – not least because they provide light in the darkness and warmth, but they attract people to them because other people are there.

Start in your small part of the workplace world, and slowly, but surely, other people will notice that there's something different with your tribe. Something they like. Something they want. You can share what you are doing and enjoy lending someone a lit branch to start their own fire. Before long, the whole organisation is lit with many small camp-fires and eventually, even the dullest CEO will come to the fire.

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