If you’ve been flat out in crisis mode or adjusting to home working with your kids running about the place, I suspect the last thing you’ve been thinking about as a leader is your own personal development.
However, some of my conversations with clients have still been about coping with change, being more resilient, motivating their teams, and getting more done with fewer resources. And how to do those things.
Sound like a familiar list?
Most of these conversations cover familiar territory, the same leadership challenges are present now as were there before Covid-19. Some leaders are still challenged by mistaking micro-management for accountability, failing to listen properly, not taking a big picture view, or trying to be an oracle when asking a few questions could get better results.
Nothing new then?
Well, kind of – I’ve noticed something really fascinating in these times of massive change which was always there but seems to have really dialed up.
And it starts with your response to stress
The amygdala is a part of the brain which is key to how you process strong emotions like fear and pleasure. To improve early human’s chances of survival, the fight-flight-freeze response evolved. It’s an automatic response of the amygdala to physical danger that allows you to react quickly without thinking.
In another part of your brain are your frontal lobes, it’s where the thinking, reasoning, decision-making, and planning happens. Unlike the automatic response of the amygdala, the response to fear from your frontal lobes is consciously controlled by you.
Why is that useful?
The term popularised by psychologist Daniel Coleman is ‘amygdala hijack’. It’s when the amygdala appears to hijack control of your stress response. And even though we aren’t fighting bears anymore, when stress makes you feel a sudden emotion like anger or fear you may still get a ‘fight or flight’ response – and your reaction might be illogical or irrational.
In other words, your frontal lobes aren’t getting a look in to help you weigh things up and take a different perspective.
So, Jim in Procurement hasn’t filled in the CRM properly, which means you’re asked a question from the client and can’t answer, and you feel it makes you look incompetent. Instead of pulling Jim aside and having a direct feedback conversation to dig into what happened and work with Jim to improve it, you call Jim up and shout abuse at him. And although you don’t feel great you’re working late so you don’t give it much more thought.
In my experience, it seems there has been a collective case of Amygdala Hijack. Nearly all the leaders I’ve been working with recently have not properly noticed how stress is impacting them, and a good number seem to have forgotten the key leadership behaviours they had been working on before this crisis hit.
So, what can you do?
My advice: go back to basics.
Pause & take a couple of deep breaths. It just sounds like common sense, but it’s backed up by science. In 2016 Anselm Doll at the Technical University of Munich showed that turning the attention to the breath reduced activity in the amygdala – which reduced stress and negative emotions. This will be easier with practice – and it’s trickier to pause and breathe if you’ve already piled into a fight response. But if you can get tuned into what triggers your stress it gets easier to take a bit of preventative action.
Name your emotion. UCLA professor of psychology, Matthew D. Lieberman conducted a study that showed that by putting feelings into words it activated the frontal lobes– which dampened down the emotional response. Get expert at naming your emotions and you’ll be able to respond to the situation instead of simply reacting. What exactly is the emotion? Anger? Irritation? Frustration? All of those are slightly different. And might require a different response.
Reflect on your behaviours. There have been many studies that show that by building your emotional intelligence you increase your capabilities as a leader. Plus, I have personally witnessed scores of clients become less stressed, create more bandwidth, and become more effective leaders if they do actually work on this. An important part of this process is reflection. On a regular basis consider your behaviour, your responses, and whether they served you well, what new things you tried, what went well, and what still needs more work. You don’t have to write it all down, although you may like to start journaling, that can often help. You may want to find a reflection buddy to talk over what you’ve been noticing too.
Consider whether if pre-Covid you were trying to develop a new habit. Maybe you were noticing which behaviours were stopping you from getting results. Or perhaps you were trying to do more of something that people really appreciated, like having regular 121s.
Ask yourself: have I reverted to old habits? What actions will help me start showing up differently – in person or on a Zoom call?
And if you’d benefit from a chat to work out if you’ve started reverting to old habits then please contact us to schedule in a call.