As leadership coaches and consultants we are sometimes brought in when teams are deeply suffering. We have been finding that leaders and team members are feeling resigned, obligated, guilty, defensive and afraid. Scarcity abounds and the collective lower brain what in a General Theory of Love they call the "lizard brain," might be in high gear - locked in flight, fight or freeze. In some ways, our job at Seven Stones is to act as the frontal cortex for the group, the lobes of the brain that house higher functioning of thought, innovation and creativity, the part of everyone's brains that work just fine when we are rested, nourished and life is going our way.
Because we too get hijacked by our lizard brains, have families, colleagues and community commitments, we are constantly investigating our own triggers into what allows us to thrive in our relationships which leads us to be effective at work and to best serve our clients and prospective clients. When Gina returned from her week at Cape Cod Institute with Dr. Richard Boyatzis from Case Western University, she began a new inquiry for us personally and in our work: When we work with clients, are we activating the parasympathetic nervous system and stimulating Positive Emotional Attractors (PEAs) or are we dwelling in the sympathetic nervous system and stimulating Negative Emotional Attractors (NEAs)?
Since the demands of modern life already draw us into negative mental states - not enough sleep, time, money, available dates etc. - we are already often activated into a mode of survival. From this state, possibilities are few, stress is high, and we often lack the compassion and empathy needed to be inspired and to inspire others. This becomes problematic because effective and successful leadership depends on inspiration.
It is not that Negative Emotional Attractors are bad: Dr. Boyatzis says, we need the NEAs to survive and the Positive Emotional Attractors to thrive. So to thrive, we begin with attending to our moods - our emotional inner state and discover the trigger points for what causes us to lift or to tank.
Leadership research shows that most leaders are actually not adding value. Yet, we all desire to do so, why are we failing? There are a number of reasons one of the most prevalent is chronic stress. Stress has a profound impact on our brains. The sympathetic nervous system is the stress response - is what triggers our flight or fight response.
On the whole, westerner's have 8-15 chronic, annoying stress episodes a day. For men this happens 5-6 days per week and for women is every day. The body is responding to these stress episodes as true trauma. The Sympathetic Nervous System wakes up and sends signals to the brain; hormones are activated. We automatically and unconsciously start to defend ourselves and in actuality we are cognitively and emotionally impaired.
- Our peripheral vision drops.
- Our ideas get limited.
- We can't handle complex tasks.
- We are not open to new ideas.
- We can't think outside of the box.
Sound familiar? These are the complaints we hear from many leaders about themselves and/or their teams.
By the way, those of us who suffer from chronic stress are sick more, for example the onset of chronic diseases like lupus and MS are accelerated. Finally, chronic stress can bring about sleep disorders and sexual dysfunction. Ok you get the picture.
In coaching and consulting it can be easy to want to focus on the problem - what is wrong? - and how to fix it - and fix it fast? When we begin to investigate the power of the Positive Emotional Attractors and their ability to intentionally shift the mindset and capacity of leaders and teams to resolve their distress, we can instead apply a methodology that draws us towards a shared vision for the future, shared compassion and a shared positive mood. We can take the time we have with ourselves and our teams and begin to devote our attention to our vision, strengths and what moves us. Then allow a few minutes to address whatever is missing, irksome or stressful and then finally co-create our plans for moving forward.
Boyatiz's work states that as a member of a team we need three PEAs for every NEA event. That is a 3:1 ratio. Think about your work place do you have three Positive Emotional Attractors a day, no less in a 3:1 ratio with the negative? He also states that for our loving stable relationships, we need 5:1 PEA to NEA.
Whether you are leader, receiving coaching/ advice or the one offering the input, consider these inquiries for yourself and your team:
Questions for a Check-in:
- What is my vision for the future of your team? My organization? My life?
- Of the messages and communications you receive, how many activate a positive feeling? How many a negative one? What is the ratio?
- What kind of mood and climate is present in my team, organization or family?
- Where do I bring compassion and empathy to my relationships?
Questions to stimulate PEA:
- What is working in the team? In the organization? In my life?
- When am I at my best, at work? At home?
- What do I wish for at work? At home?
- Who helped me get to where I am today or helped me become who I am? What key moment do I remember? What did I take away from that person/relationship?
This assessment is the starting point for deeper investigation and learning.