Do You Rule With Claws and Teeth? Try Leading With Engagement Instead

We all know that influencing by authority—by command & control—is out. Influencing by engaging and enrolling is in. Yet too many leaders still rule with claws and teeth, rather than cropping grass alongside their herd and nudging them in the right direction. What about you? Are you helping employees envision an exciting future—or are you sending their innovative brains scurrying for cover? Influence—the kind great leaders possess—isn’t about how many people you can tell what to do, it’s about how many people you can understand, empower and motivate. Have you ever watched someone dive into self-defeating behavior? You can see clearly what needs to shift, but it seems like the more you say or do to try to help, the less effect you have. Why? The person does not feel safe enough to hear you. You’re not building rapport with her. Rapport is that state of connection where our critter brain (focused on survival and constantly scanning for threats) is peering out and “coding” if you’re friend or foe. A person in the Critter State is determining who is “similar to me” and thus safe. Imagine we’re antelopes out on the savanna. The critter brain is relaxed because it has scanned the environment and decided it’s with other antelopes and not with lions. (“Yep, only us antelopes out here”). Once we’ve established this feeling of safety and have access to the prefrontal cortex, we’re in our Smart State, capable of making plans and initiating positive change. To change or shift or accept feedback, there has to be a pre-existent condition of rapport between two people. Otherwise, the brain will be too busy ensuring its survival to accept any other solution, no matter how elegant, right, logical, or plain old commonsensical it may seem to the rest of us. When you’re the “boss,” you’re naturally “different,” which your team’s critter brains will interpret as a threat. Your relative authority makes you a lion among a herd of antelopes. It’s your default setting…but you can change it. Just Another Antelope? Mirroring Develops Rapport To be coded as “just another antelope,” you must convince your employees’ brains to see you as “similar to me.” “Mirroring” helps. Mirroring is primal and instinctual. Try making a funny face at a baby. Most babies will imitate it right back at you. You see the same thing with friends. It’s particularly noticeable with groups of teens. As they explore their own identities as different from their parents’, they imitate one another’s hand gestures, clothing, facial expressions, and lingo in order to feel a sense of belonging. Likewise, you can use mirroring to make your team’s critter brains feel safe, enabling you to engage and empower them so they can do their best work. Once someone’s fight or flight instincts are no longer at the forefront, they’ll be more willing to accept you, listen to you, and work with you.

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