5 Brain-Based Keys To Engage Your Team And Have Your Profits Soar

*As originally seen on

*As originally seen on

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just tell people what to do and they’d do it? Wasn’t that what was supposed to happen when you finally got that promotion, or started that business?

The thing is, your team are human beings—not machines. They are thinkers who thrive on solving problems. When people solve a problem themselves, plan a solution themselves, decide for themselves what to do next and next and next…they are engaged.

On the contrary, when you tell your team exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, their inner two-year old comes out, and they either want to rebel or they grudgingly go-along and learn to be ever more helpless. But when people solve problems for themselves they feel a sense of relief, that they have contributed to making the world just a little bit better.

5 Brain-Based Keys To Engage Your Team And Have Your Profits Soar


What Worked Then Doesn’t Work Now

Now in some organizations problem solving thinking is not useful for certain individuals. For example, if you are running a military operation you may not want your team to think too much. It may be in everyone’s best interest to obey immediately. In many religions the doctrine requires obedience to a higher authority and hierarchies serve a divine purpose with God at the top. Thinking and deciding for oneself is discouraged.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Hierarchical, command and control organizations served an evolutionary purpose. They allowed large organizations to evolve. An organization of this type can create stable processes and achieve long term goals. Without this type of organization, we would not have any awe-inspiringly beautiful cathedrals in Europe or the pyramids in Egypt.

However, today’s organizations are increasingly complex. They need to process enormous amounts of information, react, and reorganize ever more quickly. That means command and control doesn’t work anymore. The problems are too big for one person to create and dictate solutions without involving the input of the people who are actually doing the job. In fact, the people who are closest to the actual work of creating and/or delivering the product know best what to do and how to adapt.

So today’s “control systems” need to be centered around developing communication skills and creating productive teams and effective collaboration.

Here’s What Does Optimize Teams

Last Fall Google researched what factors make teams effective. They expected to find the perfect make-up of an effective team: the individuals, personality types, number of PhDs, and more. What they found surprised them.

What determined effectiveness was how the team interacted. Not who was on the team.

Here are their five keys to optimizing teams:

1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?

3. Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?

4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?

5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

The key skill is listening.

Working with my clients, I have noticed that there is a fundamental skill that underpins the first three factors. If team members don’t have it, you don’t get those factors, so you can’t optimize that team.

No listening, no psychological safety.

No listening, no understanding…so dependability will suffer.

No listening, how can anyone be clear? How can a structure be embraced?

Google Term Meaning Safety, Belonging, Mattering
Psychological safety Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed? Safety, Belonging
Dependability Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time? Safety, Belonging, Mattering
Structure & clarity Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear? Safety, Belonging
Meaning of work Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us? Mattering
Impact of work Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters? Mattering

Many of my clients initially name “listening” as something they should work on in their coaching. Yet they often seem almost perversely proud of their non-listening status. How many of us find ourselves at odds with the knowledge we “should” listen but the conflicting compulsion to lead by directing, which often translates into talking more than others. Or worse yet, appearing to listen but just quietly waiting for our time to talk without really paying attention.

How To Give People What They Ache For

We don’t feel safety, belonging or mattering without it. According to Oprah Winfrey, who has interviewed thousands upon thousands of people from ordinary folks to world leaders and highly successful business people, they all ask her the same question after the interview: “Did I do OK?”

In seeking validation many people talk without listening first. We are eager to make our next point and be validated. So we don’t listen. While the other person is speaking, we are arranging our next piece of brilliance and persuasion in our minds. When we’re told we need to be more “present” or even told to talk less, we start out with the best intentions, but soon find ourselves vying for airtime.

Ask questions and actually listen for the answer and keep your mouth closed until it’s time to ask the next question. Try keeping the ratio of questions to you offering your opinion at 80% questions to 20% your opinion.

In a team, especially if you are learning to collaborate better, try a few sessions using a device like a talking stick (only the person holding the stick can talk) to ensure that everyone gets equal air time. The “talking stick” concept comes from Native American traditions but can be any object that is culturally appropriate for your team—even a pen will do.

In the age of organizations as living organisms, listening is the skill that will help your team soar—and give them the emotional experience they long for.

75% Of Workers Are Affected By Bullying — Here’s What To Do About It

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*As originally seen on

Workplace bullying is frighteningly common and takes an enormous toll on our businesses.

Research from Dr. Judy Blando (University of Phoenix) has proven that almost 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or a witness.

75%. That’s huge.

So what exactly is workplace bullying?

“Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e. sabotage, which prevents work from getting done,” from Workplace Bullying Institute.

75% Of Workers Are Affected By Bullying -- Here's What To Do About It


One of the main differences between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying is that it tends to be less physically harmful and more psychological and verbal in nature. It’s subtler than schoolyard bullying but is quite distinctive from normal workplace stress.

“Bullying is characterized by:

• Repetition (occurs regularly)

• Duration (is enduring)

• Escalation (increasing aggression)

• Power disparity (the target lacks the power to successfully defend themself)

• Attributed intent” (from Wikipedia)

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job.

Who The Bullies Are

Here is what you have to understand, the targets of workplace bullying are not the weakest players—they are often the strongest.

Let’s say that again. The common misconception is that, like schoolyard bullying, the targets of workplace bullying are loners, or “weird” or the people who “don’t fit.” In fact the reverse is true.

People become targets because something about them is threatening to the bully. Often they are more skilled, more technically proficient, have a higher EQ or people just like them better. They are often workplace veterans who mentor new hires.

“WBI research findings and conversations with thousands of targets have confirmed that targets appear to be the veteran and most skilled person in the workgroup” (quote from WBI).

Now the bully tends to be someone who is skilled at manipulating and controlling, but while they see everything as a competition, they do not feel skilled/competent enough to compete on their own merits. Hence they bully as a futile attempt to feel more powerful.

The bully often works hard to create the perception that they are strong by putting down and blaming others. Often the boss of the bully knows the bully is “disliked” but thinks that the organization cannot do without them and makes “allowances.” The bullying is framed as “personality conflict.”

What Bullying Is Costing Your Company

When you, as the leader of an organization allow bullying to occur you create at least five problems:

1. The target of the bullying will experience a loss of confidence and an increase in stress that often shows up in health problems. Their performance will decline. They may need more time off to recover. So you have lower performance by at least one person, the target.

2. By allowing the bullying to continue you are accepting a toxic culture, prevalent Critter State, and reduced performance and morale. The peoplewitnessing the bullying will have to choose to side with the bully, leave, risk retribution by speaking out, or remain passive and try to stay under the bully’s radar. To be non-threatening to the bully they may lower their performance in some way.

3. Eventually the target will have no recourse but to leave. Research has shown that the vast majority of targets eventually leave. You now have lost a good employee and have all the costs of a new hire.

4. Plus you have the almost certain guarantee that the cycle will repeat itself. I find that organizations which condone bullying, which have prevalent Critter State, also have high employee turnover rates, far less revenue per employee, increased absences, and the list goes on and on.

5. You are opening yourself up to potential litigation. While bullying is not, strictly speaking, illegal it may be connected to a form of harassment or discrimination which can be subject to litigation. At the least attention will be taken up in tracking and “proving” a case.

All this from denying bullying—oh, and let’s add the personal guilt of not protecting one’s tribe.

How To Stop Bullying—And Start Boosting Smart State

That means that the solutions lie within the organizational structure.

I have been asked to coach several workplace bullies because someone, usually their boss, wanted them to change. The problem with this sort of coaching is that the person themselves doesn’t want to change. The coaching is seen as a punishment rather than as a reward and a path to greater leadership.

The reality is that the leadership team is responsible. Bullying cannot happen without approval (“oh that’s just how xx is!”). It’s up to you to create an environment that is safe and healthy for the entire team—the Smart State. The biggest problem with bullies is usually that someone higher up likes them – “oh xx is great at a party!” – or some other nonsense.

The first step is to confront the bully. Use my formal feedback steps to outline the specific behaviors that must change. Agree on objective performance measurements. Make sure that the bully transfers their feeling of threat from their target to the organization. Give them specific ways to manipulate and control their own outcomes—turn their skills into assets if possible. If not possible, they have to go. If you are serious about creating the culture of your dreams, you have to be willing to hire and fire based on your values.

I have found that what works best, culturally, is to focus on creating structures that reward “Smart State” behaviors and discourage/punish bullying behaviors. This starts with ensuring the confidentiality of anyone reporting bullying behavior and ensuring that there are no reprisals.

Organizational structures which put the focus on problem solving and which create clear and fair performance markers work to reduce bullying. For example:

• reward ideas and innovations

• reward people for bringing safety or other problems to leaders’ attention

• use structures, like Kanban boards, which isolate bottlenecks as work flow issues only, and therefore reduce finger-pointing and blame

• implement an intranet system where team members can give each other high fives and recognize contribution

• make sure any performance measuring systems that you are using are fair and objective, and reward what you are actually interested in achieving (e.g. one client was rewarding employees for quantity but not measuring quality and our assessment found that their “high performers” were actually the ones creating problems).

3 Things That Guarantee Engaged Employees

*As originally seen on

*As originally seen on

One of the most important and core elements a company of people can be aligned on is their mission, vision and values about the company. These components are essential and powerful drivers for the exec team to efficiently achieve the success they want. They are also the key to having a highly engaged culture of team members who say “Thank God It’s Monday!”

Many companies don’t really think this is important to have these or have them nailed down. But that’s primarily because of one major flaw in the use of these terms. That one flaw is the integrity that runs behind the concepts of the mission, vision and values statements.

Often there is a lot of misunderstanding about these words, mission, vision and values. And there are a lot of definitions out there.

3 Things That Guarantee Engaged Employees


I happen to like the Peter Senge definitions – who is most well known as the author of The Fifth Discipline, but was also the director for the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

He coined the phrase, “The Learning Organization.” A learning organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.

We start with the assumption that we all want to be effective with our company, both within the company and within ourselves within the company. And let’s call effective as creating the results we want long term and sustainably.


So let’s use the Peter Senge definitions of these words:

In his world view – the word mission means the “why.” Why are we in business? Why are we doing what we do here? Why does this company exist? What’s the purpose for us existing?

Example: Mission for a company providing private student loans: We believe every child has the right to receive a higher education that is financed in a manner that is fairly priced and accessible to all.


On the other hand – vision is a little different. A vision is a picture of what you want as far out on the horizon as you can see.  And usually this is three to five years – in a company or with a person. And as you get closer you revise. It is important that it be long-term enough to make decisions.

Example: Vision for a company providing private student loans: By 2020 we will have enabled 50 million students to receive a higher education.


Values have to do with standards of behavior that you say yes or no to. You want the vision to happen in service of the mission – but there are some things that are important to you, some guidelines of behavior that you are not going to compromise, regardless.

We believe people may not be able to become profoundly aligned with other people, but they can and will become profoundly aligned with a potent mission, vision, and values.

A wonderful example of a corporate vision and values is Johnson and Johnson’s credo. For over 10 years I have used this example in training and presenting to businesses and organizations. It is a beautifully designed values document that stresses the importance of the behavioral alignment with the values.

Let’s drill down:

Mission Drill Down

Let’s start the discussion with answering any of these questions:

• Why are we here as a company?

• Why do we exist?

• What are we going to source that will not have existed without us being here?

• What are we going to make happen because we exist?

Now you have your mission statement – this can continue to refine over time – but this is a starting place.

Vision Drill Down

Let’s talk about the Vision of the company. If we stick with our original definition that the vision is a clear picture you can see of the company as far out as you can see on the horizon – which is likely 3-5 years from now. What’s the clear picture you see of the company?

Vision can be asked in that way – or we can ask ourselves in the opposite way to start to get our vision – what are we willing to give up to have alignment on what the future looks like. Often having a clear vision is challenging, because we look at what we want only – however, we know that from our lives, often what we want and what we end up with can be different. Mostly that difference is the summation of our behaviors and actions along the way. So, it can be very valuable for us to both consider what we want, and what we are willing to give up or sacrifice at the company in order to have a complete picture about the future.

Vision is often thought of as results – we want to be worth X amount of money. But again – let’s put those Visions aside, because, that is not a Vision that is going to move everyone through the organization. Remember we are talking about a company vision. We are looking for a vision that people in the company from the top to the bottom can get behind.

And perhaps the best question we can ask is:

Who are we becoming as a company in three to five years?

• What will we be known for, or known as in the community then as a company?

• What will we be proud to say we are as an identity in the business community when we arrive?

• What are some visions of what you see the company looking like three to five years from now?

Values Drill Down

Values can be pretty cliché – most companies are working off of similar values. And it is not the words; it is how we demonstrate them at the company. They are going to be behaviors you agree to live by and align with on a daily basis when you walk through the front doors of the business. Words that you are going to live and show by example.

Choosing the values of the company is to say – “I believe strongly that these will demonstrate the most important behaviors to us as a culture.” It is making a commitment to the kind of company you wish to be.

A good way to think about this is – if you woke up every day and had certain words or phrases posted in your shower, as a reminder about the most important things to you in life – in terms of values – what would those be?


1. Mission – Your purpose – what’s the big why? Is it worthy and emotional?

2. Vision – a picture of what you want – clear picture? Is it compelling? Martin Luther King didn’t just have a simple idea. He had a dream so infused with passion and meaning that others wanted to be a part of it.

3. Values – the standards of behavior – integrity, open communication, team work, etc. – that we are expected to honor as a member of the tribe.

Is it time to take a look at your company’s mission, vision and values?

The Art Of Showing Up: How To Own Your Leadership Role And The Authority It Brings

*As originally seen on

*As originally seen on

Sue, CMO at a Midwest insurance company, receives a litany of excuses from her VP Marketing when deadlines are missed. And he continues to miss them.

Dan, VP Sales at a Silicon Valley software company, runs ragged tracking the performance of his sales people and cajoling them into using the CRM. He often donates time from his own assistant to do the sales people’s CRM data entry.

Karen, VP Talent at an East coast professional services firm, has frequent challenges with one of the firm’s top consultants. He changes agreements constantly, says he doesn’t remember promises made, and even bullies her and her team.

What do all these leaders have in common?

They’re not owning their role and the power and authority it brings. They’re not standing in their energetic weight.

Art of Showing Up


The Art Of Showing Up: Standing In Your Role And Its Weight

Energetic weight is the energy, the power, the authority that comes with a given role. Now the role has it, sure, but does the individual with that role choose to use it? Standing in one’s energetic weight is about standing up for what you believe is right, it’s about doing the right thing, it’s about treating others with respect and also drawing the line when others are not honoring who you are and what your role represents.

Too many leaders, in an attempt to “be nice,” to fit in, to be popular miss the opportunity to stand in their energetic weight. Then they wonder why they are mired in low value activities, when their team doesn’t perform, when it’s hard to just get things done through other people.

Think of energetic weight like a mantle you wear, or even a crown. When you accept the responsibility of a given role, you “take on” or wear an energetic mantle of sorts. You agree to hold yourself to a higher standard than your prior role perhaps, because this new role may convey more authority, carry more responsibility (financial, larger team, etc.).

What’s Your Weight?

Here’s a quick quiz to provide some insight into your energetic weight. Answer Yes or No to each:

1. I spend 70% or more of my time on High Value Activities.

2. I hold others accountable to their commitments even if they go into victim or persecutor behavior  and try to make me “the bad guy.”

3. My team knows what is expected of them and they come forth when they drop the ball—rarely do I have to mention it.

4. My peers know what to expect in our interactions, what’s OK and what’s not, and where the line is that they shouldn’t cross.

5. My supervisor/boss/leader wouldn’t dream of delegating work to me that could be given to someone more junior.

6. My team wouldn’t dream of bouncing delegated work back to me, their leader.

7. I am known as fair, direct, collaborative and a straight shooter. This is why people trust me—I don’t play games, I give others credit when due, and continuously elevate and cultivate others.

8. I see my role as a privilege and not an entitlement. I am here to serve my company’s mission, fulfill its vision, and honor its values, and make a positive contribution to its clients, partners, and team.

9. I complete the work I am able to complete that is appropriate for my role and the amount of time I dedicate to work. I don’t self-sacrifice and work excessive hours–that would reduce my work quality and also mean I either am not delegating enough or am taking on more work than is healthy or appropriate.

10. I am OK with conflict and stress. If I disagree with something I say so, in a respectful way, with the reasons why. If others try to shoot down my ideas I get curious and find out what I may have missed. If under stress I stay calm and move through it. We’re all works in progress and that’s OK. We’ll get through this together.

If you have:

0-3 Yes Answers: It’s time to get a coach or work solo on building your energetic weight. Start to uncover the stories you’re telling yourself about being seen, having power, claiming your rightful place. It may be time to rewrite them.

4-6 Yes Answers: You’re on your way. Hone your skills, expand your heart, ground your energy into the earth and be the glorious human being you are. Now comes the best part: You get to help others understand this too.

7+ Yes Answers: Optimization is your adventure now. Let’s see how mentally clear, how inwardly still, how authentic and transparent you can be. It will be of great benefit to those you have the great good fortune to work with.

The Best Kind Of Weight Gain

So what happened to the three leaders above?

Once I coached them in their energetic weight and they began to stand in it, the results were fantastic.

Sue no longer receives a litany of excuses from her VP Marketing when deadlines are missed. Because he doesn’t miss them. He understands now that this isn’t OK.

Dan no longer runs ragged tracking the performance of his sales people and cajoling them into using the CRM. They now understand that if they don’t enter the CRM data timely, they can find a job elsewhere. And his assistant now has time to implement cool sales contests to increase revenue.

Karen let the consultant prima donna go. Her team is much happier now.

How is your energetic weight? Where would you like to grow?

How Great Leaders Build Trust With 4 Brain-Based Tools

Recently one of my executive coaching clients came to me with this question.

“Christine, my team is disengaged and disconnected. I am being drained daily by high stress, high distrust and chaos. How can I get my team to trust my company and to trust me?”

The issue of trust can make or break an organization. According to Harvard Business Review: “People crave transparency, openness, and honesty from their leaders. Unfortunately, business leaders continue to face issues of trust. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, one in four workers say they don’t trust their employer, and only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them.”

90% of our decisions of our behaviors are driven by our emotional brain. This means we are highly emotional beings driven by deep subconscious patterning. When we learn how to tap in and connect to deep subconscious patterning and how to give people what they truly crave at subterranean levels we get peak performing teams that trust us and trust their organization.

How do we get team members who say ‘I love my job, I trust my leader and l’m ready to rock today!’

The foundation of trust is safety, belonging and mattering.

What happens when we have a culture that is full of fear, stress and confusion? Our team does not experience safety, belonging and mattering therefore a culture of trust can’t exist. How do we move through a culture of fear towards a culture of trust? We use some pretty cool and practical neuroscience-based tools and techniques. Let’s dive in.

Is Your Team Engaged?

Ask yourself, how engaged is your team? Engagement is directly related to trust. One of the easiest ways to assess your team is to have them participate in an Employee Engagement Survey twice a year. Be sure to make cultural changes based on the answers they give you.

  • Have them answer questions that are based around safety, belonging, mattering.
  • Make sure that they can add comments and that their anonymity is protected. Your team won’t answer honestly if they feel that their answers could come back to haunt them in the form of losing their job.
  • Compare how engaged you ‘think’ your tribe is vs the feedback you receive.

This experience is very telling and uncovers blind spots which open the door towards putting processes in place to increase team engagement. There are 4 categories of neuroscience-based tools that will help you.

Proven & Trusted Neuroscience-Based Tools:

As leaders, our companies exist to make people’s lives easier. We provide products and services that make people’s lives better and that solve problems. But a funny thing happens when our teams don’t feel connected. Productivity decreases, our teams become disengaged and our profits plummet. Creating a culture that is engaged that trusts their leader isn’t as cosmic as it seems, there is a formula.

Shared Identity + Profound Meaning = Tribe = Trust

Trust creates reliable environments. Enriched environments are more reliable. Reliable and enriched environments equal ROI. A more enriched, interactive tribal environment is good for the brain and good for the business. What do we mean by enriched? This environment is interactive, stimulating which increases the surface area of brain cells. The result? Team members making more connections, solving problems faster, figuring things out faster and innovating better.

A brain in a more reliable (trust their leader) and enriched (stimulating) environment will have more branches. More branches equal more surface area which equals more connections which equals more meaning (personalizing things around you). This graphic is a great representation of what that looks like.


The people make the revenue happen. The people make the business model happen.

The brain needs to aspire and building trust will create this.

Let’s have fun at work, we spend a lot of time there!

Discover, Engage And Sustain Workplace Talent In Three Simple Steps

Leaders today need all the leverage they can get.

We need to get more from ourselves, our teams, our company overall. Developing workplace talent is the major factor that will create sustainable and substantial success in your company–this will only increase in the near future. Plus, the impact of not developing workplace talent will impact more than just your bottom line.


A recent Gallup-Lumina Foundation Poll revealed that developing and investing in workplace talent remains an area that leaders must continue to focus on.

“Gallup asked respondents to think about talent as “the knowledge or skills people develop or obtain through education, work or other life experiences.” Nearly eight in 10 (78%) U.S. adults agree, “if the U.S. fails to develop a more talented workforce, it will fall behind other countries.” An overwhelming majority (87%) agree, “the federal government should make it a high priority to increase the talent of our nation’s workforce,” and 89% agree with the statement “cities that commit to increasing talent among their citizens are more likely to have stronger economies, better quality of life and greater prosperity than cities that do not.” Clearly, there is strong support among the American public for these statements.”

The findings also reinforce that developing workplace talent has an impact on more than the individual companies. When leaders develop talent effectively, the impact is felt on a local and global scale.

  • Majority say government must make increasing talent a priority
  • 78% say U.S. will lag behind other countries if talent isn’t developed
  • Most agree, cities that commit to talent have stronger economies

Ready to develop your company’s talent? Follow these three steps:

1. Find Your Hidden Talent

To identify the greatest untapped leverage in your company, start by assessing your current team.

Actively seek potential leaders that are already in your company—people with characteristics that can be leveraged and developed. When on the lookout for potential top talent, keep these questions in mind:

  • What is the future vision for your company?
  • What does talent mean in your company culture?
  • Which team members are consistent, high-performing, contributing to ROI, great at managing?
  • What specific characteristics and criteria make these individuals stand out?
  • How do they enhance the company culture?
  • How do they engage with the rest of the team?
  • How do they engage with you as their leader?

The answers will help you determine who has the potential to rise up in your organization.

2. Engage Your Top Talent

All too often leaders don’t create and foster an environment where talent feels comfortable or confident enough to stand out. It’s easier to blend in with the crowd versus stand out and be seen. When you create a culture that thrives on collaboration and transparency, your top talent will begin to rise. You will clearly see who these individuals are and envision what future benefit they can bring to the company. A few top talent indicators are team members who:

  • Feel deeply connected to the company’s mission, vision, values and emulate those elements on a daily basis
  • Display accountability
  • Deliver consistent high quality results

Now that you have found and engaged your potential top talent, it’s time to take action.

3. Sustain Talent And Take Action

In previous blogs we have discussed how to foster and nurture an environment where your top talent will rise. These tools will help you form an action plan that you can start implementing today.

  • Learn what your team members crave at a primal and neurological level – and give it to them
  • Create a culture that allows team members to rise up and stand out
  • Shift their brain from Critter State to Smart State
  • Learn how to shift your leadership stance
  • Learn how to keep your cool when under pressure

Your action plan will create sustainable results.

Your top talent will become more engaged and take great initiatives. They will learn how to be more effective and even mentor those around them to mirror the same behaviors. The result is substantial and sustainable top workplace talent.

Your top talent might not be immediately obvious, so you may have to dig deep. Get your leadership team involved in the process to help uncover your hidden talent treasures.

Time to start digging!

How Great Leaders Build Trust And Increase Employee Engagement

So how do great leaders do it?

Have you ever done something with the best intentions only to have it backfire?

Understanding how to light up the brain’s reward network and stay out of the pain network can help you to avoid common pitfalls (thanks to Naomi Eisenberger of UCLA for her research here).

The brain’s pain network gets activated when we feel physical pain (lack of safety), social exclusion (no belonging), bereavement (loss), betrayal (unfair treatment), and negative social comparison (no mattering). Our reward network is activated when we feel things like physical pleasure (safety), cooperating (belonging), having a good reputation (mattering), being treated fairly (trust), giving to charity (safety plus = abundance).

A tribe that continuously activates the reward network—a SmartTribe—is more productive and effective. A tribe that continuously activates the pain network suffers from three key leadership pitfalls:

©2011-2015 SmartTribes® Institute, LLC

Pitfall #1: Asking for feedback and not acting on it.

Having a 360 degree assessment and asking for feedback takes courage and helps to create an open and transparent culture. However, we have also seen this tool misused and create damage.

The damage happens when a leader asks for feedback and then either does nothing to improve him or herself or attempts to identify the source of criticism and punish it. Persecuting someone who took a risk to respond to your request is an obvious trust breaker, but why is doing nothing so bad?

When we take the time to give feedback to someone we have most likely thought about it, and feel that the person is not able to see or to prioritize something that can be clearly seen from the outside. When we do nothing, we discount the feedback giver’s experience and their desire to create a more positive outcome—we send them into the pain network through a sense of loss of belonging, mattering and possibly safety. Not responding may result in having them feel imminent persecution. Our clients find that combining executive coaching, once they received their 360 feedback action plan, provides long lasting desired results. Doing an employee survey of anything, and then disregarding the results is the same–it activates the pain network.

Asking is a very powerful tool. One that can be successfully used to maximize engagement and growth. Just make sure you also plan and invest resources in the follow up.

Pitfall #2: Flat or misaligned mission, vision and values.

Do you “sell” your mission, vision and values…do you sell the raison d’etre of your company to your team and prospective team? By “selling” here we mean:

  1. Starting with the market analysis (what engages and drives your people—and the people you’d like to have come work with you?)
  2. Developing and designing the product (are you crafting emotional statements that inspire positive feelings? Does your environment match your words? Does your operating/reward system match your values?)
  3. Are you marketing and selling? (are you communicating the mission, the vision, and the values in a way that sparks joy and enthusiasm? Are you identifying your tribal leaders and engaging them?)

Too often we walk into a company and find wordy mission statements moldering on the wall. Worse yet, we find reward systems that directly contradict stated values (e.g. stated value of “teamwork” but only individual rewards.)

When the mission, vision and values are stale, or not aligned, or not communicated in an enticing way, it not only does not activate the reward network, it activates the pain network. People feel a lack of belonging, they feel low social status in comparison with others who work for organizations that are alive and aligned, they may feel betrayed if there is a conflict between what they signed up for and what is happening or between a stated value and reality.

Flat or misaligned mission, vision and values don’t just fail to inspire. They hurt.

When was the last time you assessed your culture?

Pitfall #3: Ineffective delegation. Delegate, delegate, delegate!

One of our most popular SmartTribes Methodology processes is where we identify Low Value Activities and High Value Activities. The goal is to delegate your Low Value Activities as quickly as possible.

So what’s the problem here?

Delegation sends people into the pain network when it falls to the micro-management side of the spectrum or when what we call “drive by delegation” occurs—delegating without getting buy in, commitment, or assessing capability and capacity. Both sides of the spectrum indicate a lack of trust and misunderstanding about responsibilities. Both sides are going to fire up the pain network in both parties.

Micro-management leaves the delegator thinking they are alone and have to do everything, if they want to get anything done right. The would-be delegatee feels disempowered, excluded, and low status…they can’t get anything right and their opinions don’t matter.

Drive by delegation leaves the delegator feeling betrayed (because there’s no way the delegatee can do the task or project). The delegatee feels confused, and has a sense of loss…they might have had a dream about doing just this task but now they’ve been handed it in a way that they cannot succeed.

Proper delegation activates the reward network and is a win-win for everyone. Our clients use the SmartTribes Playbook: Effective Delegation Process to successfully complete these steps: assess capabilities and capacity, plan the outcome using a guided question format, set up milestones and implement tracking and check-ins.

Asking for feedback and input, creating mission, vision and values statements, and delegation are three powerful tools for building trust and long term engagement. Just be sure to use them in the ways that keep you and your team out of the pain network and activating the reward network.

How will you build trust in your organization?

Today’s Workforce Only Wants Three Things

What does today’s workforce want, really?

Early retirement?

Ever-elusive work-life balance?

Or just a decent place to work with nice people?

While the war for talent continues, the talent themselves are strategically deciding with whom they want to align. Here’s how to get them to want to align with YOU.

According to a recent study by Ranstad, employers need to brand themselves intentionally–and “branding strategies cannot be left to chance… strategies require a laser focus on building core components – factors like company culture, candidate perception/experience and employee engagement.”

I agree–we must bring the brain into the equation too, ensuring your team is recruiting, retaining, working from their SmartState. Let’s check out the latest data in the  infographic from Ranstad where you’ll find:

  • Top 3 sectors where employees want to work
  • Most important criteria when choosing an employer
  • Personality traits most desired in an employer
  • Factors that put work-life balance at risk
  • Top motivators for teams
  • Retirement expectations

What Todays Workforce Wants Infographic

How can a company rock their branding strategy?

Eat, sleep, live your values. Per Ranstad “The bottom line is, an empty brand promise can reap devastating outcomes.” Be clear about what you want and you won’t have to wage war in order to attract and retain your top talent.

So what does today’s workforce want most? As I see it financial and emotional stability, cool people to work with that they trust, and as much work-life balance as we can get.

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a global thought leader on corporate culture and performance optimization and a neuroscience-based executive coach.

Stop Being So Predictable As A Leader: 6 Ways to Change this NOW

Does your team “have your number?” Do your kids? Your significant other? Sure they do.

Because it only takes a short period of observation to find the harsh truth: people are predictable.

Yet as a predictable leader, you compromise your ability to influence and to shift another’s behavior, which is often crucial to accelerate results, boost revenue, ensure sustainable growth. While a large part of influencing is about making people feel a sense of safety, belonging, and mattering, sometimes we need to bluntly lay out the facts. Being able to switch from one stance to the other is an immensely valuable leadership skill.



How Flexible is Your Behavior?

Most of us react in predictable ways, have predictable patterns of behavior, and have predictable speech patterns. No wonder it’s so easy for people to peg us….and no wonder it can seem virtually impossible to get through to certain people.

Chances are your employees know what you’re going to say or do in many situations before you even have a chance to react. Consciously or unconsciously they tune you out (and maybe retreat into their critter state if they think your reaction will be negative)…and any productive potential the conversation may have had is lost. Or perhaps, unbeknownst to you, the way you are acting and reacting sends others a different message then the one you meant to convey.

There’s hope. The following behavioral stances can be mixed and matched for maximum influence, rapport, and outcome. When we use different stances in different scenarios, we get different results. Thanks to all my teachers on stances: Milton EricksonTony RobbinsJerry Jampolsky, and many more. There’s the:

Mommy: Supports the recipient fully, sees and acknowledges how great they are. As a result the recipient feels huge.

Anthropologist: Behaves with major curiosity and high inquiry. This stance asks  lots of questions and is continually curious, at times even fascinated.

Drill Sergeant: Hard core, tell-it-like-it-is, no sugar coating. This stance is supremely direct but not mean.

Professor: Cool, high advocacy, factual, “this is how it is,” “when you do X, you get Y.”

Best Buddy: Highly empathetic: “I’ve been there, I know how hard it is.”

Guru: The wise knowledgeable one, often used by consultants, has a touch of Professor but is less linear and more about overview, has a touch of warmth and heart. This stance is the expert with a heart and high enrollment.

Behavioral Stances in Action