The Brain of a Leader

We don’t often think about feeling threatened at work. As leaders, we’d like to believe that we are in control of what happens around us. In reality, we have little control over environmental and circumstantial unpredictability. Although the unexpected can be expected, we still end up feeling threatened or overwhelmed… but why?

Because our brain is designed to detect potential threats in the environment to keep us safe, we regularly become emotionally hijacked by the unexpected. This “threat detection” serves as a wonderful tool in dangerous conditions like navigating nature, with threats of getting lost or wild animals, or bad-weather driving. However, when we get emotionally hijacked at work, our performance and relationships suffer. Sometimes our brain works for us, and sometimes it works against us.
Experience has taught me that these emotional hijackings in the brain offer us insight into ourselves. The best insight is often referred to as a “trigger.” A trigger is an event that makes us hijacked – compromising us in the moment. Common workplace examples include disrespect, insubordination, raised voices, conflict, and criticism. These triggers arise unexpectedly, our brain sends a threat signal and we go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. If you’ve ever experienced being in fight, flight, or freeze, you know how unproductive a state this is.
Fortunately, as a result of quality research, we know that these triggers and emotionally compromising experiences can be managed, allowing us to stay centered, achieve results and deepen relationships amidst chaos. We call this ability “emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence not a magic bullet since it requires a tremendous amount of work on oneself, but it generates entirely new ways of thinking, acting and relating to others.
If we aren’t being mindful of the stories we tell ourselves, our triggers and the emotions that follow, our well-being and performance can deteriorate. Modern leadership requires that we understand balance, stress management, emotional management, and demonstrate self-awareness. Once we grasp how our brain responds to those unpredictable moments in the environment, we actually achieve a greater sense of control, inner peace and effective leadership.

Daniel Stover, M.A.

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Founder & CEO of Ensight Partners

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