Monday, 23 May 2016

#ATD2016 Simon Sinek on Social Leadership

The first keynote at ATD's International Conference is Simon Sinek speaking about leadership.

We're social animals - we respond to the environment we're in - which is often shaped by the role of the leader (for me it's about the whole team / organisation - not just the manager).

We need this environment to encourage trust and co-operation - but the problem is that these are feelings not instructions - I can't instruct you to do this.  I can tell you to work together but that's different.

This requires people to feel safe.  And if that's not there people experience danger and this breeds cynicism, paranoia, mis-trust and self-interest.

The circle of safety is about not fearing other employees.  It's supported by goals and incentives, because these govern the chemicals which govern our behaviours.   These have developed during our evolution allowing us to sleep soundly at night because we're with people we trust.

Endorphins mask physical pain (eg in strenuous exercise, laughing etc) enabling us to push ourselves that bit further.  We've evolved for endurance. We persist because it feels good, not for intellectual attainment, it's because we crave endorphins. 

Dopamine is triggers when we find something we've been looking for or hit the goal we've been working for eg when we find food, or today - when we're able to cross something off our todolist.  The more concrete vs abstract the better - people won't work just for 'more'.  Metrics help us count progress.  A vision is a crystal clear picture of where we're heading.  A goal provides the finish line and helps us measure progress towards it.  You can't provide a vision but you can help people find it, which helps give meaning and purpose.  Dopamine is the reason we are accomplishment machines, but it can be very highly addictive (nicotine, alcohol, gambling, your cell phone etc).  People can get addicted to hitting their numbers, which also destroys relationships and the environment etc.  Employees stab each other in the back - there is no trust.

Endorphins and dopamine are selfish chemicals - you don't need anyone to help you achieve them.

Serotonin is the chemical for pride - triggered through things like social recognition.  This reinforces the relationships between manager and employee, coach and player etc.  Dopamine doesn't create loyalty, gets very expensive after a while and destroys trust.  But when people give us their time and energy and recognition we'll give them up blood, sweat and tears to make them feel proud.  It's the loyalty chemical.  We're traditionally lived in communities up to 150 people and have become hierarchical animals to help understand how we fit against each other.  We're still judging, assessing and self organising and giving preference to our alphas.  It helps gives us perks and advantages.  However the group is not stupid - there's an expectation that the alpha person - stronger, smarter, more confident (because of all the serotonin flowing in their veins because of all the recognition we give them).  Banks have violated this contract - allowing, or deciding to sacrifice others to protect their own bonuses - offending our sense of morals.  That creates distance and we'll never help them achieve their vision, it becomes a simple transactional relationship.  How do companies have record layoffs at the same time they have record bonuses.  What would anyone volunteer their best ideas?  Madness!

When there's danger leaders put themselves in harms way.  Leadership is a risk which is why not everyone is cut out to be a leader. When we feel leaders have our backs we’ll take care of our companies, and of each other.  It's not about authority over us.  Leadership is a choice, a daily practice, to put other peoples' lives ahead of us and our own interests, like being a parent, driven by evolution and anthropology.  People have to understand a company will invest in them in preference to short-term savings.  Leaders aren't responsible for results, we're responsible for the people who provide the results.

How long will a leadership programme take?  The truth is I don’t know.  But you have to stick with it and eventually the pain goes away.  We just don’t know exactly when.  You have to invest in training and doing the small stuff like putting the kettle back on for the next person who might want a coffee.  Leadership is about lots of consistent ongoing small practices.

Oxytocin is everyone's favourite chemicals, the chemical of love and unicorns, the wishy washy stuff.  We'd rather sit next to someone we know because it feels good and why we leave empty seats between us - because strangers are scary.  We want to be near the people we trust - it helps us feel safe.  Oxytocin is released when a mother gives birth - it bonds them together.  Using Facebook provides oxytocin but it's an unhealthy relationship so Facebook users experience higher rates of depression.  It's why we hug each other in hard times.  It's about giving time and energy with no expectation of a return.  Why bonuses don't work.  We put an emphasis on people who spend time and energy, not money.

Witnessing an act of kindness in someone else also triggers oxytocin and encourages us to be kind to others.  It's the basis for pay it forward.  We call you a leader because you took the risk to go first.  And gave us responsibility before we felt ready for it.

We want to live in a world where people go to work feeling inspired.  Our work is an act of service, an act of selflessness which protects other people.  We have to fight to help protect other people.  Leaders need to give us the space we need to take care of each other.

What we do is hard and stressful and difficult to measure.  We need people who've got our back.  If we take care of each other we'll change the world.

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