Leading from Your Upper Brain™

In December of 2018 my good friend and mentor, Dr. Michael Frisina, was published in the International Journal of Academic Medicine | Volume 4 | Issue 3 | September-December 2018. http://www.journalonweb.com/ijam As an licenced affiliate of The Frisina Group’s ‘Center for Influential Leadership’ I am honoured to present the following excerpt from his publication:

There is a revolution taking place exploding decade’s long false beliefs about individual and organizational performance related to the tension between the human performance brain and the human survival brain. This neuroscience revolution is fundamentally shifting learning and development strategies completely transforming what leaders need to be in a behavior‑centered approach to performance and the traditional technical skills they need to know to drive performance to the highest level. More than technical skill and intellect, individual leadership behavior is the singular most important predictor to a team’s performance. Sadly, very few leaders know that this dynamic exists or how to leverage leadership behavior to drive performance.

…“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought again.”
‑Peace Pilgrim.

What would you do if you discovered a way to turn on your brain and enable you to be happier, to be
more prosperous, and to achieve the goals you set for your life?

Based on the foundation of the latest neuroscience research on the brain, you can learn how thoughts impact your body, mind, and spirit. Based on your thinking patterns, you can promote positive and productive behaviors that lead to mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Think poorly and you can alter the cell structure of your body, lower your immune system response, and become less healthy in mind, body, and spirit. What you are thinking every moment of every day becomes a physical reality in your brain and body that affects your optimal mental and physical health. Gaining the ability to think effectively, choose effectively, and behave effectively is the hallmark of all high achievers and life success regardless of a person’s chosen field of endeavor.

Understanding epigenetics, how the brain responds to physical stimuli of electromagnetic and chemical flow in the brain, triggers groups of genes to act in a positive or negative direction based on your reactions to life events. Events plus your response to events determine the outcomes of your life. Negative responses create negative outcomes, and positive responses drive more positive and optimal outcomes even in the most challenging of life circumstances.

…When you change your behavior, you change your life circumstances.”

…You are free to make choices about how you focus your attention, and this affects how the chemicals and proteins and wiring of your brain change and function. Neuroscientists are proving that the relationship between what you think and how you understand yourself and the world around you – your beliefs, dreams, hopes, and thoughts – has a huge impact on how your brain works and ultimately what you achieve in levels of performance excellence.

…The link to neuroscience and thought is that thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we are thinking positively, productively, and when we hope for something better, we alter the physical structure of our brains in a more positive, productive direction allowing our brains to function in the high capacity for which they are created. Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, says there are four roles you can learn and manage every day to take control of your thoughts so you take control of your life:
1. Lead your brain – you can give your brain‑specific orders every day
2. Reinvent your brain – create new neuropathways and connections inside your brain to become more productive and to achieve your goals
3. Teach your brain – train your brain into new habits and new skills
4. Use your brain – you are responsible for keeping your brain in good working order.

Your brain is the gateway to your future. Your brain cannot do for you what it thinks it cannot do. Primitive reactions to external threat stimuli (fear, anger, jealousy, and aggression) can overrule higher brain function necessary for higher‑order cognitive function (problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, unit, clarity, and cohesion). Learning how to create a robust response capacity – mental resilience – you can learn to take control of your thinking and ultimately learn to take control of your destiny. ..

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The Hierarchy of Organization Behavioural Needs

In 1943 Abraham Maslow developed what many of us know as “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” His theory is that human psychology revolves around a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

As you may know, lower level needs in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. The truth is that in your organizations there exists a hierarchy of behavioural needs of your employees. Our research at The Frisina Group and The Center for Influential Leadership has identified that within all organizations employees want to be treated with respect by their leadership in behaviour that communicates physical and emotional safety. When leaders fulfill the fundamental needs for trust and safety, the brains of people are readily able to move from the security part of the brain physiologically to the performance part of the brain. This is brain biology not psychology. Once people are able to focus on work from their performance brain, they become more engaged and connect to the meaning and value of their work at higher levels of performance. The ability of a leader to communicate trust and safety to their team members creates an upward spiral of performance potential. The opposite of this brain biology fact is equally true. Create a toxic work culture — behave as a leader in ways that undermine the tenets of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and you do so at your own performance peril and the performance outcomes of your team.

So often we hear in leadership education that we are to “lead by example.” Too often this translates to leaders that if I want my employees to work as hard as I do, than that means I have to demonstrate it through my own initiative. Sadly this concept gets oversimplified. When leaders want employees to work longer hours, they think that they set that example by staying at work the longest. The reality is if you really want to impact your workforce and lead by example, start caring for the emotional and physical wellbeing of your people. Start appealing to the hierarchy of organizational behaviours that do exist in your workplace. Start respecting your people, start clearly and effectively communicating with your employees, and start demonstrating to them that their work is creating lasting meaning and has purpose.

If you want a robust and dynamic workplace that is achieving high marks in performance and excellence, then lead by example absolutely; start showing and demonstrating these behaviours to your people. People cannot proceed in the direction you want them to without clear guidance and communication. Likewise, who wants to work in an environment where individual efforts are diminished by leadership? What person, you included wants to invest more time and effort in work when both you, as a person, and your work are not valued or respected by leaders of the organization. To prove this point, think about how children express themselves when answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most often children identify nurses, fireman, paramedics, astronauts, doctors. They identify professions that demonstrate a sense of meaning and purpose. They demonstrate a value to others and of working to a purpose that exceeds their own individual desires.
People, regardless of their profession, want to know that what they are doing is providing value and a purpose to their lives and the lives of others. We may not be what we once wrote down in grade school, but regardless, as leaders, we ought to be doing everything in our ability to translate to our people that what they are doing in our workplaces is providing lasting meaning and purpose. It’s our job as leaders to lead by example, to ensure we are meeting and encouraging the behavioural needs of our people. We choose to lead or follow. In either choice, behaviour as a whole and communication specifically, becomes the fundamental factor in how we connect effectively with others. Highly effective relationships are essential for you to achieve your own sense of meaning and purpose. No one wins alone.

Communication remains a critical and vital element of effective organizational performance. Communication is vital to creating effective collaborations that will drive performance in the production, safety, quality, and financial indicators of the organization. You will never achieve effective collaborations without effective communication framed in a positive and energized manner. You will never achieve effective communication without honing the skill of Positive Presence — the ability to adjust and create a positive and energized mindset within our self through conscious thought processes.

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Effective Communication is Paramount!

In April of this year, technology mogul Elon Musk tweeted out that “people are overrated.” While he would later explain that he was referring to the power of robotics and the emerging technology in both robotics and artificial intelligence, I can’t help but think of how destructive that nineteen-character tweet was to his organization? Musk worked diligently to surround himself with really bright and intelligent people that spend a considerable amount of time and energy on his research and engineering projects. Robotics maybe an emerging technology but people are not overrated. I learned long ago that words have meaning; your words as a leader have immense power. Words send a strong message to the people who work with and for you in your organization.

Here is a fundamental truth about organizational performance. The majority of people you know, yourself included, desire highly effective, functional relationships – personal, familial, and professional.
Here is the reality check. Few people are willing to do the hard work at the essential level to sustain and create those relationships. One of the key ways we, as leaders, can develop and maintain highly effective relationships, is to learn to communicate effectively with the people around us.

Communicating with other people is a life essential. Effective communication, as Simon Sinek might say, is a tribal instinct essential to appropriate bonding within a host of relationships. We communicate everyday—all day—with people in our workplaces, our friends, our families, and strangers in a host of communal locations. The point of this discussion is simple: to add meaning, value, and purpose to our lives, we need to be able to have effective communication with people in a variety of roles in our lives. Stephen R. Covey may have said it best in 7 Habits when he advised that we are to “seek to understand before we demand to be understood.”

History is replete with failure in execution in a host of examples from business, politics, health care, and the military related to ineffective, incomplete, and unclear communication. The reality is that your ability to communicate as leader is of critical importance. In a recent survey of recruiters from companies with more than 50,000 employees, communication skills were cited as the single most important decisive factor in choosing managers. The survey, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Business School, points out that communication skills, including written and oral presentations, as well as an ability to work with others, are the main factors contributing to job success. Once again we see that behaviour is a key contributing factor to performance excellence and communication is certainly a behaviour skill if nothing else.

We have all been taught that the key to communication is listening. This is true, but you first must care before you can listen to understand effectively. Effective communication, as a highly influential trust behaviour, requires caring first, and seeking to understand before demanding to be understood. An old adage is applicable here: I do not care in how much you know, until you demonstrate to me how much you care. Displaying behaviour of compassion to another person opens their brain up to a willingness to listen. When people make a decision to shut you out of their lives because of your behaviour, effective communication with those people ceases.

One of the downsides to the advancements in mobile technology is that people’s verbal skills are actually decreasing as a result of constant emailing and texting. Whatever the fundamental driver that inhibits and prohibits people from being able to communicate effectively, whether CEO or new hire in the mail room, such a refusal perpetuates ill will and wreaks havoc in workplace engagement, productivity, and performance.

When we begin to examine the nature of relationships in our organizations we can gain understanding as to the value and the power of being able express ourselves, our intentions, and our shared values to connect with peers and subordinates to drive engagement and peak organizational performance. None of that can occur until individual leaders are willing to put in the effort to effectively communicate with those around them. As leaders, we may think we have the best ideas, vision, and direction to take our organizations to higher levels of performance. But if we cannot effectively communicate that vision or direction, and if we do not manage how fast we try to communicate in a complex and chaotic work environment, we will be unable to translate those ideas from strategy to an operational reality. Remember, performance is as much about the people and their ability to execute a good plan as it is about the plan itself.

Learning to communicate effectively as leaders is all about becoming aware of the diversity of talent we have around us, and then engaging in methodical and consistent efforts to connect with people in a positive, emotional connection to create engagement of their talent. Doing so improves your effectiveness in key relationships, increases your level of leadership influence, and ultimately drives peak performance in your organization. A positive emotional connection begins with the skill of Positive Presence — a new and deliberate way of thinking and behaving that makes the connection between emotional energy and behaviour for effective communication.

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The Intrinsic Nature of Leadership

There are four fundamental aspects of behaviour patterns: (1) executing (driver), (2) influencing (persuader), (3) strategic thinking (analyzer), and (4) relationship building, (stabilizer). With a fundamental understanding of the four aspects of behaviour patterns and how they affect connection, collaboration, and engagement, we can examine their link to the intrinsic nature of leadership. Understanding this link is critical to understanding our fundamental role as leaders and the purpose to shaping driving performance in organizations.

1. The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce results that guarantee the long-term sustainability of an enterprise or what we call an organization. Fact — All leaders must get results. If we are failing to achieve results we are not leading anyone.

2. The most critical factor that determines what makes for an enduring organization is the effectiveness of all its leaders – no one person can manage the complexity of change alone. It is the effectiveness of the collective leaders of an organization that truly differentiates high performing organizations from all the others.

3. Leadership effectiveness has three key components – not competencies – but system components – the necessary and sufficient conditions to produce results at a very high level sustainable over time. The three core components of leadership are:
a. Character – who you are on the inside – your Being and authentic Self;
b. Competence- your technical knowledge, skill, talent, and intellect; and
c. Commitment- your willingness to act and to execute faithfully on the strategic objectives of the organization to achieve the results that create long-term sustainability of the organization.

Character is the leverage to competence and commitment to serve the long-term interests of the organization. This is why individual leader behaviour is the singular most important predictor to organizational performance. We all recognize that leadership is not simply a buzzword but an action, being an active participant in the relationships with others in the organization.

Change is rarely welcomed; it makes us uncomfortable because it forces us to make a conscience effort to do something different. Change forces us out of the status quo and long held standard practices and mental models. In effectively leading others we must acknowledge as Jim Collins said that “good is the enemy of great.” We cannot create great organizations and become great leaders if we are unwilling to change those elements of our behaviour that do not propel us to higher levels of performance excellence against the constant threat of increasing complexity and chaos. No organization can become in performance excellence what its leaders and people are not in behaviour and emotional capacity. Introducing the skill of Positive Presence (the ability to adjust and create a positive and energized mindset within your self through conscious thought processes) will escalate you and your team’s behaviour and emotional capacity for influential leadership.

Influential leadership is a full time, daily pursuit. Peak performers are committed not only to their success but to the success of others. They support and encourage others around them and do what they can to help them achieve their goals and succeed in the pursuit of their mission. Self-awareness helps us understand how our behaviour impacts others and identifies our behaviour strengths. In this process we discover why it is we behave the way we do. Knowing all of this we become empowered with a purpose and the motivation to change. Remember the words of Keyes, “that the hardest thing is not to get people to accept new ideas; it is to get them to forget the old ones.”

If you want to become an influential leader, you must commit to continuous personal growth and development. You must commit to personal change in the aspects of your behaviour holding you back from great personal and professional achievement. If as so many believe, culture trumps strategy for performance, then it is also true that the burden of complexity, exceeding current levels of human behaviour, will trump culture.

Unless you have an integrated leadership development system that provides you the highest level of leadership effectiveness to drive results, your competition is going to eat your lunch and most likely your dinner too.

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Domains of Leadership Strength

John Maynard Keyes wrote, “The hardest thing is not to get people to accept new ideas; it is to get them to forget the old ones.” Change, increased complexity, and chaos are constants in our knowledge and technology driven world. Yet, with all of this change, increased complexity, and resulting chaos influential leaders and their organizations continue to thrive. What distinguishes organizations that thrive in the current operational environment from organizations that fail? What distinguishes influential leaders from those who are not leading effectively? A common denominator among successful influential leaders is they have discovered and use their behaviour strengths to propel themselves and their organizations to peak performance.

Have you ever wondered why you choose to behave a certain way? Tom Rath and Barry Conchie have classified leadership strengths into four domains: (1) executing (driver), (2) influencing (persuader), (3) strategic thinking (analyzer), and (4) relationship building, (stabilizer) to help answer this question. As early as Hippocrates some 2500 years ago, philosophers, psychoanalysts, and now neuroscientists have identified and codified these four fundamental behaviour patterns. So what does each of these domains mean?

Suppose, for example, you identify with being an “analyzer”, or someone who is good at strategic thinking. People will experience your behaviour as cautious, careful, consistent, and diplomatic. It is important to recognize that each of us has a behaviour preference that can be represented into one of these four domains, but we do have the ability to flex outside of our preference into other domains if we first acknowledge our own behaviour preference and the preferences of others. You determine your behaviour preference by how you choose to see the world around you. Your strength domain increases your potential for success by bringing what you believe to be true from your inside into a congruent alignment to your daily outer world of life events. This thinking pattern shapes the way you function in the critical areas of performance, such as communication, visioning, processing information, thinking creatively, managing emotions, aligning of core value or beliefs, and relating to others. This thinking pattern also drives your behaviour relative to the six dimensions of performance: productivity, quality, initiative, problem solving, team work, and change/stress management.

Having awareness of your dominant behaviour pattern as well as the other behaviour strengths patterns of others is essential in leading your team members to higher levels of performance under times of stress, change, fatigue, increased complexity, and chaos. Our behaviour strengths connect us to who we are, what we believe, and how we choose to behave. In a sense, you can consider you behaviour pattern as your own personal log-on, password, and internal operating system similar to your computer. Your “internal operating system” is fundamentally responsible for your behaviour. Your behaviour is fundamentally responsible for your own level of performance achievement and for the level of performance achievement of your team.

Influential leaders discover their individual behaviour strengths and then use them when they are seeking optimal outcome in relationships and performance. Furthermore, if you are going to become an effective influential leader, you must understand the power of collaboration and connection so you can create a team composed of people who have strengths in all four behaviour domains. In this blend and balance of strengths, or by creating teams that manifest behaviour from all four “operating systems” (task focused or relational focused and assertive versus responsive) you will be able to propel those around you and your organization to a higher level of performance. A key ingredient for the optimal blend and balance of strengths is the skill of Positive Presence — a new and deliberate way of thinking and behaving that makes the connection between emotional energy and behaviour and creates the collaboration and connection needed to reach performance excellence.

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The Driving Force behind Behaviour

A fundamental principle, what one might call a natural law, is that people choose to act and behave based on what they believe to be true about how they see the world around them. Neuroscience research substantiates this claim. The human brain functions in a pattern recognition system. Patterning is phenomenally strong and we create a “confirmation bias” to accept outside inferences and influences that match the patterns we have created for how we choose to see the world in which we live. As a result, your brain works very hard to defend your current habits, even toxic and destructive ones. Behind our thoughts are our assumptions, the source for the way we think and act. We have acquired these assumptions throughout our lifetime, and as we collect them and file them away, we rarely bring them back to the surface level of our consciousness. This is fundamentally why leaders can have little, direct effect on changing the behaviour of problem employees unless they establish accountability systems that require self-awareness, self-management, and behaviour-based expectations of human performance not just technical performance.

Imposing outward controls to change behaviour provides only a “quick fix” modification of behaviour that is not linked to any internal control. Once the force of the external constraint, whether negative consequence or positive incentive, loses its effectiveness, individuals will revert to behaviour driven by the assumptions of the internal drivers, mental models, focus frames, and cognitive, confirmation biases.

Consequently, to be truly effective in our responsibility to those we lead, we must:
• clearly establish the standards and desired results we expect in behaviour;
• identify clearly for problem employees why their behaviour does not meet those standards and expectations;
• hold these employees accountable and get them to acknowledge their need to change; and
• if they fail to change, remove them from the organization.

This is the most challenging aspect of performance coaching for team members. To adequately acknowledge the need to change my behaviour, I must be compelled to search for, examine and question those unconscious assumptions I have buried deep in the recesses of my mind. I must challenge the prevailing patterns I have acquired and formed over time and life experiences and replace them with more positive, effective and productive patterns. This is truly why so much coaching and counseling is ineffective in bringing about internal and lasting change to employees with behaviour problems.

At this stage of the process, most employees will say whatever they think is necessary to get out of the counseling session and do whatever is necessary to keep their jobs. They modify their behaviour to your expectation until doing so becomes too much of a burden. This stress is caused when their modified, external behaviour is not in alignment with their internal understanding of how they choose to act and how they choose to see the world around them. Once that burden becomes too hard to bear, they revert back to following their internal drivers (old patterns) and their toxic behaviour returns to the workplace.

When this pattern emerges with an employee, the only question remaining is how long you will continue to invest time in someone who poisons the work place. Firing often isn’t necessary: Our practical work experience suggests that when problem employees get the sense that you are serious about accountability, they will exercise their freedom of choice and decide they do not want to work for an organization where they are held accountable for their behaviour.

Quint Studer, a former hospital CEO, states, “Allowing employees with a bad attitude to work in the organization is a morale killer. When leaders begin to hold employees accountable for their attitudes and ask those to leave who do not meet standards of behaviour, organizations receive a huge boost.” (See his book Hardwiring Excellence [Gulf Breeze, Fla.: Fire Starter Publishing, 2003], p. 81.)

Conventional thinking would have us believe we should be spending the majority of our time trying to “cure” the ills of our problem employees at the expense of investing that time developing the skill and talent of our middle and high-level performers. We need to challenge this thinking and have the courage to replace it with a model that focuses on developing and exploiting the skills of our high performers while mitigating the detrimental behaviour of the problem employee. Build a culture based on individual accountability and you will eliminate your recruiting and retention problem. You will also gain the respect and appreciation of your loyal and productive members of the organization.

At the heart of accountability is the skill of Positive Presence — an innovative thought model connecting workplace behaviour to emotional energy and provides a systematic, programmatic methodology for equipping leaders with the knowledge and understanding necessary for developing and sustaining the behaviour skills indicative of a culture of accountability.

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A Leaders Playbook

Business strategy businessman holding a blackboard planning team strategy on a chalk drawing of a soccer playing field

Throughout the college football season, we can glean many valuable leadership behaviour lessons that are so applicable to the work we do at The Frisina Group and The Center for Influential Leadership.

Thinking of behaviour and its critical link to excellence and performance, we have case studies from The Ohio State University and the University of Maryland football programs. When thinking of college football, or any great successful organization, the thought that comes to mind is a playbook. The great and successful college football coaches do not step out on the field unprepared for their games. In fact they go through weeks and months of studying their opponents. They have graduate assistants pouring over old games, sometimes studying for hour’s single plays or formations. They compile this data into playbooks, which they then present to the skill position coaches, who in turn review game footage with players before games. All the top teams are prepared physically and mentally for the game, and without this level of preparation they wouldn’t win. Without your “winning mentality” you will not be as successful either.

What is the leader’s playbook for your organization? Not just rules and guidelines that every employee gets at onboarding through your HR departments. The reality is you need a standard operating procedures playbook that team members can review on a regular basis. When the stress comes, and when the demands of the work show up, ‘lower brain fear’ response can inhibit high level performance. The playbook allows you to step back, assess the problem, see the solution and start again. You create your playbook simply by starting to catalog your successes and your failures, doing an analysis, what went right, what went wrong, and what would have been improved upon. That way when these problems appear again, which they will, you can refer to your playbook, and chart a path to success. A playbook helps guide your people to attend to what is really important, inhibit distractors, and create a working memory of success. This behaviour links to the brain’s need for goal achievement and interpersonal relationships.

In sum, you need a systematic, programmatic, and science based approach to performance management. The playbook is essential to creating team unity, cohesion, and clarity to execution. If you have been struggling to get the results you desire from the highly talented and smart people you have hired, work on creating clarity of focus through a playbook and include in your playbook the skill of Positive Presence — a new and deliberate way of thinking and being that makes the connection between emotional energy and the behaviour necessary for success.

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Connecting Behaviour to Performance

The belief that a leader’s behaviour is the key predictor to organizational performance is a radical shift in leadership thinking.

To develop a performance driven culture a key element is to begin to focus not on the technical elements and processes, but to begin to consider the impact that poor behaviour has on safety, quality and service. This shift must start with leaders at all levels. Real change will never come from an annual conference or the latest management fad. It will come from within an organization whose leaders are committed to a common purpose and have the character to inspire confidence to achieve the strategic aims of the organization. Sadly and with great regularity, we are witness to the self-destruction of leaders and their organizations who fail to grasp the fundamental connection between individual leader behaviour and organizational performance.

Closing the performance gap in health care or any other noble enterprise is a nonnegotiable imperative. In the middle of this gap between our current levels of performance and where we can realistically improve, real people, the patients, are suffering real and avoidable harm. Decades of emphasis on technical skills and technical solutions have provided some modicum of marginal improvement. The real key to improving the safety and quality of care and reducing the financial impact of a system fraught with errors and mistakes is to focus on behavioural skill development.

One way we can start improving the training and development of our leaders and simultaneously hold them accountable to strategic outcomes is rethinking the annual performance review process. In his article “It’s Time to Get Rid of Annual Performance Reviews,” Merge Gupta-Sunderji argues, “Most employees look forward to the annual performance review the way they look forward to a root canal. Feelings range from anxiety and angst to annoyance and anger. Not that performance reviews are a thrill for managers. Typically, they involve hours of preparation, and the outcome is often a leader and team member who is less engaged than before. If you add the antiquated practice of forced ranking, the result is more people who are disillusioned, disconnected and demoralized than before you started.”

If we have leaders and individuals in our organizations that are so toxic as to disrupt performance, quality, safety, and workplace values then we need effective leadership behaviour that transcends development plans and performance appraisals. Furthermore, we should be developing leaders with the coaching skills to address performance in a systematic and continuing process rather than a one-year event. Research indicates that a consistent and progressive process of meeting with team members on a regular basis with constructive feedback tied directly to performance outcomes gets more at the heart of true employee engagement and success.

For example, a behaviour based feedback tool that engages employee’s behaviours strengths would include questions such as: Do you know what behaviours you display on a daily basis? Are your habits bringing you closer to or preventing you from achieving higher levels of performance necessary to make a significant difference in the lives of other people? This process can and should occur not just one or twice a year, but as constant leader-to-leader, peer-to-peer engagement sessions. We must recognize that this type of process leads to and develops long lasting and productive workplace environments that are healthy, collaborative, and built around the mutual acceptance of trust. This also creates the opportunity to discuss leadership development and performance achievement in a constructive and positive way that will achieve sustaining results — not one that’s built on an outdated model of technical skill achievement and internal office competition.

At the heart of behaviour development is the skill of Positive Presence — a new and deliberate way of thinking and behaving that makes the connection between emotional energy and behaviour and is easily practiced and developed right on the job. For many, it is just a lot of common sense, but for others it is a slow and gentle process that requires the help of both team mates and leaders.

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Why Leadership Efforts Fail

Go online, stroll through a bookstore, attend another training workshop or seminar and you will see that the topic of leadership is everywhere. We talk about it in political terms, business, sports, and tax-exempt organizations. People are captivated and confused at the same time by the concept of leadership and the essential elements that produce a high performance leader.

Though we may be in very different organizations by purpose and function, we all know when we are experiencing and working with an ineffective leader. It is something we feel. It is also something we experience in diminished outcomes and performance. We often learn from these experiences what we do not want to imitate in the technical and behavioural skill lapses of these ineffective leaders. Conversely, we often find it difficult to identify and develop traits of an effective leader, programmatically, that does not seem to be mechanical or a “one-size-fits-all” approach that ignores the unique qualities of individual human beings. Consequently, there are a number of factors that contribute to the failure of leadership development.

Keep in mind that leadership development and aligning leaders toward performance outcomes and cultural improvement is a key strategic priority for senior leadership of virtually any organization.

We have discovered in our research, three critical factors we can identify as the root cause of stalled or failing leadership development programs in most organizations. First is limited participation by senior leadership in the training. Second is the failure to customize the training and development to the needs of the individual leader and the strategic objectives of the organization. Third, is the lack of accountability for changing behaviour following the training that measures improvement in key outcome indicators. The limited participation of senior leaders signals a lack of commitment to the other key leaders of an organization. As one common saying explains, “The difference between participation and commitment is like an eggs and ham breakfast: The chicken participated, but the pig was committed.

If you are a senior leader, you have to ask yourself, how committed are you to real change in your organization and what am I doing to create that change? Senior leaders create strategic vision and objectives for the organization. Leadership development is most effective when the efforts of its leaders are connected to those strategic objectives that indicate the business priorities of the organization. Active participation of senior leadership in development programs gives them the best opportunity to align the development of their leaders to achieving those strategic outcomes. Maintaining your strategic focus as a senior leader and assessing the technical and behaviour skill sets of your organizational leaders is best accomplished by your active participation in the development efforts as well.

Another reason that leadership development efforts fail is the cynicism of senior leaders. This cynicism is often fostered by the false belief that such training efforts will yield minimal benefits but require maximum resources. This mind-set is potentially disastrous, and it communicates to talented employees that the organization is not concerned about their growth and development. An important paradox to remember is that people do not quit their jobs; they quit their leaders. Performance engagement, the willingness of people to bring their talent and brains to work to further the interests of their organizations, is predicated on a culture that invests in people, and leadership that supports that investment. When an organization fails to develop its leaders, or worse, when an organization develops leaders and loses them to another organization, the impact on organizational performance is staggering.

We now have the science to prove that the motivation and passion that we associate with employee engagement, and the focus and clarity that we associate with optimum productivity, and the emotional intelligence that we associate with influential leadership – they only occur within positive emotional energy. We also know that the tangible indicator of emotional energy is behaviour. The skill of Positive Presence is an innovative thought model connecting workplace behaviour to emotional energy and provides a systematic, programmatic methodology for equipping leaders with the knowledge and understanding necessary for developing and sustaining the behaviour skills indicative of an energized work force.

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Inspiring Others to Embrace Change

What makes people, who possess knowledge about what they need to do to actually improve their performance, alter and change their behaviour? The answer is volition- a purposeful, intentional choice.

People choose to change their behaviour when they have a compelling interest to do so. Sometimes the reason for such a decision boils down to dissatisfaction or unhappiness with the status quo; the consequences of not changing are too hurtful or unpalatable. Richard Beckhard and Rubin Harris offer this classic equation regarding change resistance:
dissatisfaction x desirability x practicality > resistance to change

Dissatisfaction is an emotional reaction that is so negative it prevents a person from continuing routine or usual functioning. Although it is a negative experience, dissatisfaction provides a motivation to change. Desirability is the emotional reward for making a change. It is the “what is in it for me” driver.
Practicality is the realistic, attainable, and emotional acceptance of the change. It is willingness and trust to believe in a doable and practical alternative to maintaining the status quo.

Keep in mind that when it comes to behaviour and the brain, we are talking biology not psychology. f-MRI studies show beliefs are generated by complex recurrent firing of patterns of neurons accompanied by subtle but very specific changes in hormones and neurotransmitters. This brain activity is developed by experience and linked to the feelings that experience engenders. In other words, our brains are hardwired by experience and feelings about dissatisfaction, desirability, and practicality. The stronger the positive or negative feeling and the more frequent the experience, the more we become hardwired to behave the way we do. Remember the neuroscience adage – brain cells that fire together, wire together. To change behaviour you must first use experience to change beliefs. A person must be convinced that the change will improve performance, outcomes, and workplace satisfaction.

Your outward circumstances are always perfectly aligned with your inner thinking. You are the cause of your circumstances. Consequently we cannot change our circumstances without first changing our thoughts. Do not find yourself cursing your outward circumstances all the while you are feeding their cause. Transformational change is directly linked to the cause and effect relationship of our thinking.

Nothing changes until our thinking changes. You can behave your way into better thinking only if you are willing to trust the new behaviour. For most people, change works in the other direction – thinking about, and the emotion that comes from dissatisfaction with the status quo, and the desire for something better, drive me to try something new in behaviour. Change your thinking, you change behaviour. Change behaviour and you change the outcome.

Say No to the Status Quo
Influential leaders are highly dissatisfied with ‘status quo’. They are unwilling to allow preventable pain and suffering to continue needlessly. They are unwilling to waste precious resources and to settle for second-rate productivity and financial performance. Volition enables dissatisfied leaders to make a choice to bring back emotional meaning and purpose to their work. In addition, volition increases the desirability factor in the change equation. People will likely voluntarily change their behaviour if they are told the “why” (the conviction) before they are taught the “what” (convincing) and the “how” (compelling). This concept has existed in neuroscience and in clinical psychology for a long time. Simon Sinek has been able, most recently, to talk about “begin with why” in a way that is resonating throughout multiple industries and leadership boardrooms.

Suffice it to say, all great innovation, really big changes, are inspired by the concept of “why” – the purpose, the cause, and the belief in what many peak performers refer to as the ‘urgency imperative’. If you inspire me by raising my level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, raising my level of desire by demonstrating the benefits, and showing me that what you are asking me to do is practical, doable and achievable, then you increase the likelihood of me embracing the change. To change behaviour you must first use experience to change your thinking of previously held beliefs. Experience generates knowledge and emotion that inform future experiences. The more positive the feelings and the more direct the linkage to experience, the more likely thinking and beliefs are to change. When thinking and beliefs change (dissatisfaction, desirability, practicality) so do behaviours.

When you are ready to change, start with the skill of Positive Presence, an innovative thought model connecting workplace behaviour to human energy and provides a systematic, programmatic methodology for equipping leaders with the knowledge and understanding necessary for developing and sustaining the thought and behaviour skills needed for influential leadership.

One of the key characteristics of influential leaders is their ability to stimulate volition in themselves and among their followers. They do this by creating a sense of urgency, living a life with purpose, and pursuing excellence. When we choose to take this step in our leadership behaviour, we will see profound impact on our resulting outcomes, goals, and objectives. As research indicates, actively motivated and engaged team members work harder, have less instances of loss, and reduced errors, mistakes, tardiness, and sick leave. This occurs because the connection forged through behaviour change impacts those who work with us to pursue excellence and focus less on the conviction of just doing their jobs. As Simon Sinek (Start with Why) suggests, “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

If you believe that change is hard, wait until you are experiencing the painful effect of not changing. Life experience provides little mercy to those who are unwilling to change. So here is the question to ponder: do the brains of your people light up in the high performance areas of their brains when you walk into the room or when you walk out?

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