Leading What?

Throughout the years I have attended many leadership seminars that have taught and refined my communication skills, effectiveness, and the other necessary qualities a leader needs. Yet among all the workshops and conferences I have attended, I have not even once been taught what exactly I am leading. Yes, our teams are made up of people. But what about the people? What makes up our team members that gives us very effective and reliable colleagues or gives us clashing and conflicting members who act like oil and fire? The answer is simple - our brains.


More specifically, I want to talk about four brain chemicals - dopamine, endorphin, serotonin and oxytocin. Do you know what they are? Have no clue about them? Don’t worry, until recently I was in the same boat as you. A while back I was walking through a bookstore and came across their business section. Curious as to what they had in stock, I scanned the shelves for something that would catch my eyes. A glinting gold spine winked at me, and I found “Leaders Eat Last”, by Simon Sinek. Does the author sound familiar? If you are like me, who is always learning and refining my leadership capabilities, you may have seen Sinek’s Ted Talk about the power of why. This book focuses on team dynamics, and from which I want to share a little of what I learned from Sinek.


First, let’s talk about what he refers to as “selfish chemicals” - endorphin and dopamine. Endorphin covers up the pain we experience from something like running, often accompanying a stress response to make sure the body can still do what it needs to keep itself alive. Dopamine makes us feel good when we accomplish small tasks or goals - think of it like a dog treat every time you did something the brain approves of.


Now let’s talk about Sinek’s “selfless chemicals” - serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin makes us feel proud of what we did, that we did not disappoint those who have invested time and energy into us. Oxytocin is called “the chemical love” by Sinek, since it is chiefly responsible for what makes us feel happy, like the enjoyment you would get from hanging out with your best friend.


Without Sinek’s explanation of these chemicals, I used to see my team’s interactions as different personalities, different experience, that clash and mold together to work for a common cause. But with the addition of what endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, my perception of my teams have now evolved into seeing what causes those different personalities, different experience, to do what they do. Now I hope you will see those you work with in a different light as I did.

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