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Cool, Calm & Collected in leadership

Being a leader who is cool, calm and collected means you are sought after and highly regarded.

Using the model below, the attributes of being cool intersect high levels of awareness (both self-awareness and an awareness of others) and knowing our own strengths and skills that differentiate us from others.

The attributes of being calm intersect our strengths and skills and understanding our values (our own; our organisation’s and those of the people we work with).

The attributes of being  collected intersect values and awareness.     

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Judith E. Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence®, writes about ‘up-regulating oxytocin producing behaviours and down-regulating cortisol producing behaviours'.

Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by our adrenal glands, which mobilises energy and helps us with fight or flight reactions. This is an essential hormone for our survival. However, when high levels of cortisol continue to be produced over a long period it can weaken our immune system, cause inflammation, impact our memory and weaken our ability to think creatively or coherently.

You may recall my experience of this in my blog about ‘sticks and stones will break my bones’ when I lost my twin toddler aged boys for about five minutes in a large shopping complex and was hijacked by my Amygdala and had a massive cortisol hit. My ability to think rationally completed disappeared for a moment!

Oxytocin is a nurturing and bonding hormone often associated with childbirth when mothers are bonding with their new born babies. However, everyone, not just new mothers, produce it when we feel safe, socially confident and trusted. When oxytocin is produced, anxiety is reduced, we resonate in rapport with others and we feel energised.

Our behaviour and how we interact with others can either be cortisol (stress) producing or oxytocin (energising) producing. We usually know when we are experiencing either. We feel bad, or we feel good.

At our best, being cool, calm and collected, can shift our chemistry to oxytocin producing and shift others’ chemistry as well. This can happen spontaneously with people we have just met, or with people we have known for a long time.

In organisations, teams can be high-performing with high levels of oxytocin, or low-performing with high levels of cortisol.

In the high performing team, there are high levels of oxytocin as team members feel trusted, empowered to do their job and they do it well. They continually work on how they can do even better and how to evolve their ways of working and thinking. Everyone in the team feels valued, focused on building on each other’s capacity and capability to learn together to co-create new ideas. The whole team is invested in being the best they can be individually and collectively with a view of lifting the entire organisation.

There are ways to create these teams. It is absolutely essential that leaders drive this, though each person in the workplace can work towards it!

In Judith E. Glaser’s words ‘up-regulating oxytocin producing behaviours means creating conversations that inspire transparency, relationship building, understanding, a share vision of success, truth and empathy.

Key words for up-regulating oxytocin producing behaviour are: inclusion; appreciation; expansion (of mindset), sharing; discovery; developing (others); celebrating success.

In the low performing team, there are usually high levels of cortisol. There is often too much to do, with the wrong skill sets in place. Or the behaviours of some individuals are creating stress in others. The leader may have unrealistic expectations on what the team is capable of producing, or doesn’t understand how to effectively lead which in turn down-regulates individual team member’s ability to think effectively. Trust is low and people are focussing on just surviving.

There are ways to support these teams and turn them around. As before, it is essential that leaders drive this and provides the support and guidance to develop oxytocin producing behaviours.

Again, using Judith E. Glaser’s words ‘down-regulating cortisol is about minimising the types of conversations that trigger fear, power plays, uncertainty, a need to be right, and groupthink’.

Key words which can down-regulate oxytocin producing behaviour and up-regulate cortisol producing behaviour are: exclusion; judgement; limiting (mindset); withholding; knowing; dictating; criticising.

Next time you are in a conversation:

  • Focus on the words you are using so that fear and distrust are down regulated (cortisol producing behaviours) and engagement and trust are up regulated (oxytocin producing behaviours)
  • Rather than telling someone something, create a curiosity mindset and ask more open questions to extend their (and your) thinking further
  • Watch the reaction of people you are interacting with: are they opening up or shutting down based on what you are saying.

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