23/03/2011

By Bridget Biggar, MD of Management Intelligence Consulting Ltd

Q. What makes a leader a leader? — A. they have followers

Authenticity — when we are being authentic, everything is in flow, from our conscious thoughts to unconscious beliefs, body language, energy, karma, chemicals in the body and brain, skills and capabilities, communication etc are in alignment with the task in hand — when we are in flow, we are at our most productive, performance is optimised and results are most likely to be positive. Most importantly you feel good and the people around you feel good. They will sense it — your energy will resonate — and they’ll pick up on it — it’ll enhance motivation, transparency and communications and their own performance.

This is why a leader’s manner — not just what s/he does but how s/he does it matters so much - and it’s connected to the design of the human brain: or what scientists call the “open loop” nature of the limbic system (ref: The New Leaders, Daniel Goleman). An open loop system depends largely on external sources to manage itself. In other words, we rely on connections with other people for our own emotional stability. Scientists describe the open loop system as “interpersonal limbic regulation” whereby one person transmits signals that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, and even immune function in the body of another.

A term often used is “Leadership leakage” by which we mean the leader’s mood unconsciously or consciously affecting all those around him/her.

Human beings however are not very sophisticated at, nor entirely comfortable with feeling, sensing or knowing what is going on in their bodies and the connection to their minds — they may not feel quite right or know they feel something but cannot articulate what or why. So much other noise is going on — the brain cannot attend to it all — plus our rational minds come up with all kinds of other explanations and strategies to defend us — so our responses can be easily misinterpreted or clouded by the status of the person we are dealing with, our role and responsibilities, cultural behaviours, the way we have been socialised etc.

Animals on the other hand are far more in tune with their senses — they can literally smell anxiety, fear, stress, anger, confidence or lack of — all clues to lack of authenticity. Because of the physiological and chemical changes mentioned above breathing can change, heart rate, hormones and therefore the very smell of our skin. We are all so practised at covering all of these things up with our daily ablutions, putting on our face, our uniforms and masking our feelings that we can fool one another if we make enough effort but we cannot fool animals.

Animals (and humans but we have all kind of strategies for not acting upon our animal instincts see above) can largely be categorized into flight or fight when they pick up on a threat and simply cannot or will not be lead under such circumstances. Horses are flight animals, dogs fight. Other categories such as flock (zebras), frolic etc exist but are less usual.

In his book Daniel Goleman identifies climate and leadership resonance as key to creating feel-good, productive companies. His analysis suggests that, overall, how people feel about working at a company — can account for 20 to 30 percent of business performance. If climate drives business results, what drives climate? Roughly 50 — 70 percent of how employees perceive their organisation’s climate can be traced to the actions of one person: the leader (and the leaders in the organisation).

A resonant leader is attuned to the people’s feelings and moves them in a positive emotional direction often through communication and humour (verbal and non verbal) and being authentic with their own values. When a leader triggers resonance, you can read it in people’s eyes; they’re engaged and they light up. On the other hand, if a leader lacks resonance, people will go through the motions — they may be managed but are not being lead.

So coming full circle — one of the ways you will be able to find out how authentic someone is and therefore how they may resonate with their staff is to try getting them to lead a horse or a dog.

So what?? Understanding leaders and our reactions to them and the consequences for their own and others’ performance, is a complex and multi-layered process to unravel however raising awareness of the different layers involved and their interdependence — from physiological, to conscious and unconscious, to behaviour, interpersonal skills — using tools like Lifo® means that changes can be made.

Management Intelligence uses these tools as well as others, to encourage an appreciative enquiry into what is happening and encourages, through development interventions, an ability to recognise and play to our strengths, moderating our excesses and augmenting our blind spots. You could say we uncover the human truth — the authentic person, and use it to enhance performance.

In our work with organisations this helps us to help companies deliver on their brand promise — the expression of the brand through its people so that the image and the experience of the brand are authentic. This creates a self perpetuating alignment of energy or resonance both within the organisation (motivation and performance) and externally (loyalty and trust). When the values, goals and associated behaviours of the brand are aligned with its people then you can see, feel and hear examples everywhere of how the organisation is really “living its brand”, thus creating employee and customer satisfaction as well as increasing sales and brand value.

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