In my previous post, The Leadership Balancing Act, I cited the statistic that the most effective leaders—those who are able to be both task- and people-oriented—are in the vast minority; less than one percent (<1%) of leaders can focus on both results and relationships with sufficient skill.
The reason lies within neuropsychology. There are two networks in the brain that function similarly to a see-saw. When we focus on technical stuff, we neglect the people stuff, and vice versa. The best of the best leaders put in the work to overcome this neurological tendency.
Here are a couple of the tools, behaviors, best practices, and habits that can help you manage your brain to lead better:
Plan your one-on-one meetings like an Oreo cookie
First of all, your one-on-one meetings with direct reports or your leader need to have an agenda. An agenda is a task-oriented tool, but using one shows respect for the other person’s time and earns you respect as well. Planning ahead this way sets the stage for the credibility aspect of trust, a component of strong workplace relationships.
One tip is to set up your agenda like an Oreo cookie. Picture the outer cookies as the relationship building and the filling as the tasks discussion. Start with a personal discussion, move to discussing tasks and projects, and finish up with building your relationship.
Before the meeting, use your empathy skills to get in the right frame of mind. What is that person thinking, feeling, and dealing with this week—personally or professionally? Put away email, project plans, and notebooks and really listen and relate for the first couple of minutes. Then explicitly shift to the work you need to discuss. Plan to finish a couple of minutes early so you can again shift the focus towards the emotional aspect of work—workload, performance expectations, satisfaction, and any challenges and conflicts.
Curb strong negative emotions with data
Displaying negative emotions spreads that negativity to others and can hurt your relationships. It can also put people in defensive mode, shut down authentic expression, prevents you from getting honest feedback, and even make people want to limit their interactions with you.
But sometimes you just see red, and even if you hold back harsh words, your body language says it all. Other times you get visibly upset at the worst possible time—when you need to be at your best or displaying a positive demeanor.
One way to neutralize the effect of these strong emotions and get control back is to focus on tactical, analytical work. Nothing calms me down like staring at an Excel spreadsheet or solving a difficult technical problem. That is the brain shutting down the emotional network and engaging the logical side.
These are just two practical examples; the myriad of possible techniques to manage your brain are endless. The trick is to realize whether you are naturally more results-oriented (analytical) or people-oriented (emotional), and then take steps to work the other side into your professional encounters.