Are you in the driving seat?

Information overload is the new normal.

Our brains are pummelled with multiple messages driving mixed agendas as we are exposed to more information in one day than previous generations received in a week or even a month.  With so much data coming in, it is more important than ever to be clear and connected to what we want from life; to understand our Leadership Agenda.

Too often our agenda for leadership is narrow, limiting, uninspiring and soulless. Our picture of leadership is defined by others – friends, family, work, trends on social media – and has no real connection to what is meaningful or motivating to us personally. Without personalised meaning, leadership can feel empty, pointless and de-motivating, which leads to a self-fulfilling cycle of under-performance. Evidence shows that lack of achievement can impact physical and mental health, social and relationship outcomes, and feelings of self-confidence and self-worth. Not surprisingly, satisfaction with life goes down.

Who is setting your leadership agenda? What does leadership look like for you?

“Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
― C.G. Jung.

‘Minimise danger, maximise reward’ is the organising principle of the brain and because of this leadership triggers powerful neurological and psychological responses in us.

When we perceive we are doing well, the reward system in our brain is triggered, increasing testosterone levels in both men and women, and sparking the brain’s ‘pleasure messenger’, dopamine [i]. Dopamine is the chemical in our brains that underpins the pleasurable feelings of enjoying delicious food, winning a bet, getting a pay rise, having sex.

Dopamine makes us feel great – alert, energised and motivated. It also acts as a tranquilliser, flushing the stress-hormone cortisol from the brain and may also have mild anti-depressant qualities.

There’s a lot to love about what doing well does to the brain.

The psychological effects of doing well are also powerful – boosting feelings of self-confidence and control, both of which drive levels of overall wellbeing [ii] and ultimately our ability to feel well and do well.

So what happens when we feel we haven’t met the standard? When we perceive that we’re not doing well in our leadership?

Whilst dopamine drives the reward response, cortisol takes over when we feel threatened. Cortisol and adrenaline fuel our fight or flight response and trigger several physiological responses that are helpful in life or death situations but reduce our capacity to see, hear and process complex or peripheral information in times of threat and fear.

Psychologically, we can feel that our ego is at risk, through internal dialogue like, ‘If I didn’t succeed at that, then maybe I’m not the person I thought I was.” This can be particularly potent when the ego is threatened by the ‘social-evaluative threat’ – a negative judgement by others. According to Sally Dickerson and colleagues of the University of California at Irvine, this is one of the most stressful situations that we experience – more stressful than financial insecurity, work strains and pressures, health concerns, worries about children, time demands, or fear of burglary attack [iii]. Shame and fear of not being good enough sit at the heart of this threat and there are evolutionary reasons why it has such a significant impact, relating to social status in ‘tribes’ and the very real survival need to be part of a pack.

The obsession with wealth, status and leadership is all around us – from standardised testing in schools and narrow KPIs in workplaces, to the relentless posts on social media (with appropriate filters and photoshopping of course!).

So, who is driving your Leadership Agenda? Are you in the driving seat?

Three ways to understand and develop your Leadership Agenda

The first step is awareness.

1.   What does leadership look like in your life currently? At work, how is leadership shown? What is rewarded, formally or informally?
In your personal life, what do you value, what do you admire in others? How do you define leadership? What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like?

2.   Once you’ve got a clearer idea of what your current Leadership Agenda looks like, you can critically assess whether it is relevant and how you might like to adjust it. Does the current Leadership Agenda reflect how you want to live out your leadership? Does it reflect your values, your joy, your beliefs?

3.   Having assessed your current Leadership Agenda to your personalised perspective of leadership, you need to get specific about what you would like more of and what you would like less of.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this is an opportunity to ignore all of your work performance criteria because they don’t align with your values. It needs to be realistic. But if that’s where you’ve come to in assessing your current Agenda, then you may need to ask whether the role you’re in is right for you.

What would you like more of? Think about what you enjoy doing – what lights you up, fills you with energy? Consider what’s important and meaningful to you – what do you value and how can you put that into action through your leadership?

This part needs to be specific so that you can identify 2 or 3 concrete actions that will mean you are living out your leadership in a more aligned way.

For example, perhaps through reflecting on the questions above you realise that being with people energises you and that you value collaboration. Concrete actions that allow you to live out this aspect of your leadership might be to get involved with team-based work opportunities or if that is not possible, to organise informal opportunities for people to get together and share information and ideas about their work as they share lunch or have a coffee together.

We can broaden our agenda for leadership beyond the terms that others dictate and deepen it to become an agenda to which we feel deeply connected and motivated to fulfill.  You can make choices and prioritise how you spend your time based on your leadership agenda, rather than somebody else’s.

In doing so you will feel well, do well and lead well – win, win, win!

Like some help to clarify and live out your Leadership Agenda?
Click here for information on Paige’s coaching programs.

  Copyright 2019: Dr Paige Williams

Paige Williams, PhD

Paige Williams, PhD

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach

Paige helps leaders elevate their impact to lead teams who deliver results and create a culture that feeds high performance.

Leveraging Leadership for positive purposeful impact.