The Internal Communications Conference held in Piccadilly, London, late March was intended as an opportunity to take time out to create space to reflect on the role and techniques of modern communications.
The digital age has challenged established best practice, especially considering a range of disruptive factors including changing workforce demographics, the inclusion and diversity agenda, conscious leadership, Brexit, sustainability and technology.
In the following article I have taken one factor that came out of the conference and will investigate the impact on conscious leadership in the light of a greater understanding of neuroscience and other related influences.
Value is created by working together
Companies are not machines. Businesses are living systems consisting of individuals, thus one cannot divide business and people. The foundation is real people, real human beings with emotions, thoughts, goals, hopes, dreams and frustrations. Typically, this includes a need to protect their private sphere combined with a desire to master the job professionally. Moreover, a satisfying business environment involves successful teamwork which requires mutual understanding, interrelatedness and respect between colleagues.
Neuroscience as a tool to improve performance
Deborah Hulme, founder of Culture and Engagement Consultancy, Minerva Engagement presented topics about neuroscience, mindfulness and NLP. Hulme focuses on improving business performance from the inside out, identifying crucial traits and actions for the professional leader to embrace for better execution.
The art of mindful leadership
Hulme named four key topics that impact different levels of leader performance and explained how focusing on these can optimize excellence. Needless to say, an overall successful leader will display growth and excellent employee engagement, which has a positive effect on performance, realization of company goals, hence contributing to a healthy and growing business environment.
Brain, mind and body
Firstly, Hulme focuses on the interrelatedness between body, mind and brain. Taking care of the body with healthy eating habits and exercise is the first step. This affects the whole system, both our internal wellbeing and our thinking capacity, as well as emotional and mental balance. Hulme points out the difference between brain and mind. Whereas the mind is software, the brain is hardware. The brain is the physical structure. It requires quality sleep and good food to nourish it for optimal function, cleaning out any toxins in the system. If the brain is unhealthy, the mind will be affected and is likely to also become unhealthy. Every employee should be responsible for their own wellbeing as this influences the environment in their individual brain. If the working environment is toxic, minds are effected, hence the organization itself may also become unhealthy, creating negativity and discontent among employees – leading to what might be called a vicious circle. If the employees are fed with toxic thoughts, disregard, and not least discouragement this can influence all aspects of performance and the working environment. Fundamentally, the leadership team influences the level of employee engagement and should be responsible for enhancing a healthy environment in the organization. Good results are created by happy and healthy people.
Fixed versus open mindset
Another trendy topic is mindset. From a neuroscience perspective mindset has a cascading effect on the brain that impacts how well we perform. We know that a clear mind and clear thoughts facilitate doing our tasks and overcoming challenges effectively. If the brain is overloaded or somehow blocked and stuck with ‘unfinished business’ we are likely to struggle to think efficiently or perform to our potential. Clarity and insights can be obscured.
A leader with a fixed mindset is less likely to collaborate appropriately and will eventually be overtaken by transformation and change. Hulme encourages a growth mindset. She advocates shifting from a fixed to a growth mindset implying the value in being open to external factors and opportunities that may be valuable in overcoming future challenges. In conclusion, she encourages leaders to sort out their thinking before taking action.
Emotional intelligence and emotional relationships are key. How do we elaborate, how do we network? What level of consciousness do we engage with when in dialogue with others? Do we fight with our colleagues or do we listen? Hulme implies that relationship is a determining factor and any shortcuts are secondary.
According to Keith Grint, professor of Public Leadership, Warwick University, listening is a crucial factor to create a trusted and safe working environment where employees dare to ask inappropriate questions with the risk of failing – which simply implies being human.
The art of listening
We all know the feeling of being cut off when we have issues that are important to us. This can feel worse when our boss or other colleagues don’t appear to have time to listen. The consequence to apparently being ignored can be a feeling of shrinking and contraction or not being taken seriously. How can we perform with excellence when we feel like that? Simply, we cannot.
Listening is an art where we use empathy to reach across the space between us. Passive attention does not work. It requires all of our energy to properly focus on the other person – this is not easy. Listening means being fully present and fully aware in the moment, though if this is for longer periods of time this can be exhausting.
Hulme refers to two types of listening; the active, the reductive and the critical listening versus the passive, expansive and the emphatic listening.
Hulme emphasizes that it is not to choose one over the other. We must find balance between the two types of listening, as well as thinking about how we switch between speaking and listening. The point made here is that if a leader wants change and wants to change something in the team or the organization, they have to listen to their team to HEAR what their employees are saying.
The rules have changed
The sense of belonging, commitment and contribution to a higher purpose in an enterprise that embrace good values and enhances employee engagement and motivation must not be underestimated.
As a leader, it is worth taking time out to consider the strategy in advance and direct the energy appropriately. There should be room and opportunity for changes during the process of decision making by listening to the whole team. Good performance and efficiency are outcomes that reflect the whole process.. Being absent, unfocused and out of emotional balance during execution will affect results. Jumping in the wrong direction, ignoring conflicts in the team and tension with or between employees will backfire. Relationships are key. If they don’t work, nothing works.
Hulme summed up her presentation by emphasizing the real responsibility for a leader in a broader and wider perspective approaching issues with a spiritual touch. As a final remark she directs the comprehensive responsibility of a leader: “if you don’t like what you see – change it. As a leader you are responsible to change the output because what you see is just a reflection of what you put in.”