In his Leaders Eat Last project Sinek gives a detailed rundown of the four brain based happiness chemicals that he says help us thrive in the workplace. The first one is endorphins. You might get a rush of endorphins when you are for example, running, or laughing. Their purpose is to mask pain and make you feel good.
The second chemical is dopamine, which helps you achieve goals and relates to a sense of accomplishment. It is, he says, that feeling of accomplishment or wellbeing when you cross something off your ‘to do’ list, eat, or complete other self-gratifying achievements. Sinek says these two chemicals are ‘selfish’ chemicals in that they operate in isolation from other people and help you get things done.
The third brain chemical is serotonin, which you might call the leadership chemical, as its about the self-confidence and pride you might get from public recognition. And the fourth is oxytocin, which is synonymous with love, trust and loyalty. Hugging generates oxytocin, although I imagine it would depend on how you feel about the person you are hugging! These last two chemicals, according to Sinek, are about strengthening connections and working together.
Looking after your happiness hormones is easy!
Luckily the recipe for taking care of all these happiness brain chemicals seems fairly simple: get plenty of exercise, laugh, love, make some clear goals, give and receive positive feedback, get a pet (to hug) and eat well. I heard that chocolate and coffee are on the ‘good’ list for dopamine so I’m already happy! Of course this is not the full story on brain chemistry so medical advice is important if you think you have an imbalance.
When we look after our brain chemistry, we are making sure that we have energy and creativity. I’m not a neuroscientist, obviously, but the literature I’ve read suggests having regular breaks, with a good lunch (protein with perhaps vegetables or salad) and a relaxed stroll in the fresh air.
What’s this got to do with me? I’m just the team leader!
You’re right, everyone is responsible for their own brain functioning. However a good team leader will create a culture that supports optimal team functioning, for example creating activities for rewarding achievement, sharing laughter and looking for opportunities for people to work together in a positive way.
So your second job is to coach the team
There’s an educative role there: perhaps you could get an expert in to deliver a seminar on Neuroscience and Performance. Leading by example is also important, so ditch those sandwiches devoured at your computer and make sure there’s a table where people can sit and chat over lunch.
You could also discuss effective brain habits with your team. For example, it’s a good idea to spend time offline, especially when doing important work that requires focus and depth. Another example is multi-tasking: as Sinek once tweeted, ‘There’s no such thing as multi-tasking, only doing multiple tasks badly’.
‘Research shows that people are less creative, more stressed and make two to four times as many mistakes when they deal
with interruptions and distractions.’
As well as agreeing on all the ideas above about exercise, a good diet and so on, Webb underlines the importance of coaching your people on staying energised and resilient, and using coaching techniques such as extreme listening, in which you hold off on the advice and allow people to solve problems themselves (which they generally can).
Your third job: Keep your team safe
A third responsibility for a team leader is to ensure that people feel psychologically and emotionally safe in the team. Sinek talks about creating a Circle of Safety (Trying not to think about Meet the Fockers here!). He says that people don't do their best work in a threat state, therefore the leader's role is to build a climate of trust and a sense of belonging. Leaders need to put others first and thereby create a trickle down culture of loyalty and support.
Patrick Lencioni, in his book 5 Dysfunctions of Teams, finds that the biggest issue in teams is the lack of trust and the inability for team members to be vulnerable with each other. The more a team leader can do to foster a safe space for vulnerability the better: this results in a superior team.
There’s a lot more to neuroscience and team leadership than I’ve had space for here. There are plenty of articles and books to explore on the topic.