Do You Get My Drift?

One of my favourite ways to help senior leadership teams to break down silos and lead more effectively together is to invite them each to share a time when they felt proud of a contribution they made or progress they achieved.

I describe the process like an artist painting a masterpiece…

We begin with a charcoal outline – this is the when, what and where of their experience.

We then add colour to the outline by thinking about the journey involved – the full spectrum of experiences…  ups, downs, struggles and wins, – and the talents and strengths that they drew on along the way.

Once we have colour, we add light and shade for depth and glitter and sparkles to go 3-D with their masterpiece, as they remember the people involved – the helpers, the hinderers and those who cheered from the side-lines providing all important belief and emotional support that they could do it.

Finally, we ‘set’ the masterpiece by sharing why they chose this story to share, the meaning and significance it has for them.

This story building and sharing is a powerful process.

It fosters reflection capacity and self-awarenessthrough the layering process of constructing the masterpiece.

It invites confidence and clarity of what’s possiblegoing forward grounded in the lived experience of what’s been done before.

And it creates deep connection and understandingthat, in my experience, supersedes silos and petty politics.

Why is this?

Because our brain processes information received through stories differently.

It immediately becomes more ‘sticky’ because more regions of the brain are activated specific neurotransmitters are released that influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

For example, emotions heighten our ability to remember data and improve information processing; they are a signal to the brain that this experience is important. As a result, the brain pays much more attention and stores the information that is charged with emotion into deeper regions of the brain such as the cerebellum. The more we relate to the characters or the story, the more likely we will be able to recall the information and experience.

You can see how, when we are in direct conversation with the ‘main character’ of the story, this process is even more powerful.

Stories also trigger the release of neurochemicals that sharpen our focus and connect us on an emotional level.

According to research by Paul Zak, stories that elicit distress and empathy also motivate a desire to help others. The distress or tension results in the production of cortisol and sharpens the listener’s focus. It’s the brain’s way of saying, “Pay attention! This might be important!”

Feelings of empathy generate oxytocin, which is what enables us to share the human connection by making us more sensitive to social cues from those around us. These feelings of connectedness increase our desire to help, extend generosity or demonstrate altruistic behaviour.

As leaders we are often encouraged to tell stories to our people, to show them the way forward, but I wonder if – as we head towards the end of the year – asking our people to share a story of contribution and progress that they are proud of and that creates confidence, clarity and understanding is actually what good looks like.

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