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How to Be a Great Boss - According to Science

Written by: Snježana “Ana” Billian, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise

The way your people feel about their work mostly depends on how they think of you as a leader. Do you think that’s an overstatement? Well, Gallup’s research has shown that “managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.” Unfortunately, many leaders don’t realize the extent to which their actions and words negatively influence their employees’ productivity, emotional well-being, and even physical health. And it’s not always because these leaders are overconfident and narcissistic.


Sometimes it’s because they are, well, human. Psychological studies have shown that most of us don’t have an accurate picture of how we come across to others and how our actions impact their emotions. Have you given your team member constructive feedback, only to find out they were upset or even offended? Or perhaps these days you’re checking in more often with your team to make sure they’re doing well while working from home, and as a result, they may feel you don’t trust them enough.


Now that the future feels uncertain and our social interactions are still limited, there’s an even higher risk that your communication may come across as more negative than you intend it to be. The good news is that you can leverage insights from brain science to help your team stay motivated and show them you’re a great boss. Here are three things to start with right away:


1. Show your people you trust them. Instead of falling into the trap of micromanaging, use your time and energy to help your team envision a better future. Then trust they have what it takes to bring this vision to life, without you telling them what to do every step of the journey.


What is it that you and your team want to create in the next year? Why do you want to do it? How will you feel once it’s accomplished?


Nothing will demonstrate to your team that you trust them like when you genuinely involve them in creating your future vision. Research by the neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak has shown that when you ask for help from colleagues instead of just telling them to do things, their brains produce more oxytocin, a brain chemical that increases trust in humans.


A great recent example of how to put this into practice comes from Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity. When—due to the COVID-19 pandemic—faced with the choice to either go bankrupt or lay off 20% of his employees, Price decided to go for a third, more unconventional option.


He sat down with every employee to talk about the difficult situation they all found themselves in and asked for ideas. As a result, every employee agreed to take a pay cut so that nobody had to go, and they were even happy about it. What are the problems you’re currently facing where you can leverage the group genius of your team?


2. Shift your focus from productivity to your team’s physical and emotional well-being. The last months have been tough. And if you’re like most managers, you’re busy pivoting new projects and ideas to adapt to the new way of doing business. Even if they feel stressed, your team members may feel guilty to admit they need a break.


It’s your job as a leader to notice when your people need to recharge. Research shows that sufficient rest isn’t only important for our body; it’s even more critical for our brain, especially when it comes to creative problem solving and emotional regulation.


You can help your team avoid feeling overwhelmed by introducing a flexible work schedule. Adam Weber, chief people officer and co-founder of Emplify, went even a step further and introduced a four-day workweek to help his people cope with stress caused by the global pandemic.


But recharging is not all about taking time off work. When we’re repeatedly exposed to negative stimuli (such as the news about the coronavirus), our brains tend to have a greater focus on the negative aspects of our experience. If we’re constantly catching up on the latest media updates, even a day off will not help us recharge properly.


As a leader, you can help your team focus on good news. Share your wins, positive experiences, and lessons learned. Then ask your team to do the same.


3. Get your team’s creative juices flowing. Are you looking for new ways to help your team boost their creativity and performance while working from home? Encourage them to take a few hours each day to work together.


Studies of software programmers who worked in virtual teams showed they were more productive and creative when they were online at the same time than when their collaboration was spaced out.


When we work together online, we’re more engaged because we feel someone’s waiting for us and paying attention to our work. We’re also able to build on each other’s ideas through rapid bursts of communication.


This phenomenon is also called “burstiness.” It happens when we’re collaborating with someone, and ideas are flowing so much that we feel like our work is just bursting with energy.


As Adam Grant writes in his LinkedIn article The Daily Show’s Secret to Productivity: “Burstiness is like the best moments in improv jazz. Someone plays a note, someone else jumps in with a harmony, and pretty soon, you have a collective sound that no one planned. Most groups never get to that point, but you know burstiness when you see it.”


If you focus on building trust and taking care of your team’s well-being, chances are your team will be one of the few groups who get to experience the magic of burstiness.


For more information - visit my website and connect with me on LinkedIn

Ana Billian, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Snježana “Ana” Billian is the founder of Great Career Studios, an online platform for modern leaders who want to leave a mark and create a career they love. She’s also a leadership development manager at the global professional services firm EY.

Ana is the co-author of the bestseller Inspired By The Passion Test – The #1 Tool For Discovering Your Passion And Purpose. She graduated with a degree in economics and holds numerous certifications in the field of personal and leadership development.

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