Mirror Mirror

by | Nov 8, 2019 | Leadership

I love this quote by Niccolo Machiavelli from the early 16th century.

“Let not princes complain of the faults committed by the people subjected to their authority, for they result entirely from their own negligence or bad example.”

Niccolo Machiavelli (circa 1517)

Essentially what Machiavelli was saying back in the 16th century is what behavioral science is now confirming. That is; if you are a leader, don’t complain about how your staff are behaving because it’s the direct result of the example you are setting.

The latest research into mirror neurons shows how we use our body to communicate intentions and feelings. Our gestures, facial expressions and body postures are social signals and ways of communicating with one another. So, the way you react and behave in the work place for example will affect your colleagues and the business as a whole.

There’s a subset of mirror neurons whose only job is to detect other people’s smiles and laughter, prompting smiles and laughter in return. A boss who is self-controlled and humourless will rarely ignite those neurons in his team members. But a boss who laughs and sets an easy-going tone puts those neurons to work, triggering spontaneous laughter and knitting his team together in the process. A bonded group is one that performs well.

When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons create an instant sense of shared experience. A leaders’ emotional display can prompt followers to mirror the feelings and actions they observe.
More importantly people in positions of power have the ability to activate neural circuitry in followers’ brains and that can be very powerful.

Everybody knows that when people feel better, they perform better. So, if leaders hope to get the best out of their people, they should continue to show strength and set high standards but in ways that foster a positive mood in their teams. One thing is for sure the old carrot and stick approach alone no longer works. The traditional incentive systems are simply not enough to get the best performance from teams.

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