Archive for the Category ◊ Uncategorized ◊
Being outdoors doesn’t just make us feel better, it makes us more productive. Spending time amongst nature makes us
more creative and seems to recharge us mentally as well. Readying us to take on the next stint at the desk. Try taking your lunchbreak in the park or incorporate some ‘green time’ into your morning walk or run.
Not only that, it has been shown that hospital patients whose windows face a natural environment – including trees and grass – recover at a faster rate than those who face city-scapes. And five minutes of exercise surrounded by nature boosts immune system function, subjective well-being and decreases the risk of mental health problems.
Do you need any more excuses to get outdoors
The biology of why we do and don’t perform
We are always looking for new things that we can do to help people perform at their best in our teams. And while we have a lot of ‘observational’ or ‘behavioural’ explanations from case studies and biographies, I want to give the scientifically proven things that will guarantee a tremendous chance of providing the environment for success.
Before I can do that, though, I need to explain why people do and don’t perform at their peak. I’m not talking about scaling a cliff or running a marathon – I mean why people perform at their cognitive best; doing their best work for us day-in, day-out. I want to show you what happens physiologically when we perform at our best.
To illustrate this along the lines of something we already know, I want you to cast your mind back to psych class or that weird facilitator you had once at a retreat, and I want you to remember the Stress-Performance Curve (otherwise known as the Yerkes-Dodson Curve). It looks something like this:
Most people have seen this before. There are three main components:
1) The left hand side of the curve where too little stress means that we are unable to perform at our best
2) The middle of the curve or the ‘performance zone’ where there is just enough pressure for use to perform. This is often called ‘eustress’, and
3) The right hand side of the curve where we get pushed over the ‘stress cliff’ and it is here that too much stress impairs performance. This is often called ‘distress’.
So as we travel from the left hand side to the right, what actually happens? This is where it gets interesting…….
1) Underperformance – why no stress is bad news
We are inherently lazy creatures. Humans, that is. Evolution has made sure that we are wired to preserve as much energy as possible. When we were roaming the Savannah, we didn’t know where our next meal was going to come from, we didn’t know if we were going to get a good night’s sleep, so we conserved as much energy as possible.
Because of this, where possible, we work on auto-pilot. We rely on old instincts and old patterns that worked for us in the past. These take relatively little effort and, as the name I have chosen suggests, are automatic.
This is the equivalent of driving home after a hard day at work. You have relatively little energy and no need to really concentrate (after all, you’ve driven this route a thousand times before). If you get a call from your spouse asking you to pick up some bread and milk, you most likely forget. Your auto-pilot isn’t programmed to stop at the store.
2) The Performance Zone – when stress is just right
So it is with the application of a little bit of stress that we get our best results. This extra drive makes sure the right chemicals and hormones are stimulated to switch on our pre-frontal cortex. This is essentially the brains executive and does all that really valuable stuff like decision making, analysing, problem solving, prioritising – all the things that we need to thrive in today’s workplace. The trouble is that this executive is hugely inefficient – it takes up a lot of energy – so we tend not to use it unless we have to.
Now, this is the equivalent of driving along on auto-pilot when suddenly you spot a cop car in the rear-view mirror. You get a bit more analytical, you check your blind-spots, make sure you are indicating, keep checking your speed……..you just think more.
3) Performance Decline – over the stress cliff
Now what happens? Well, imagine you’re driving home, doing the auto-pilot thing, then you see the cop car………but then you check your blind spot and as you turn around you see a truck from the opposite side of the road jack-knife and start sliding toward you. What do you do?
Ok, now here’s where it gets hairy. Higher amounts of stress cause the emotional centre of our brain to switch on and this tends to divert resources away from the executive and back to the auto-pilot. Again, it’s a survival mechanism. We want to act on instinct under pressure because it takes too much time to actually ‘think’ and also we need to preserve that energy to either fight or flee. Chances are in the above situation you don’t even know what you do – you just do it.
The problem with going ‘over the edge’
The biggest problem in the final zone is that, while instinct and old patterns and previous behaviours served us well through evolution, in the information age this doesn’t help our performance. We need to be constantly analysing and looking for new and better ways to think about problems.
So people don’t perform because of three very simple reasons. Either A) there just isn’t enough pressure for them to do anything but act on auto-pilot, or B) they have run out of resources and can no longer engage that energy-intensive executive, or C) there is too much stress and they have reverted to auto-pilot once again. Cognitive performance, therefore, is a resource problem.
I am going to take the approach that people actually want to succeed in their jobs. And with this in mind, the rest of my posts throughout October are going to focus the scientific evidence about what creates just the right amount of stress to get people into the Performance Zone, but keep them from being pushed over the cliff. How do we get the resources to the right areas at the right time?
How testosterone levels affect leadership style
“What is your job?”
This is a question I often ask first-time managers (and some senior ones as well) and they regularly answer something along the lines of, “To keep people in line,” or “To make sure that people are doing their jobs.”
This feeling of ‘command and control’ – managers feel that it is their responsibility to wield the stick and keep everyone on track – gets amplified by the level of testosterone produced in our bodies. That is to say that, generally, the more testosterone the greater the level of ‘aggressive’ behaviour and the greater the need to exert control over others.
This level of testosterone is greatly determined by genes (we all have our own ‘base’ levels of testosterone) and is also responsible for many admirable things including drive and ambition. One might then conclude that many managers will have relatively high levels of testosterone because they have had the drive to get to the position in the first place.
But there is also one other condition that increases testosterone levels: status. With this in mind, what we observe in the research is that when people are promoted to a position of greater perceived status, their testosterone levels increase as a result.
Now what we have is a manager who possibly already has a high testosterone base, put into a position of status, which also increases testosterone levels. It is no wonder that many managers feel that their role is to ‘make sure that people are doing their jobs.’
So how do we change? Well, the answers are many and varied. However, the most likely answer, given that this is partly a status problem, is to change the manager’s perception of status. This might be getting clear about what doing a good leadership job actually represents, or even getting them to understand that their status improves when they help others do their best.
The ‘right’ answer for leaders is that their job is ‘to create the environment for their people to perform at their best’. This rarely happens under command and control bosses. In fact there are some studies that have shown that the mere thought of a controlling boss decreases cognitive performance by up to 15%.
At any rate, there is a definite need to help new managers re-define their roles and what success means in their new environment. This probably goes for some senior managers as well.
Re-Wiring Performance Workshops and Keynotes