Throughout our brains we have “mirror neurons” that track what others do and feel. Our brains then create sensations that allow us to experience what others feel and even behave in very similar ways to others we observe. We are adept at following people that we feel are in authority positions. Our ancestors had to learn to take the lead from the tribal elders to preserve their own well being. There was not much time to provide directions when a wild beast approached. Just follow the leaders!
Advertisers are experts in this knowledge. When viewing a commercial of a celebrity parched with thirst coming over to a cooler filled with a certain soft drink our brains bring us, the viewer, the same feelings of needing to quench a thirst with that liquid refreshment.
When we see someone get hit in the nose with a bouncing ball, we react as if we too feel that same pain, and we grimace with discomfort.
For business leaders this concept becomes specifically applicable within the realm of creating corporate culture.
Research done by MIT management professor Edgar Schein shows that company culture is a direct result of a business leader’s influence on the overall workplace. He presents that those at the top create a model that establishes the group norm because it is those at the top that have a great influence on the behaviors of the employees. Our brains mirror and mimic those we deem as influential. This dynamic, rather than a written mission statement, creates the practiced company behavioral culture.
Schein provides these leadership behaviors that matter the most when evolving the culture of a company:
What leaders most pay attention to and what they ignore. The more focus a leader puts on a specific area of the business by personally being involved, as well as those areas that they do not attend to, the more these areas become a priority/non-priority for the employees.
Emotional involvement. When a leader exhibits an overt emotion on a particular issue, employees notice, and move to attend to that situation because the workers are tracking the emotional direction of the leadership.
Reaction to crises. When a company is in a state of turmoil, the employees become more anxious and are more sensitive to the responses of leadership. The pattern of leadership reaction points to the core values of the company for the employees to follow.
Rewards and Citations. The behaviors of employees that result in the attention and positive reinforcement from leadership will be repeated by workers over time to gain that same acknowledgement. These learned behaviors will determine the ‘best practices’ of an organization.
As the saying goes, “Lead by example.” Owners and operators of companies take notice that this is exactly how your employees’ brains are programmed to follow.
Contact us to find out more about analyzing and understanding your organizational culture through a Leadership Culture Survey.