"If we have any power to diagnose, we are bound to recognize that the so
called ills which so afflict us all are, above all, growing pains."

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 362

Estimated reading time:  2:15


Hello from New York City!


This is my third trip here this year, all of them with the NeuroLeadership Institute. I am attending the annual summit and am still trying to process the amazing content from the last two days.


One insight today for me came in the session on the neuroscience of ethics and values. Four scientists were discussing their findings. One spoke about his insight that we’re teaching ethics in business schools and elsewhere poorly. To get into his reasoning here are some contextual pieces.


  1. It turns out that we tend to emulate and mimic each other. Therefore even people who say they would never cheat will cheat when they see other people doing it. 
  2. When dopamine levels in our brains go up, our moral behaviour appears to go down. And what are two drivers of increased dopamine? Sex and large amounts of money.


So, what happens in classrooms and offices when we tell stories about all the bad ethical behaviour? We may in fact be inadvertently giving people the idea that such behaviour is what is needed in our businesses; it is the behaviour to be emulated and mimicked. And because of the large amounts of money we talk and her about, we are more likely to seek the dopamine rush.


So, if you want to build a culture of trust and collaboration where people do the right things for the right reasons, stop talking about the bad guys (and it is almost always guys in these stories) who do bad things. Instead talk about the heroes, talk about the people who get dopamine rushes from doing good in the world, who are valued and honoured by our organizations and culture. One of my colleagues was talking about how good it was that in Canada we celebrate Terry Fox, and even with their sometimes cheesy production values, the “Heritage Minutes” that highlight our heroes like Nellie McClung https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdbG6EIHrbs 


Who are the people in your organization that you want people emulating and mimicking?