Are You a Socially Intelligent Leader?Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership, Goleman writes that the most relevant finding coming out of social neuroscience is that “certain things leaders do—specifically, exhibit empathy and become attuned to others’ moods—literally affect both their own brain chemistry and that of their followers. Indeed, researchers have found that the leader-follower dynamic is not a case of two (or more) independent brains reacting consciously or unconsciously to each other. Rather, the individual minds become, in a sense, fused into a single system.”
Not surprisingly, he writes, “Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations—or even mastering social skill sets—than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.” Authenticity is the key here.
The discovery of mirror neurons by Italian neuroscientists has led us to the understanding that when we detect someone else’s emotions, our mirror neurons reproduce those same emotions creating a kind of shared experience. In a recent study, one group was given negative performance feedback with positive emotional signals; the other was given positive feedback but with negative emotional signals. Later, the first group reported feeling better about their performance than did the second group. Goleman concludes, that “if leaders hope to get the best out of their people, they should continue to be demanding but in ways that foster a positive mood in their teams….Here’s an example of what does work. It turns out that 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 humorless will rarely engage those neurons in his team members, but a boss who laughs and sets an easygoing tone puts those neurons to work, triggering spontaneous laughter and knitting his team together in the process…. [T]op-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did midperforming leaders.”
How can we become socially smarter? We improve by doing. Our behavior creates and develops neural networks, so we can strengthen and create new neural patterns by practicing being more socially aware and by fine-tuning our communication style.
One might assume that women are better at this than men, but studies have found that “gender differences in social intelligence that are dramatic in the general population are all but absent among the most successful leaders.”
The article is free and is found over at the Harvard Business Review web site.
Book: Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
Book: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
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