The structure of our mind
“Thirty years of neuroscientific research has demonstrated that we have two minds—rational and emotional—that work together to shape how much and how well we work. The emotional mind constantly “reads” every situation we’re in, instantly comparing it to habits of perception buried in long-term memory, and floods the rational mind with impressions, feelings and reaction patterns to choose in the next moment.
As a result, most of our behaviour is driven by situational cues triggering our habits rather than by conscious choices about what to do next. Employees’ situations drive their work engagement.
Manager and employee: The “critical couple”
We now know that the emotional mind is wired to seek persistent positive emotional connections with others—a state of trust. It’s also wired to protect us in that pursuit by avoiding uncertainty and any threat to our conscious sense of self-worth. When managers positively connect with their employees, these neural needs are served, their minds become positively aligned, and positive motivational energy infuses their work.
Organizational success begins with this critical couple. Why not align its dynamics with the needs of the emotional mind? Not as easy as it sounds.
To manage, be in control
We learned to view managers as controllers of people, as our emotional mind recorded the behaviour of every person who controlled our lives and each situation in which they were doing it (e.g. teachers at the front of the classroom; principal’s offices as distant, fearsome places).
Our mind stored this information so that when we became a manager, the classic pattern for “manager as controller” would simply appear. The pattern comes complete with character guidelines (e.g., be dominant, intelligent and decisive); and action scripts, including:
- Be distant and demanding;
- Protect your objectivity by not caring about employees; offer little recognition for work well done (“That’s what they get paid for”);
- Never involve them in decisions
- If they raise issue, tell them to ‘suck it up,’ because ‘smart, dominant and decisive’ people don’t listen—they give orders.
As a result, many managers kill the emotional connections that motivate employees.
Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, summed up this problem in an editorial on why most workers are miserable at work (and coincidentally spoke to the power of the emotional mind). He said employees are miserable because they have managers who can’t clearly communicate two things: (1) what the employee’s job is (reduce their uncertainty), and (2) that they care about them (reduce any threat to their self-esteem).
Employees’ emotional minds react to this kind of behaviour with wariness, even foreboding. They can’t fight or flee, so they disengage and work less.