How to Build Trust to Accelerate Performance Through Change

Neuroleadership is a term created by Dr David Rock, a high profile neuroscience coaching guru, in 2007. Since then various studies have made connections between neuro driven leadership behaviour and organisational change. Neuroleadership is fast becoming much more than an interesting concept bravely mentioned by ‘first movers’ in board room discussions around organisational change. It is now firmly on the change agenda and shaping the change agenda whether relating to leadership behaviour, employee communications or organisational design. There is now a clear understanding around the impact of change on human psychology and how such change is perceived, whether as a threat or a reward.

Whether leaders understand neuroscience or not, they will still send out neuro signals to their workforce, consciously or unconsciously. There is no default mode. Different brains respond differently to different leaders. In one study it was found that dependent on the personalities of the leader and subordinate, brain activity ranged from positively driven emotions such as high attention, focus and excitement; to negative driven emotions including reduced attention, low interest and withdrawal.

Our brain circuitry also drives trust levels, a recognised trait required for high-performance teams and working. Oxytocin, a brain chemical, is released when a person is more receptive to feeling trust toward a stranger. Our brains actually determine a level of trustworthiness within milliseconds of meeting, which is constantly updated when more information is received or processed, as the brain takes in a person’s appearance, gestures, voice tone, and the conversation content. Compared with people at low trust companies, people at high trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives and 40% less burn out incidence (Zak, 2017).  High trust companies are invariably high performance companies.

Fortunately, leaders can neuro build trust by sending out the right signals not the wrong ones, for example, by reducing the threat and increasing the reward triggers, demonstrating fairness and being authentic. The very act of trusting someone activates mirror neurons in that person, which is a signal to reciprocate that trust. Conversely, leaders who behave in ways that increase threat triggers will fail to build trust and create the potential for toxicity in their workplace relationships. In the words of Rachel Cotter Davis (Davis, 2016) ‘a boss micromanaging (you) is like someone walking behind you in a dark alley, in terms of what it does to your brain’. 


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