Margaret Graziano, Sharp Alignment CEO and author of the forthcoming book “Ignite Culture” about leading, healthy, high-performing organizations.
In this time of the Great Retirement, with ever advancing technology and a rapidly growing hybrid workforce, we connect rapidly and frequently every day and communicate across dozens of platforms and devices. We need to achieve more in less time and increase our productivity, right?
wrong. Here’s the truth: multitasking is a myth. I believe this is related to what leadership guru Patrick Lencioni calls “the adrenaline bias,” where business leaders are so addicted to working at a frenzied pace and seeking quick fixes that they have a hard time stopping, thinking, listening to each other and addressing underlying issues. Today, more and more professionals struggle with this adrenaline addiction, making it difficult to be fully engaged and present in the activity, conversation, or experience that lies ahead. It’s a big problem.
Scattered Brain Syndrome
The adrenaline bias and our multi-platform workdays both contribute to what behavioral and organizational psychologists call cognitive distraction or scattered brain syndrome, which has had a profound impact on human behavior, thinking and interactions. And since companies are human systems, this is an important piece of the puzzle that leaders need to understand.
A 2007 study, highlighted in a BBC article on: scattered brain syndrome, found that “knowledge workers are interrupted by email and other distractions every three minutes, diminishing their overall ability to get something done. The study estimates that such disruptions can leave a 50,000-employee company around $1 billion in lost time, diminishing creativity.” , errors and burnout costs.” And this situation has only gotten worse since 2007.
Companies tend to blame individual employees for burnout, but employee distraction is really a matter of organizational culture and as such a matter of leadership. But if you’re a business leader battling your own adrenaline addiction, how can you help your people fight theirs? That is not possible. To change your organizational culture and the behavior of your people, you must first get your own house in order.
It’s basic neuroscience
The human brain is amazing. It can handle more than: 11 million bits of information per second. However, our conscious mind can only handle 40 to 50 bits per second. And as we try to digest all those informational bits, we also have thoughts:up to 6,000 per day. To face this competition, our brains take shortcuts that allow us to make quick decisions, but these can lead to unconscious biases that cloud our judgment. In addition, adrenaline and cortisol respond to this overload by preparing our bodies physically and mentally for action. But these stress hormones can also wreak havoc on how we listen and interpret situations, often resulting in poor decision-making, strained relationships, frustration and stress.
Instead of helping, these powerful evolutionary mechanisms will end up hurting us. As our brains run around, pulled in multiple directions, deep work, focus, authentic human connection, and meaningful strategic thinking are all compromised.
If this sounds like your experience, it’s time to ask yourself: is an adrenaline and cortisol high going to get me and my company where we want to go? I can tell you from 25 years of experience, the answer is no. Your company is not in a sprint; it’s in a marathon. You need the more proactive parts of your brain to stay in control. You have to retrain your brain to stop functioning in a state of crisis and start functioning in a state of full presence.
Presence from within
Much has been written about the importance of leadership presence—a leader’s ability to instill trust and take charge. That’s a crucial skill, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Executive presence is an outside-in construction. What I’m talking about is an effort from within: relearning how to be in the world of work and life and fully participate in every moment, big and small.
Mastering this behavioral change takes time, practice, focused energy, patience and dedication, but once you do, you will understand what it feels like to live and work naturally in a state of full presence – a perspective that promises great benefits. .
For example, before entering a meeting, establish an intention about what you want to accomplish, what you want others to get out of the session, and/or how you want to appear: “I’m a grounded, patient listener.” Another approach is to take check-in breaks throughout the day: three to five minutes of slow, long-drawn-out breathing with your feet firmly on the floor. This allows you to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, calm your adrenal glands, and tap into your executive brain, or prefrontal cortex.
It also helps to track your moods – day by day, even moment by moment – because our moods are an indicator of what we expect to happen. If we walk into the room (or Zoom) in a bad mood, it dictates our perspective, our communication, and even our listening; it is contagious.
Before my team and I walk into the room to conduct a workshop or training, we review our company values and what we promise to deliver. Then we each communicate what to leave at the door in order to be fully present. Finally, we create intent around who we will be: “Today I will lead from my heart” or “I will be a catalyst for change.”
I have seen the value of this learned approach in a very powerful CEO I have worked with for 24 months. Although he still operates from a place where he is in charge, he no longer enters meetings ready to strike. Now, when there is a challenge, instead of looking for a quick fix or scapegoat, he will walk around the block thinking about his vision for his future and for the company. He focuses on what he wants to create and how he wants people to feel, even in the midst of chaos.
Over time, and with consistent practice, this fundamental shift to full presence will transform your life, leadership and business. Be present for yourself. Be present for your people. You need them and they need you – all of you – in the room. The results will enrich your work life, and your whole life, in ways you could never have imagined.