Most people think that improving productivity is about streamlining workflow, eliminating duplicated efforts, and keeping the length of coffee breaks in check. Leadership expert Simon Sinek disagrees.
After listening to Sinek’s keynote at HubSpot’s Inbound conference in Boston last week, I now know that productivity begins with chemicals. Chemicals that, when in balance, create the type of work environment that enables risk taking and open-minded thinking.
Sinek described these chemical drivers of productivity, the “happy chemicals,” as EDSO (endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin). And he explained that these chemicals, when properly balanced, enable us to function to our full potential.
- Endorphins block pain and enable us to "power through" to reach a goal. Think of a "runner's high."
- Dopamine is the goal setting chemical, enabling us to focus on an end result and producing the thrill of accomplishment when it is reached.
- Serotonin is the selfless response we feel as pride, especially valuable in that it encourages us to push hard to make those who sacrifice for us proud. This encourages leaders to sacrifice for the good of the group, and the group to strive to please the leader. We are not drawn to selfish leaders, but to those who appreciate and acknowledge the work that others do to help them reach their goals.
- Oxytocin is love, friendship, hope, and joy. It is the happiness we get when we are able to perform an act of generocity with no expectation of recieving something in return. Oxytocin is also produced by human contact; it is why we shake hands and pat eachother on the back. People with more oxytocin are better problem solvers, are healthier, and live longer.
- And then there is cortisol -- our early warning system, the first stage in our fight or flight response. Cortisol is released when we fear retribution -- it creates tension and stress. It can create an unhealthy work environment where wasted energy is expended on avoiding punishment rather than achieving reward.
Good leadership removes barriers like fear and the need for self-protection, which trigger cortisol and close down collaborative, cooperative responses. When those barriers are removed, the EDSO chemicals work in tandem to boost creativity, improve health, speed thought processes, and increase productivity.
Great leaders inspire this response, Sinek continues, by acknowledging and appreciating the work done at their request. Consider the chow line at a marine base, where the line forms in reverse order to rank. In recognition of the sacrifice made for them by those they command, the officers eat last. And the pride inspired by that recognition leads to further effort and sacrifice – a circle of success.
Company leaders are thought to be responsible for the numbers. Sinek disagrees, explaining that leaders are responsible for the people who work for them, and it is those people who are responsible for the numbers. This, he says, it what it means to lead.
See Simon Sinek describe “Why good leaders make you feel safe” on TED talks, and read a full description of the EDSO chemicals on duffy social’s “’Leaders Eat Last’: an Incredible Tale by Simon Sinek.”