LA 083: Fighting Disengagement

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monster boss running meeting.pngAre you tired of wasting time dealing with workplace drama and politiks? Perhaps you are crippled by toxic leaders and uninspired cultures and you know that there is a better way.

In this episode we're going to introduce you to the triggers of exemplary workplace behaviour at the neurological level. And we'll tap into four of these triggers that will #UnLock performance and #UnLeash Team Power. By implementing these four you'll see higher productivity, well-being, retention and accountability. You'll see reduced absenteeism, less drama, the end of corrosive gossip and fewer accidents.


In Leading Difficult People, I shared with you about our deep seated human need for safety, belonging and mattering. The first two of those, safety and belonging are so primal to our personal engagement at work (or in life) that this time, I'm digging in a little more to the neuroscience that will allow us to create the ideal conditions for our teams to thrive.

Human beings are social animals, we need some degree of social acceptance in our lives, and without it, we shrivel and die.

limbic questions whats next and how am i doing.pngOur limbic system is the mid part of our brain and is responsible for overseeing our emotional lives and is important in what we learn and commit to memory. You'll know about the amygdala, for example, the primary control centre for our freeze, fight , flight mode. That's housed in the Limbic system. Dr Jim Coan of the Virginia Affective Neuroscience Laboratory suggests that the limbic brain spends the entire day asking two questions: What's next? and How am I doing? And whilst these are broad generalisations, it's an incredibly helpful way for leaders who seek actionable models to improve engagement at work.

How safe do you feel when you do not know what's coming next compared to how you feel when you do know what's coming next? Like most people, you'd probably feel less safe.

When leaders become more predictable, consistent and transparent they become clear on what will happen next. When a leader seeks closer alignment around shared values, purpose and command intent – they are creating a consistent and predictable and participatory culture with immediate benefits to the limbic system.

joe isolated from group.pngOur biological need to belong to a group or tribe drives the question: “How am I doing?” Our survival depends on the social resources of the group and so our limbic system is constantly assessing our membership status. “Am I in?” it asks. “Am I worthy? Do they see the value I add?” The limbic system doesn't ask this question once in a while; it asks every minute of every day!

When a leader validates and recognises a team member, when they are acknowledged or appreciated, that isn't just some silly social gesture. It's a deeply important message direct to the recipients limbic system: “You have been noticed. You are seen and valued. You are safe. You are in.” “And here's some useful feedback to help you stay safe and remain in the tribe.”

Don Rheem, author of Thrive by Design, says that answering these questions are behaving in a consistent and predictable manner and offering validation, recognition, and feedback. This makes team members (and others) feel safe and that they belong. He goes on to share four ways that leaders should focus their efforts to help their team members feel wanted, trusted and supported which in turn will improve retention, engagement and profits.


Neuroscience points us towards creating the ideal conditions that allow the brain to thrive and perform much closer to their potential. These conditions will help team members be more engaged, productive, healthier and happier in their work and workplace.

Encourage trusted relationships and collaboration

We thrive in a culture of trust, caring and collaboration. When our work tribe trusts each other and shares resources to support each other and the overall command intent, team members feel safer, feel that they belong and that what they do matters to the rest of their work tribe and the organisation. Leaders who promote a pro-social workplace can reap these benefits. This helps satisfy our hunger for social connection that feels safe.

Help employees find meaning and purpose

Gone are the days when job security and a wage are enough to make employees show up every day. If a leader wants to retain talented staff (whilst reducing the massive cost of replacing them) they should strive to create and maintain a deeper connection for team members to their work, their colleagues and to the command intent of the organisation.

Create challenging work

High performers, the bedrock of great organisations, need a positive challenge in their workplace ecosystem. Not just a challenge, but also the recognition and celebration that comes with successfully beating the challenge. Leaders need to set goals that are within reach and recognising victory before rushing into the next challenge.

Give employees authority to innovate and take risks

Hierarchies predicated on fear and distrust stifle innovation and focus the mind on daily workplace survival. Highly politikal organisations or those with key players who talk the talk but do not walk the walk kill off performance excellence. Whilst a workplace grounded in trust and team member empowerment, set the foundation for team members to take risks and make mistakes without the fear of punitive backlash. Innovation and risk-taking may not motivate everyone, but the fact that management respect and has confidence in team members supports a culture where high performers will stretch and challenge themselves.

joe chill scared in bed monster under bed.pngLeaders who create and support these four conditions in the workplace give team members more reason to feel wanted, trusted and supported. They will feel safer, that they belong to an important group and that what they do matters. This will, in turn, positively impact team member engagement, retention, morale and profits.


How can you make this happen when you are leading from the middle of the organisation?

So you're not the big boss and you agree with all of the above but isn't it the CEO's job to make this happen?

But you can make it happen. Maybe not for the entire organisation, but you can do something for your team, your small part of the whole. I liken this to starting a camp-fire. Camp-fires attract attention – not least because they provide light in the darkness and warmth, but they attract people to them because other people are there.

Start in your small part of the workplace world, and slowly, but surely, other people will notice that there's something different with your tribe. Something they like. Something they want. You can share what you are doing like lending someone a lit branch to start their own fire. Before long, the whole organisation is lit with many small camp-fires and eventually, even the dullest CEO will come to the fire.

Check out this episode!

Professional Leadership Caddy

I help people unlock their talent, unstuck their potential and unleash their own (and their team's) performance through behavioural neuroscience based coaching and mentoring.

Most whip smart independent contributors, technical specialists and managers get frustrated trying to be heard and understood by their business leaders and they lack enough time and inclination to develop the skills they need to move into management and leadership positions.

Proven systems. A personal coach and mentor.

I combine time-tested systems, behavioural neuroscience and psychology research and practical tools with the accountability and guidance of a 1:1 coach and mentor to UnLock your Talent, UnStuck Your Potential and UnLeash Your Performance.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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