How Hormones Shape Our Behavior – Including How We Lead

How Hormones Shape Our Behavior – Including How We Lead

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I just read the great article from Harvard Business Review about “The Neuroscience of Trust.” The article thoroughly dives into creating trust in a workplace from neuroscience’s point of view. Why this is a particularly interesting topic and also very relevant for every leader is in short:

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.

Fascinating timing

The timing of HBR’s article is of course very suitable as I have lately been thinking a lot of the same topic: You might even have noticed that I already have released whole bunch of postings about the topic based on my own experiences. Although my list is not written as to be series of scientific articles, the direction still point’s to the same direction: The trust is generated by trusting and taking each individual as an individual – all people are not the same, but the mechanisms that affect us are quite often the same for everybody.

All people are not the same, but the mechanisms that affect us are quite often the same for everybody.

Oxytocin – the hormone that makes you care and do the extra effort

The brain network that oxytocin activates is evolutionarily old. This means that the trust and sociality that oxytocin enables are deeply embedded in our nature. Yet at work we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks, not on making friends. Neuroscience experiments by my lab show that when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves. A Google study similarly found that managers who “express interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being” outperform others in the quality and quantity of their work.

In the HBR article the writer Paul J. Zak emphasizes the importance of oxytocin (I.e. the hormone that deepens the relationships between many mammals). That  is something very important to understand. So important, that you should read the article right now, right here: https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-neuroscience-of-trust.

Even by the risk that you might not remember to come back. But that is the risk I am willing to take in order to help you to understand the hormones significance to our behavior both as leaders and persons who are being led.

I am not an endocrinologist, but I can have a look

I am very convinced that hormones are one of the most important factors in determining our behavior in everything we do. As it is quite obvious that I am not an endocrinologist, I still have read quite much about the topic. At least enough so that I know that our actions are guided by few strong hormones including – but not limited to – adrenaline, dopamine, estrogen, oxytocin, serotonin, and testosterone. No human can escape the influence of these hormones and even a slight imbalance usually leads to noticeable health and/or mental issues. Although these problems are not the focus of my blog, I do think that this HBR article is enough to point out that understanding our biological influencers will help us to understand how we should be led, as well as why we work the way we work.

What does this mean?

By understanding some few principles we suddenly are capable to understand better both ourselves as well as our colleagues, bosses, spouses, teenagers, random strangers  and even leaders of nations.  For example did you know that it is the testosterone that helps you to take risks but also makes you lust for power – at the same time reducing empathy.

Because of this it is also worth mentioning that due to this, women are often much better in situations when it boils down to the empathy skills. Actually, the effects of testosterone(s) and estrogen(s) are the big reasons why men differ from women and vice versa – it’s the hormones that shape us to be different, not the gender. To neglect this fact would not be smart thing to do.

But let me make one thing clear: I feel very strongly that all people are equal and should have the same possibilities. Said that, I also think we should be able use our gender strengths when aiming to do winning strategies. It’s like finding your super power and focusing into it:Strenghten your strengths

Human resources protip

I also want to share this scientific founding from Psychology Today – it could be a deal-breaker for many leaders around the world:

In experiments, when status-striving, high-testosterone men are stripped of their status, they become angry, excited, and cognitively impaired. But more surprising, men with low resting-testosterone, without much impetus for status, become angry and impaired when placed in high-status positions they simply do not want.

So as many of you might know, it is very often a mistake to promote experts to work as managers IF they do not show signs of being interested in leadership. Leadership position should never be an accident waiting to happen.

Leadership position should never be an accident waiting to happen.

If you remember 3 things, remember these

  1. The trust should not be left to be generated by an accident, there are several ways to create it
  2. Our behavior is strongly affected by our hormones
  3. All people are not the same, but the mechanisms that affect us are quite often the same for everybody.

One Reply to “How Hormones Shape Our Behavior – Including How We Lead”

  1. Because males and females differ in the ratio of androgenic and estrogenic steroid hormone concentrations, behavioral endocrinologists have been particularly interested in the extent to which behavioral sex differences are mediated by hormones. Virtually all subsequent sexual differentiation is typically the result of differential exposure to gonadal steroid hormones.


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