In 1992, neuroscientists in Parma, Italy, were studying cells in a monkey’s brain that fired only when the monkey raised its arm. One day, a research student walked into the lab with an ice cream cone. When he absentmindedly raised the cone to his mouth, the monkey’s brain cells for raising its own arm were triggered, and its arm lifted along with the arm of the student.
Researchers have since found that the brain is filled with neurons that mirror not only the actions, but also the emotions, of those around us. These mirror neurons operate as antennae, allowing us to pick up signals in our social world. When we detect the emotions of another person through their actions, our mirror neurons replicate those emotions.
Your team is not immune to the stress reported by 56% of Americans over today’s political climate. Regardless of the midterm election results, some members of your team (possibly even you) will be very unhappy with the results.
During times of uncertainty, it is the leaders’ role to bring order to chaos, calm nerves, and manifest a non-anxious presence. Here are three things you can do during this election season to keep yourself and your team focused:
1. Do a walkabout. Leadership builds confidence. Leaders routinely make important decisions — often under conditions of uncertainty — that affect many people over a long period of time. Operating under those circumstances helps leaders navigate the peaks and valleys that come with the job. But, your team members may not have built skill around decision-making. The stress of deciding who to vote for, or of deciding not to vote, can leave them with action anxiety.
Make sure that you build time into your day to do a walkabout. Letting your team see you in the halls will serve as an instant stress reliever. You’ll remind them that they are not alone, and you will get through this together.
2. Focus on Your Core Culture. Research shows that diverse teams are more innovative. Having a diverse workforce could, however, cause some tension during an election season. Team members who are encouraged to openly share opinions and challenge one another’s assumptions could quickly find themselves at an impasse when it comes to debating political issues.
This is the time to remind your team about what binds you. The organizational values, your mission, and solving customer problems can re-ground your team members and eliminate the drama coming from outside of the office. Find examples of your culture in action and reward those behaviors.
3. Talk about the Johnson Wax Company. In 1886, Samuel Curtis Johnson was a parquet floor salesman in Racine, Wisconsin. One day, he realized that there were more floors than there were products to keep them clean. He mixed his first batch of Johnson’s Wax in his bathtub, abandoned the flooring business and started selling wax as fast as he could make it. Since then, five generations of Johnsons have led the now $10 billion company, making it one of the oldest family-owned businesses in America. Last year marked SC Johnson’s 100th anniversary. The company has weathered the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights era, 9/11, and 24 presidential administrations.
As you go about your day during this election season, your team will be picking up on your signals. Remember that both your verbal and non-verbal patterns are being imitated. Stay grounded in what unites and provide context that will help them withstand the political peaks and valleys of the time.
Question: How can picturing a monkey, an ice cream cone, and an Italian graduate student help you lead your team through election anxiety?
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