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Use your brain (science) to motivate your people

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,People Management

Thanks to breakthroughs in neuroscience, we can better understand how the brain works … and help your employees outgrow bad habits.


1. Trying to change any hardened habit requires keen attention, leading to actual physical pain. Not surprising, then, that people do whatever they can to avoid change.

2. False expectations block change. Human brains have become powerful at detecting what neuroscientists call “errors.” These are perceived differences between expectation and reality.

Error-detection signals — produced by something new, strange or different — can muscle aside rational thought.

So, when it comes to breaking bad habits, traditional models for motivating people don’t work. What does work?

Here are your new tools:

-Ask questions. Brains are pattern-making organs with a desire to create new connections. If you ask questions about a problem, you set the stage for creating new neural pathways.

-Let your people solve problems. When they do, the brain emits “happy” chemicals that stimulate and reward them.

-Pay attention to what needs to change. People learn what they focus on, so provide gentle reminders regularly. Attention to a new area continually reshapes brain patterns.

-Leave problems in the past. Asking why an employee didn’t reach a goal will simply focus attention on his nonperformance and encourage excuses. Instead, ask “How can we do better?”

-Expect great things. Expectation shapes reality. If your people believe a medicine will heal them, or believe it when you express confidence in them, they’ll get better.

— Adapted from “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, strategy + business.

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