Your Brain as a Leader

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stover_daniel_webBy Daniel Stover, BA

We don’t often think about feeling threatened at work. As leaders, we’d ideally like to believe we are in control of what happens around us as a result of our fine orchestration and organizational skills. In reality, we know how little control we have due to environmental and circumstantial unpredictability. Although the unexpected can be expected, we still end up feeling threatened or overwhelmed… but why?

Because our brain is designed to detect potential threats in the environment to keep us safe, we often get emotionally hijacked by the unexpected. This serves as a wonderful tool during situations such as hiking in the woods, with threats of difficult trails and being in the neighborhood of wild animals. However, when we get emotionally hijacked at work, we are less productive and the relationships that we depend on suffer. Sometimes our brain works for us, and sometimes it works against us.

Experience has taught me that these emotional hijackings in the brain give us a lot of insight into ourselves. The best insight is often referred to as a “trigger.” A trigger is an event that creates one of these emotional hijackings. Common workplace examples include disrespect, insubordination, raised voices, conflict, and criticism. Often, these triggers pop up unexpectedly, our brain signals that we are being threatened, and we go into fight/ flight/ freeze mode. If you’ve ever experienced being in fight/ flight/ freeze, you know how unproductive and compromising it can be.

Fortunately, as a result of quality research, we know that these triggers and emotionally compromising experiences can be managed, allowing us to achieve more focus and deeper interpersonal trust in our leadership, with improved productivity. We call this emotional intelligence. It’s not a magic bullet since it requires a tremendous amount of work, but it can create entirely new ways of thinking and relating to others.

Particularly in healthcare, where patients’ lives are at stake, we are under a barrage of additional stress that the average businessperson may not relate to. If we aren’t being mindful of our emotional management and triggers, our well-being can quickly become compromised. It’s become an essential part of leadership to understand balance, stress management, emotional management, and self-awareness. Once we grasp how our brain responds to those unpredictable moments in the environment, we actually achieve a greater sense of control and inner peace.

To learn more about leveraging your emotions to become a stronger leader, please join me on Saturday, March 11 from 8:00- 9:30AM at the AHRA Spring Conference for my session, “Developing Emotional Intelligence: The Brain of a Leader.” I look forward to seeing you there!

Daniel Stover, BA, is a leadership consultant at Integrated Leadership Systems in Los Angeles, CA. He can be reached at

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