If your organization has competitive and driven leaders, your company culture is likely to reflect that intensity. If leaders are quiet and reflective, interactions are likely to be calmer and more subdued. Who leaders are and how they behave is reflected and mirrored throughout the organization.

With recent advances in technology, we have been able to learn more and more about how the human brain works. We now know that your emotional state and behavior is infectious — other people will mirror what they see in you as their “mirror neurons” fire in response to your behavior. If you are a leader, this mirroring means you must be emotionally intelligent, increasing your self-regulation and staying in control of yourself.

The concept of mirror neurons was discovered by neurophysiologists, and experts in neuroleadership, a field involving the application of neuroscience to leadership, emphasize the powerful effect of this mirroring instinct. As an InspireOne blog post notes, “Mirror neurons, an interesting discovery of behavioral neuroscience, instantly create a shared experience by mimicking the emotions of the other person whenever a person detects an emotion.” And Daniel Goleman, the author and science journalist who literally wrote the book on emotional intelligence, writes in a writes in a Harvard Business Review article, “The salient discovery is that certain things leaders do—specifically, exhibit empathy and become attuned to others’ moods—literally affect both their own brain chemistry and that of their followers.”

So, your behavior affects your team. Taken a step further, it affects the business. When leaders are in a good mood, it helps their team members take in information more readily and respond more openly and creatively. If leaders hope to draw the best out of their people, they should be demanding but in ways that foster a positive mood in their teams — perhaps by using humor. A study by Harvard researcher Fabio Sala found that top-performing leaders elicit laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as mid-performing leaders do.

As a leader, knowing about mirror neurons increases my sense of personal accountability. I have a greater impact on people than I may realize, so I clean up my act on behalf of my team members. I don’t indulge certain emotions — like anger or irritation — for long. I do the work to return myself to grounded stability. This process is where meditation and mindfulness can help. Having a regular practice of calming your mind and your emotions can help you to have that muscle in place when you need it.

Become More Aware of Your Moods With a Learning Journal

To become more aware of your impact on your team, start by using a learning journal to reflect on your day and any significant interactions you had. Include three elements of each interaction:

  • What happened (especially events that were triggering).
  • How you responded and what you did.
  • What you would do differently, using more self-regulation and choice.

This practice of reflection will help you begin to change your responses by thinking through what you would do differently next time. It’s the equivalent of an athlete’s envisioning himself or herself successfully competing in the next game or match. It sets up the brain for a different response.

High self-awareness is essential today for every leader. You can’t afford to not pay attention to yourself and the impact you have on others. By understanding mirror neurons and the impact you have on your team members, you can improve your leadership and your relationships.

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