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The importance of feeling felt

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

[byline]By Jim Shipley, Programme Director, Mannaz, October 2014[/byline] When I ask senior managers what most inspired them about a leader they have worked for, they often say something like: “He genuinely cared about me; she valued my contribution; she listened to me; he took time for me; she acknowledged me.” These words all point to a sense of personal connection – a uniquely human trait that goes beyond getting the work done. Daniel Siegel, a renowned neuroscientist, describes this experience as ‘feeling felt’. He has even established a new scientific field called interpersonal neurobiology. Wisdom about how to lead and inspire people in organisations is coming from a very unusual source these days – the human brain! Scientific evidence over the past 15 years has revealed what is at the heart of inspiring others to perform at their best. And that, surely, is a key outcome of leadership: inspiring others to do their best. A completely new part of the human nervous system has been discovered, called the ‘social engagement system’. It connects our brain to, among other things, our eyes, our heart and all the intricate muscles in our face. Along with newly discovered nerve cells called ‘mirror neurons’, the human brain has become a finely tuned organ for perceiving the feelings and emotions in other people, especially from their facial expression, and interpreting from these signals whether this person feels safe or not safe. We then respond in kind through our own facial expression, words and tone. When we hear someone say that their words were ‘heartfelt’, they are speaking a literal truth. We realise now that human beings are wired to connect and engage with each other on a much more intricate level than ever before imagined. What are sometimes derided in management circles as the ‘soft’ leadership skills – empathy, listening, and connecting with others on a personal level – turn out to be the essential ingredients for inspirational leadership, which in turn creates an inspired and motivated workforce. Mannaz is taking this neuroscience research and integrating it into a new senior leadership programme called Cultivating Inner Leadership. We look at cutting-edge brain science to understand how leaders can create more of a sense of ‘feeling felt’ with their team. We examine what neuroscience is saying about the role of feelings and emotions in this picture, and we look at how our conscious mind is integrally linked with how our brains function and how we can change our brains by changing the focus of our minds.