How to Use the Amygdala to Motivate

amygdala“I see myself as a collaborative leader,” a manager said to me.  “I respect all opinions.  I want employees to be able to disagree with each other and with me.  Fear inhibits creativity.”

I think this leader is correct—to a point.  Excessive fear no doubt suppresses differing opinions and likely leads to leadership failure.

Scientists tell us that the amygdala–the part of the brain that processes fear—collects data and influences behaviors.  While leaders may not be aware of the amygdala, many do know that proper use of fear can encourage desired behaviors.  Recall the common parental admonishment, “Don’t make me have to stop this car!”

The following are examples of how fear motivates employees.   “Look, there will be hell to pay if we don’t get this right.”  “I can’t go to lunch today.  I’ve got to finish this or the boss will have a fit.”  “My performance review is coming up.  I’ll get a low rating if this is not right.”  “If I’m late again, I’ll get reprimand.”

Effective leaders use fear sparingly and surround it with overall support, as in: “Sam, I need for you to be here but if this continues I’ll write a reprimand.  I don’t want to do that.  If I can help you, let me know.  You can do it.  I’m rooting for you.”

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