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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #117
(March 23, 2021)

Is There a Chance That Dopamine Is Turning Us Into "Dopes"?

Please don't rush to judgment ... the title I used for this article is NOT intended to insult in any way. However, the question I've asked IS intended to bring attention to a practice that some of us have that is deeply rooted in our psychological makeup—and this characteristic may have serious implications as we attempt to manage, lead, mentor and coach our employees.

The psychological phenomenon I'm referring to is the deep need some individuals in management have to be needed; to be in the middle of the action; to be 'on' (and ready) at all times; to be seen as the consummate fire-fighter (aka problem-solver) with the ability to quickly diagnose root causes and extinguish any 'fires' that might exist. "Let me show you" or "I can help you with that" or "Here's an idea for you to try ..." are typical ways these individuals stay in the fray—all while thinking that this is what managers do.

This week's CORE Bites addresses this 'need' and how—as we feed this need, we might not recognize the unintended consequences (thereby becoming the "dopes" I referred to earlier). [No offense intended ...]

A subconscious need to be needed—and ultimately involved—when problems/challenges occur begins in the neurochemistry of the brain and, for some of us, is a major behavioral driver. The elation, gratification and exhilaration (the adrenaline 'rush') we get from being in the thick of things is fueled by dopamine, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that controls the brain's reward and pleasure centers. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the more pleasure we experience. This could easily explain why some of us are (quite literally) addicted to the in-the-moment intensity of the battle or struggle or challenge and why we crave recreating that experience (and the feeling we get both during and after).

But if you're thinking, "That's not me. I'm not some adrenaline junkie," I get that. Most of what I'm describing emanates from deep within our subconscious and may not be easily recognized. The best test is to run it through this filter: Behaviors Speak the Truth. Take a brutally-honest look at the next three paragraphs (especially the last one) and then form your opinion about where you might be on the continuum. Read on ...

In this fast-paced work environment—with abundant opportunities to insert yourself into the fray—the question that must be asked is are you inadvertently creating dependencies and enabling a transfer of responsibility (back to you) ... or, conversely, are you looking for every avenue to create self-managing and self-directed employees?

I believe all of us—at our core—have a need to be needed. And there's nothing wrong with that until it runs counter to, arguably, one of the primary objectives we have as supervisors of people. Don't misunderstand me here—I know that an important role you play is guiding and advising your employees. But another part of being a supervisor is helping your employees learn to think on their own, troubleshoot difficult situations, make good decisions, and grow into self-sufficient individuals.

So, if you're noticing that your team is coming to you for things that don't necessarily require your expertise, or for things that, technically, they should be capable of handling on their own, then you might have your answer. This is when the 'Behaviors Speak the Truth' comes in. The HVAs listed below are for you.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

The first step toward creating more self-sufficient and self-directed employees is to shift your reward triggers. In essence, this means replacing the exhilaration you get as the 'fire-fighter' with a similar (and frequently even more powerful) exhilaration from helping people grow. Having been involved in many managerial advancement decisions, I can tell you that managers who coach and mentor employees with a more proactive, long-term solution (thereby creating more self-directed and self-sufficient employees) are viewed as having much higher value and growth potential than the 'fire-fighter.' This week, starting today, look for opportunities to use the HVA's listed below:

  • Take a Breath: When employees come to you with a question or a problem or a challenge ... PAUSE ... and then ask yourself if this issue really requires your expertise; ask yourself if the employee should be capable of handling this issue; ask yourself if they may be coming to you because you've enabled—in the past—a habit of leaning on you for advice. Regardless of your answer to these questions, your goal here is to grow their capability (and their self-sufficiency). So if an issue is his/her responsibility to solve, don't take back that responsibility by providing an answer because it's the equivalent of saying, "Don't worry about figuring out how to deal with this—I'll take care of it." Instead, put on your nurturing hat and ask a question like "In light of what you've described, what's the best option to resolve this issue?" If he/she appears to struggle with a response to this question, use either (or both) of the following: "What have you tried in the past that might work in this situation?" or "What have you seen other people do to address this type of issue?" Even if you jump in at that point with an idea or some guidance, your employees will start to get used to thinking through their actions on their own.
  • Two Concurrent Mindsets: As stated earlier, one of the roles you have as a supervisor is to guide and advise your employees. But the equilibrium you must seek is the balance between when to offer guidance and when to teach the critical thinking skills employees will need to be self-sufficient. Every manager has to find a way to combine these two mindsets—to function at the point where reflective thinking meets practical doing. For example, sometimes a 'fire' might be burning that doesn't allow you the luxury of turning this issue into a coaching moment. But this doesn't mean that—after the fact—you can't circle back to have a discussion with the employee as to the decision-making process that was used to come to the appropriate solution. This type of post-action review positions you as a developer of people and not just a 'fix-it and move on' type of manager.
  • Trust Goes a Long Way: There are times when employees come to you not out of habit but, instead, from insecurity and a lack of confidence. They may be unsure about a decision they need to make; they don't want any negative consequences and they're seeking confirmation they're on the right track. To help them become more comfortable with decision-making, you need to emphasize your trust whenever possible. This can be done by reinforcing previous examples when decisions they've made have been well thought through and executed well. But, again, balance is important; you don't want to convey that you aren't willing to help. To leave the right impression, use a question like this, "I trust you to use your best judgment when making a decision on these type of situations, but if you ever end up with something that you're really unsure about, I'm here to help."

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"The art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it."

— Georg Cantor —