The Science Behind Know-It-All-Leaders

Editor’s Note: As leaders, we’re often addicted to being right. However, this penchant can also do damage to our ministry teams and create a culture that’s unhealthy and, well, unbiblical.

In this insightful post, we take a look into the science behind our behavior. This doesn’t replace the fact that we need to submit to the Spirit, but it is helpful to understand the way our brains work— an amazing testimony to God’s greatness in design — in order to build healthy leadership habits. 

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I’m sure it’s happened to you: You’re in a tense team meeting trying to defend your position on a big project and start to feel yourself losing ground.

Your voice gets louder. You talk over one of your colleagues and correct his point of view. He pushes back, so you go into overdrive to convince everyone you’re right.

It feels like an out of body experience — and in many ways it is. In terms of its neurochemistry, your brain has been hijacked.

In situations of high stress, fear or distrust, the hormone and neurotransmitter cortisol floods the brain. Executive functions that help us with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building and compassion shut down.

And the amygdala, our instinctive brain, takes over. The body makes a chemical choice about how best to protect itself — in this case from the shame and loss of power associated with being wrong — and as a result is unable to regulate its emotions or handle the gaps between expectations and reality.

So we default to one of four responses: fight (keep arguing the point), flight (revert to, and hide behind, group consensus), freeze (disengage from the argument by shutting up) or appease (make nice with your adversary by simply agreeing with him).

All are harmful because they prevent the honest and productive sharing of information and opinion.

But, as a consultant who has spent decades working with executives on their communication skills, I can tell you that the fight response is by far the most damaging to work relationships. It is also, unfortunately, the most common.

That’s partly due to another neurochemical process. When you argue and win, your brain floods with different hormones: adrenaline and dopamine, which make you feel good, dominant, even invincible. It’s a feeling any of us would want to replicate. So the next time we’re in a tense situation, we fight again.

We get addicted to being right.

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Judith Glaser
Judith is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is one of the most innovative and pioneering change agents, consultants and executive coaches in the consulting industry and refers to herself as an Organizational Anthropologist. A best-selling business author, Judith is the world’s leading authority on WE-centric Leadership, Neuro-Innovation and Conversational Intelligence®. Judith was awarded Business Woman of the Year in New York City in 2004. In 2012 Executive Excellence 500 ranked Judith as one of the Top 15 Leadership Consultants globally, and as the #1 Woman in this category, and since 2006 she has been listed as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders globally on the subject of Leadership. In 2011 she was awarded the Drexel University Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 2006 she was inducted into the Temple University Gallery of Success. Judith is a Founding Fellow of the Harvard Institute of Coaching.