Everybody knows that good leadership is essential to business success. Until recently, though, leadership was an "I know it when I see it" concept rather than something that could be studied and understood scientifically.

For example, every manager (and every parent) quickly discovers that "do as I say, not as I do" never works. Followers inevitably imitate a leader's behavior, which is why great leaders are role models first and order-givers second.

The importance of being a role model has been known for millennia, but it's only in the past few years that we've discovered the scientific reason: Mirror neurons in the human brain cause people to unconsciously imitate the behaviors of those around them.

Similarly, it's common knowledge that a great leader is always good at building strong relationships, not just between him- or herself and individual team members, but also between the team members themselves.

Put another way, a leader who's good at building relationships acts as a role model to show team members how to build better relationships between and among themselves. The result is a cohesive team that's easy to lead.

How do great leaders build relationships? From the viewpoint of neuroscience, business relationships are just like other relationships and can therefore be fostered and strengthened using the same or similar methods.

With this in mind, leadership guru Jon Pratlett recently pointed out that studies by Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington show that relationships are strengthened by positive interactions and weakened by negative ones.

Such interactions consist of comments, facial expressions, gestures, and body-language, separately or in combination. For example, a pat on the back would be positive while giving somebody the cold shoulder would be negative.

For a relationship to remain strong and functional, there must be a ratio of at least five positives for each negative. For example, every time you criticize a team member, you should provide at least five compliments on what he or she doing correctly.

The same thing is true of facial expressions. If you want to build strong relationships and encourage them among your team, when you're around team members, you should smile five times more frequently than you frown.

Maintaining this 5 to 1 ratio of positive/negative interactions creates an emotional climate where team members feel more connected and are therefore more likely to work well together and consider a wider range of ideas and initiatives.

And isn't that what leadership is all about?

Published on: Nov 17, 2014