Three Ways Leaders Can Become Game Changers

By: Judith E. Glaser, Marcia Ruben, Ph.D., Sandra Foster, Ph.D., & Debra Pearce-McCall, Ph.D

From Power-Over to Power-With

What can a leader do to transform this dictating or “power-over” stance to a “power-with” environment, one in which team members feel safe and feel free to offer their ideas even in challenging meetings or other workplace conversations. When leaders and their direct workplace communication skillsreports work together to ‘down-regulate’ fear and distrust, and ‘up-regulate’ ‘appreciation and trust’, everyone’s internal environment and chemistry shifts and the conversational environment feels safe, so the prefrontal cortex opens up – enabling what we call Co-creating Conversations®– which foster co-creating solutions amongst the team.

Taking Next Steps…

Leaders can start by understanding how their interactions with others activate neurochemistry – and how neurochemistry triggers emotions and impacts how we make decisions, how we engage with others, and the quality and effectiveness of what we can accomplish with others.

  1. Next Leaders can understand how to up-regulate Oxytocin and down-regulate Cortisol: Let’s focus in on two key neurochemicals that reflect whether people are feeling stressed and defensive, or whether they are feeling safe to engage. The hormones called cortisol and oxytocin work in balance almost like a seesaw, corresponding to stress or a positive state, respectively (Heinrichs, Baumgartner, Kirschbaum, & Ehlert, 2003). Both a leader’s stance and their behaviors can increase (up-regulate) cortisol and decrease (down-regulate) oxytocin when those around the leader feel stressed (McEwen, 2006).
  1. Next, Leaders can intentionally shift a fear-based environment to a co-creating environment: Research evidence suggests that a leader’s behaviors can also decrease cortisol and increase oxytocin (Zak, Kurzban, & Matzner, 2005). In a review of oxytocin research, Carter, Harris and Porges (2009) summarize that research suggests oxytocin not only supports our social engagement, it decreases fear and even increases stress tolerance, expanding the neuroception of safety. Leaders who understand the shifts they need to make, to elevate Conversational Intelligence in their relationships and teams and organizations, are the ‘game changers’ of the future.We are at a time in our evolution, where we now know how to activate the healthiest, and most powerful states in others…. Not only can this influence our meetings, it can influence how we think together, behave together, and influence together, whether we are in a meeting, or in any difficult conversation about to happen.

    How can leaders activate trust?

    Think of the team member with the excellent idea who was afraid to speak up because of a boss that demonstrated power-over behaviors.  The impact of ‘judging others in the room’ results in an increase in cortisol, and the loss of a potentially golden idea. We find that when leaders understand the basics of the brain and neurochemistry, and how to both down-regulate cortisol producing behaviors, and also up-regulate oxytocin producing behaviors, incredibly powerful and significant changes occur not just in one leader – but also in whole teams and organizations!

    Judith E. GlaserJudith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Chairman of the Creating WE Institute, Organizational Anthropologist, and consultant to Fortune 500 Companies and author of four best- selling business books, including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion). Email her at or call 212-307-4386.


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