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Posted by on Feb 2, 2012

What the Director Knew about the Brain

This week, I had the pleasure of participating in a video shoot Management Concepts organized as part of the Professional Government Supervisor Program. It was a lot of fun (apart from the mortifying aspect of seeing yourself on screen), but what I really noticed was how the director worked with people who had speaking roles.

Time after time, he would encourage the on-air “talent” through expressions such as “That’s great,” or “Yes!” or “That’s it!”

Let me tell you, it is no easy thing to stand in front of lights that look like they could be used to open a car dealership and coherently express thoughts. You are aware the camera is rolling, and that mistakes cost time and film.

In this context, I’m sure the Director has figured out over the years that the best way to help people perform at their best is to remove any sense of threat or criticism, and to encourage and praise progress.

Since it’s all about what it takes to achieve peak performance, we can contrast this approach with the fault-finding, nit-picking, micromanagement and looking for any weakness that sometimes characterize supervision, management and leadership.

A prime example of where this occurs is when something you write is edited by someone else. There is some kind of deep-seated need to find something to change. The dreaded red-ink (today, track changes) produces a lot of negative emotions in most writers. With a red page, they lose confidence, try to second guess the editor, and sometimes wind up hating the whole process of writing.

Contrast this with steady, honest praise for what is working well, along with questions or suggestions to change what could be better, but all couched in a posture of support.

The fact is, when we are criticized or micromanaged, our brain’s threat center (the amygdala) switches on. We can fight, freeze or flee really well, but we generally don’t get very creative, intelligent or resourceful. Cortisol (the stress hormone) floods our systems.

When we are praised, recognized positively or complimented, the dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters kick in. We feel good, empowered and ready to roll.

So when the director said “Rolling,” he really knew what he was doing. In fact, I don’t know if he even knows about hormones, neurotransmitters or the amygdala. I think he knows a lot more about establishing shots, close-ups, over-the-shoulder shots, how to flare the camera and lot of other things. But he doesn’t need to understand exactly what happens between the ears. He’s operating very successful from his own intuitive understanding of what it takes to help people perform at their best.

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