#18 How To Tame Your Amygdala! (with Dr. Jeffrey Hull)

Show Notes

In today’s episode, we talk with Jeffrey Hull, Ph.D. on how leaders can tame their brain so that they can rule their emotions and not let their emotions rule them! We also discuss five other key elements that today’s leaders need to accelerate their leadership skills.  Jeffrey Hull, Ph.D. is an author, educator, and consultant with over twenty year’s experience partnering with C-suite executives on issues of high-performance leadership, change management, organizational strategy, structure and culture! Check out Dr. Jeffrey and purchase his book Flex here: https://www.jeffreyhull.com

For more resources, visit https://www.reallifeleaders.com/podcast

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Chantel:                        Welcome to The Real Life Leadership Podcast, where we share real life stories from real life leaders to help you become a better leader in your organization. We are so excited today. We have Jeffrey Hull, who is a PhD, he's an author, an educator, a consultant with over 20 years’ experience. He deals with C-level executives on performance leadership, change management, so much stuff. We are so excited to have him, and he has a great book that just came out this month. It's called Flex. He is kind enough to send us an advanced copy, and it is absolutely fantastic. Welcome to the show.

Jeffrey Hull:                  Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Chantel:                        One thing I love about your book is that you tell a ton of stories, and that's what we love to do here is share real life stories. In Flex, you unpack six key elements that today's leaders need. I love a great acronym, and your acronym is FIERCE. We're going to unpack those. But can you briefly explain what FIERCE is, and what it stands for just a brief overview, and then we'll unpack it.

Jeffrey Hull:                  Sure, the FIERCE acronym was the luck of the draw. I wound up in the wake of meeting that particular leader, and starting to think about developing a framework for the kinds of things that needed to be focused on for the new landscape of leadership. I did an anecdotal study of my own clients, and basically looked at what are the categories that I tend to work in more often. Then, I did a survey with the folks at the Institute of Coaching at Harvard. So, taking a big broad look at what everyone is working on these days in the executive development and leadership development space.

Jeffrey Hull:                  It just fell into six broad categories. One of them is flexibility, which wound up being sort of the title of the book, and sort of the underpinning theory or theme of the book. Its flexibility of leadership style. We can get into what that means. But it's basically how you make your decisions as a leader. The second is how do you communicate? What is your intentional style of communication as a leader? How do you impact and influence through communication? The third is emotional agility. We all know that emotions are becoming more and more present and important, as a leader in today's world. The fourth is realness or my phrase for authenticity. Which involves, what's the level of vulnerability and stability and competence that you need to show, integrity, those kinds of things.

Jeffrey Hull:                  Then finally, collaboration, teamwork, which is essential in today's flatter environments, networked environments, and then engagement. It all just fell together. I realized that my journey with my clients is to help them become FIERCE.

Chantel:                        Awesome. Well, Jeffrey, we also have on today's show, we have my co-host Heather Roemmich. I'm going to be asking you both some questions on any stories that you have on what we're talking about. One of the tips that you talk about is taming the amygdala. Where you train leaders to tame their brain so that they can rule their emotions instead of letting their emotions rule them. So, talk about what your tips are there.

Jeffrey Hull:                  Well, there's a number of different things that we all need to learn not just leaders, but recognizing that the amygdala is that part of the brain that is the emotional center. Whenever anything triggers you, the amygdala is immediately activated, and it's what promises us to have a fear response or a trigger response or an abrupt response; anxiety, stress. The flight is late, whatever it happens to be.

Jeffrey Hull:                  A typical example would be one of my clients who's a Wall Street analyst and a leader of a team, a global team doing extremely well, very successful, very high achiever. But his schedule, like many people is literally going from one meeting to the next meeting to the next meeting to the next meeting. Some of them are on conference calls, some of them are in person, some of them are visual, some of them ... In other words, there's no breaks. He shared with me, when we were doing coaching that sometimes if he has an upsetting meeting, or something doesn't go well, he just goes right to the next meeting. Unfortunately, he gets feedback that the facial expressions, the tone of voice, the abruptness, it's like, who is this guy? You say you're having a good day but you're obviously not having a good day. It's obvious in your tone of voice, it's obvious in the way you're reacting.

Jeffrey Hull:                  That is typically what we call an amygdala hijack. He's under the influence of the emotions from the last meeting, as he goes into the next meeting, and who bears the brunt of it? The people that bear the brunt of his emotional hijack are the people in the new meeting that have no idea what's going on. They're like, what's the deal with this guy? Yesterday, he was nice, today, he's being a pain. So, what's going on?

Jeffrey Hull:                  He knows, if he stops and takes a breath, he realizes that it's what happened in the last meeting that's causing him to be abrupt or brusque in the current meeting. A simple technique that we worked on was creating what I call buffer zones. A buffer zone in his case was a two minute little break that he would insert in between every single meeting where he was literally forcing himself to walk around the block, take a break, get a bottle of water, but to do something that would allow him to distill whatever emotions came up from the last session. Let them go, take a deep breath and move into the next session.

Jeffrey Hull:                  At first he said to me, "Oh, that's going to take hours. I don't have time for that." I said, "Try two minutes."

Chantel:                        I love it. Well, I will tell you, me and my husband took a marriage course together. This girl named Christine was talking about-

Jeffrey Hull:                  That's very courageous by the way.

Chantel:                        Yes. She was talking about your amygdala. She said, what you can do when your spouse's amygdala gets inflamed, and they blow up about something. What you can do is you can say to the person, "Here, have some of my calm." You share your calm with them.

Chantel:                        One day, I got really mad at my husband about something that was silly. But I was just like, "I can't believe you did that da da da." He just all of a sudden was like, "Your amygdala is getting inflamed right now. I'm going to share with you a little bit of my calm." And puts his hand out. We both started busting out laughing and it was hysterical. But I think if you can laugh about it, I think one of the things I love about Heather is that we can literally no matter how bad of a day we're having, we literally just have so much fun, because we can laugh about it.

Chantel:                        So, Heather, can you talk about any time where you would say that you maybe had somebody, instead of them ruling their emotions, they were letting their emotions rule them?

Heather:                       Sure. I think a lot of times when we think about this, we immediately think of somebody getting angry or like fired up. But a lot of times fear will guide a lot of decisions that leaders make. A lot of the decisions that people find they make in businesses because of a fear of something. An example I can think of is, Chantel got to go and she visited a really awesome company. She was like, "Oh my gosh, this company has offers like all of these things. And they're offering it at a different rate than what we're offering at our agents."

Heather:                       We came back, we had this bigger treat. She's like, we've got to change. We have to change, this is going to be a market disruptor it's really going to make a big difference in our area. We literally went off like, we're really good at this. We were in on autopilot. Our agents were trucking along. We let fear make a decision that made our business so much more complex than it needed to be. It had all these if then statements. Like these people were paying this, these people were doing this and if they did this and they got this commission, but if they did this, they got this one. We just allowed this fear of this company coming in our area to say we have to be able to compete with them. When in all actuality, we just made it harder on ourselves for the next six months than what it could have been.

Heather:                       Sometimes, and I think a lot of times the decisions that we make are out of fear. Fear from someone leaving, fear of upsetting someone, fear of a change. A lot of people are afraid of change. I think that is something that you see a lot of reactions based on, is the fear factor, basically.

Chantel:                        I would say one of the things that for me would get me really upset a while ... I don't do it now, because I've really learned. But when someone would come to me and talk to me about a situation and they would get all riled up, and they would be like, "I can't believe so and so did this." They'd come in my office. I could start taking on their emotion and I'd be like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe they're doing that." And I'd get really upset.

Chantel:                        What happened was, there's a great verse in the Bible, Proverbs 18:17 that says, the one who states his case first seems right until the other one comes along and examines him. Basically, what that means is there's always two sides to every pancake. I have a real story of that, of one person came into my office and we give out appointments to our agents. The first person came in, the manager came to me and said, "One of my agents got a $900,000 listing, and somebody took it away from them in an instant." I was like, "What? What happened? How could that happen?" When I realized it, it was because it was a commercial deal, and it wasn't supposed to go to an agent that's not trained in commercial. That's why that was taken away. But they didn't tell me that at all. They just said it was a $900,000 deal that was taken away from them for no good reason.

Chantel:                        Then once I dug in deeper, I was like, oh, wow, that made sense. You're not a commercial agent, we wouldn't give you a commercial deal. I've just really learned that there's always two sides to the pancake, but I used to, my amygdala would go, as soon as that first person came in my office, I'd be like, what? I can't believe they did that. I've just trained myself to know, Proverbs 18:17 is right, the one who states his case first seems right, until the other one comes along. Then you go, "Wait a minute. No, that's not actually the case."

Heather:                       One of the things I tell people a lot is that the leader is really the thermostat of the office. It's really important for whatever they exude ... This is a fantastic skill that leaders need to learn because if there's somebody who constantly gets elevated very easily, everyone around them becomes very elevated. It's like Chantel's story is really funny because I did call her once and I was like, "I am furious." She's like, "Oh my gosh, me too." I was like, "Wait, you don't even know the story yet." She said, " No, well, you're mad so I'm mad."

Heather:                       When you walk in an office or if you walk in your team or whatever you're leading, everyone's going to adapt to the way that you're presenting yourself. The idea of taking that two minute walk, if you just came out of a heated discussion or something, before you move on to the next thing, take a lap, bring yourself back down, because that is going to carry into the next person you talk to. Everyone looks to you, and they all start to adapt to the way you're reacting, and everyone gets heightened senses based on that.

Jeffrey Hull:                  I completely agree. I think that's in fact, one of the first lessons that leaders need to learn when they step into owning a leadership role is that everything's exaggerated. Everything that they do becomes a model for what other people will do.

Jeffrey Hull:                  In and so the example of my client, in the past, when he would get triggered, or he would have this amygdala hijack, nobody would really notice. He just got a reputation, right? Oh, he's abrupt or he's in a bad mood. But then when he became the director, all of a sudden, oh, the boss is in a bad mood, oh, stay away. Or now I'm in a bad ... Everybody's influenced by the amygdala of the boss. As you said, if you can become aware of your own amygdala, and insert a pause, or know to reflect on what is the facts, as Chantel was talking about, don't speak first, don't speak until you've reflected on whether you have all the information, then you can be the kind of role model that you want to be as a leader.

Chantel:                        Well, communication is another important topic in the book. You say that it is a science. You talk about the difference in leaders that motivate and leaders that alienate. Can either of you share a time where you saw a leader that motivated or alienated based on their communication style?

Jeffrey Hull:                  I can jump in and just give one quick story about someone who went from one to the other.

Chantel:                        Sure.

Jeffrey Hull:                  Which I think is really the whole point, really, it's really the theme of my book, and it's really the theme of any kind of coaching. One of the things that I tried to do in the book was set you up as a reader so that you can coach yourself, ideally. If you don't happen to have a coach, you can use what's in the book as a coach. But what about a leader who has a tendency to just read off their PowerPoints? They're giving out good information, they're having a monthly team meeting and they want everyone to know what the budget situation is. They want people to be up to date on the statistics and on what's working and what isn't working.

Jeffrey Hull:                  They look around the room after 30 minutes of a one hour meeting and half the room is empty. What happened? Well, these are all people that have worked all day. This is an evening session, and they probably stayed long enough to grab a bite to eat because the boss that I was working with was bringing in dinner. They would even have some wine sometimes. But she started to notice that halfway through the meeting, people would be trickling out. They always had an excuse. They didn't want to be rude, she's the boss. But by halfway through the meeting, half the people were gone.

Jeffrey Hull:                  When I sat in the meeting, it wasn't that she wasn't well intentioned, and maybe alienated is too strong a word, but because she was transmitting good information, but what was missing is it wasn't personal. She wasn't sharing ... As you said at the outset, there weren't any stories. There wasn't any why, any meaning, any inspiration. Any, why are we here? What are we really trying to accomplish? It was actually a very simple coaching assignment, when she stepped back and reflected that she should actually think about why she's doing her job, what does she care about it? Then maybe share one anecdote or ask someone on her team to share an anecdote about something where they really felt jazzed, they really felt motivated. They were really handling a customer in a different way. It made them feel good about themselves.

Jeffrey Hull:                  It's like, all of a sudden, the whole thing took on a whole different light. It's like, oh, we're here to try to understand why we're adding value to our customer and personalizing it. It didn't really take that much of a change, but I have to say, initially, she said to me, "Oh, people don't want to hear that. They don't want to hear boring stories." I'm like, "No, you know what, it's the other way around. People are actually inspired by your stories. They want to know what excites you about the work that you do every day? Then they'll still want to know the facts and figures." But including the science as you mentioned, of communication, including the story, the anecdote, the emotion, and also the physical component, which I think is really important. You need to be able to have eye contact and gestures are welcome and openness.

Jeffrey Hull:                  We won't necessarily get into all the details, but there's a way of presenting yourself if you're trying to really influence other people that is highly personal. There's no ideal way to do it. But becoming aware of how important it is to do those little small gestures is really crucial.

Chantel:                        Awesome. In your book, I love this concept, you talk about feed forward versus feedback. Will you explain the two, and I'd like both of you to give an example of some really practical ways or stories that you've seen someone actually seek and provide feed forward for our team instead of feedback.

Jeffrey Hull:                  I first just want to give credit where credit belongs, which is that the concept of feed forward comes from Marshall Goldsmith. I didn't invent it. I gave full credit to him in my book, but I think is a really powerful tool. Which is that when you're looking to figure out how to improve something, and you want to get feedback, but you're a little bit scared, as we all are to get the bad news or to think that we're doing something that's not going well, we may be reluctant to reach for feedback. One way that you can do it that's incredibly motivating, and also feels less threatening, I think, is to ask someone you trust or someone that does whatever it is you're interested in hearing about does that well. What one thing could I do differently that would improve my performance in this domain?

Jeffrey Hull:                  I'll just give you one quick example for myself. That is that I gave a presentation about three weeks ago, and I happen to have a couple of very good friends in the audience. They came up to me afterwards and we had drinks and they were like, "Oh, that was so great. You're such a great speaker. I really enjoyed it." I said, "I really appreciate that. But what I would actually really appreciate even more is if you would give me one thing that you felt or noticed that I could have done differently that might have made it even better." I think they were a little caught off guard, because they were like, "Oh, we didn't know you're going to put me on the spot." I was like, "Well, you're my friends. Be honest with me. I want to hear it." But I want one good thing, one thing."

Jeffrey Hull:                  Then my colleague said to me, "Well, you know, Jeff, one of the things I do is when I'm using PowerPoint, I actually time how long I spend on each slide so that I don't spend too much time on one slide and too little time on another and wind up having to skip slides." She said, "You do really well, because you don't read your slides, which is great. But one of the things you did is you actually skipped through some of your slides quickly at a certain point because I think you felt like you realized you were going to lose time." I said, "What a great idea." She said, "I'll send you my spreadsheet for how I time all my slides and then you can actually set yourself up to rehearse where you time yourself. Because your presentation was great, but you didn't necessarily match to the slides as perfectly as you could have." I was like, "Oh my God, that is such a useful feedback."

Jeffrey Hull:                  It's just a tiny example, but it felt good for her to give me something useful, and it was also really valuable for me. I call that feed forward.

Chantel:                        Awesome. Heather, can you think of an example where you've had someone in the organization feed forward instead of feedback?

Heather:                       Yeah. One thing I think a lot of people are afraid to do is to try new things or take on new task because they're afraid of the failure, and with failure comes negative feedback. Oh, gosh, I did something wrong. One of the things that I really try to coach the people underneath me is that you're going to make mistakes, we're not perfect, but it's how we handle it and what we do going forward.

Heather:                       An example, actually, this happened this week. One of the people on our team, she took on a new task of payroll. When doing payroll, she accidentally paid somebody who was no longer here. She came to me and she said, "I made a big mistake." I said, "Okay." She said, "I paid someone who's no longer here." I said, "Okay." She said, "But this is what I've already done." Because she already knew I was going to say, "Okay, how are we going to fix this, and what are you going to do next time to make sure it didn't happen?" Because we've talked about that before, and we've trained them on that, she said, "This is what happened, I paid them. This is what I've already done. I'm picking up a certified check this afternoon to have the funds returned. I've already called the payroll company, and they're already correcting the mistake. For future, I've added an extra person in to check payroll to make sure this doesn't happen again." I said, "Well, it sounds like you've taken care of everything you needed to. You learned from your mistake, and you've set a process to take care of it going forward."

Heather:                       That's what you really want to instill because we're all going to make mistakes, but it's how they handle the mistake and how they learn from it and create something better from it. That's, I think, a perfect example where she took what would have been feedback and she put it into feed forward. She went ahead and did the feedback on herself. Then she created how she was going to change it going forward.

Chantel:                        I love that. Well, Jeffrey, in the book, you talk about a leader being vulnerable. This is something that a lot of leaders are terrified to do because they think they need to put on a facade for the people they lead or they will not be respected. I think this is one of my strengths. I am very vulnerable. I really am-

Heather:                       She tells it all.

Chantel:                        It is what it is. I tell it all, almost to a fault. This is an area, but can you give an example of sometimes of a real story that you can think of as someone that was vulnerable and how it led to more respect for the team?

Jeffrey Hull:                  I can, I can actually think of a number of situations. It's a wake up call, I think for a lot of leaders, especially baby boomers who have may have been leading for a while thinking that the way they did it is the traditional way of being stoic and strong and putting on a strong face for the team, which has its place. But in today's world, I think the idea of transparency and connection and being really human, people want to trust that they know you as a human being. Why are you doing what you're doing? It's not about a role. It's not about your expertise. It's about you being human. Because there's so much in the media and the fake news and all of that, we've come to be very suspicious, very skeptical.

Jeffrey Hull:                  Especially young people want to see the real true you. Here's an example of a really tough situation where being vulnerable became all that made all the difference. You have an emergency room doctor who runs an emergency room. He's also the director of the department. You think about it, the last thing you really want an emergency room physician to be is vulnerable. When you go into an emergency room, you want him to be anything but vulnerable. You want him to be strong, confident, knows what he's doing, he knows exactly how to fix me. He saves lives every day. Well, that's all great. The person I'm referring to, my client was doing all of that. But here's what was happening, he was doing that in every situation. He would do that in the emergency room. But then he would go into his team meeting as the leader and still be invulnerable, strong, competent, and know all the answers.

Jeffrey Hull:                  What did his team think? His team was like, "Please, what are you trying to be perfect? You're not Superman." His feedback was not positive. He said to me, "But my patients love me." I'm like, "Yeah, of course your patients love you because you're saving lives, but your team wants you to be human." He's like, "Well, how do I do that?" I said, "Well, it's a buffer zone, just like the amygdala hijack, you've got to develop that space where when you go from the emergency room, where you just help someone with a gunshot wound, now you walk down the hall, take off your scrubs, and go into a staff meeting and you got to be human. You got to share your vulnerability."

Jeffrey Hull:                  What happened when he did that, when he shared that it was tiring, he was stressed out, he missed his family, he hadn't seen his daughter in three ... he just opened the meeting by saying, "I don't know how you all feel, but I'm tired." They were like, "Oh, thank God, finally, a human being." Then they all relaxed. Then they all could be more human with each other. He said to me later, he said, "It's so much more fun to work now because I don't have to put on an act all the time. I have to be who I am with my patients, but I can be myself with my colleagues." I said, "Do they respect you any less?" He said, "No, it's exactly the opposite. I think they actually respect me more."

Chantel:                        Awesome. Heather, can you think of a time that vulnerability, have a story for that?

Heather:                       Yeah. When I thought about being vulnerable, I thought about when you said the word transparency, that's exactly what I thought about. Because a lot of times I feel like leaders feel like they have to put up smoking mirrors because they want everything to look like it's perfect, there's never a crack moment. One of the things I think about that happened is being transparent, especially when somebody leaves your organization. Several years ago, we had a manager in a position of one of our departments that was putting incorrect time on their time card. I had come up here on the Sunday for something to pick it up and they were supposed to be here and I remember asking, "Where's [inaudible 00:26:53] manager?" They were like, "Oh, well, they haven't gotten in yet." Well, when I went to check their time card they had put in that they had been there for two hours already.

Heather:                       We had to, unfortunately, let that person go. I think what's important was that, we were really transparent with their department when that happened. We were just like, we loved this person, they were really fun. They were a great leader. But unfortunately, they were missing one of our core values. They were not being honest with their time here, and we had to let them go.

Heather:                       I think that them seeing that, sometimes when that happens when you have key players leave, people look to you, and they're seeing like, oh, gosh, how are they going to react to this? Sometimes when you're like, "Yeah, we really loved this person, but they're not here anymore. We're sad about it, too." They get that relief, like, "You feel that way too." It's hard sometimes because you want to be strong and say, "This is why it was." But I think it's just really important to be transparent, because if you're transparent, you're trustworthy, and they're going to trust that you're making the right decisions and you're not just doing something because you're the leader and you're a dictator, and you can do whatever you want in your organization.

Jeffrey Hull:                  Exactly.

Chantel:                        Well, there is so much great stuff in this book, and we only had a chance to skim it today. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of the book. It is by Dr. Hull, and the name of the book is called Flex. How do people pick up a copy of this book?

Jeffrey Hull:                  They can get it through my website, jeffreyhull.com, or Amazon or any of the major bookstores. It was in Barnes and Noble in New York last week.

Chantel:                        Awesome.

Jeffrey Hull:                  It should be on the shelves. But you should be able to find it at any major-

Chantel:                        Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. I've really enjoyed reading your book. I'm a big fan of leadership books, and this one is fantastic. So, thanks again for being on our show.

Jeffrey Hull:                  Oh, I really appreciate you taking the time. It's been great talking to both of you. Appreciate it.

Chantel:                        Thanks, have a great day. Bye.

Jeffrey Hull:                  You too.


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