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How Your Client's Feelings Can Improve Your Leadership Style

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Survival depends on our ability to trust one another, and advisors can do more to foster that trust, according to author Simon Sinek, who gave the closing keynote address at the eMoney Advisor Summit on Friday. Sinek has written several books on leadership.

Positive feelings like trust and cooperation don’t happen accidentally. They’re the result of good leadership, Sinek explained to the crowd assembled in Dana Point, California.

Trust and cooperation aren’t instructions, though; they’re feelings, according to the leadership guru. Trust and cooperation can’t be built with clients and employees by simply saying you are trustworthy. Without allowing such feelings to develop naturally, advisors can only have a transactional relationship with their clients.

When people feel safe, the natural human response is trust, Sinek said. Without that feeling of safety, clients and employees feel paranoia and self-interest.

Firm leaders and advisors should build a “circle of safety” for employees and clients, and Sinek outlined ways to capitalize on natural, physiological responses to build that circle.

Positive feelings are the result of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, according to the author and RAND consultant.

Endorphins are tied to endurance. Sinek gave the example of a runner’s high. People run through the pain in their muscles to get the positive feeling of endorphins.

Dopamine is released when people meet a goal or complete a task, like winning a client for example, he pointed out.

To make the most of a dopamine effect, there needs to be a clearly defined goal, Sinek said. This is why affirmations work best when written down: They’re clearly defined as a point to work toward, not an abstract feeling. For clients and employees, that means establishing check-in points on their path to goals or performance metrics they can work toward.

Put the Phone Away

Sinek suggested putting phones away and out of reach during meetings. Using our phones releases dopamine, he said, which creates addictive behaviors. With a phone in their hands or on the table in front of them, it’s hard to impart to a client or employee that they are important.

“The fact that people have to take their phone with them to the meeting — don’t you have a meeting?” he said. That’s a missed opportunity to build relationships.

Incentive systems, which release dopamine in people when they receive rewards, are effective in that they elicit a specific action from people. People get addicted to the dopamine release, though, and will act in their own self-interest to keep getting that release.

“Good leadership has nothing to do with your personality,” Sinek said. It’s about the environment leaders create and “the behavior that it fosters in the organization.” Employees who only work because they’re afraid of getting fired aren’t good for the firm.

Firm leaders can build a “circle of safety” for employees and clients by taking time to acknowledge their successes. Recognition creates a surge of serotonin, which makes people feel valuable, according to the leadership guru.

Oxytocin is released when people touch through handshakes or hugs, when they do something nice for someone, when someone does something for them, and even if they witness someone doing something for another person.

“The more oxytocin we have on our bodies, the more kind and generous we actually become,” Sinek said. “It’s a biological pay-it-forward.”

While leaders work to build a circle of safety while still holding people accountable for their missteps, they may be faced with a question about what to do with low-performing employees.

Sinek suggests leaders approach low performers with empathy. If you hired them, there must be some reason why you did so, he added. Thus, leaders need to take some accountability themselves for that decision. Also, they should find out why employees aren’t performing the way they expected.