Is your team in survival mode?

I was telling a founder CEO about the time my sister was on safari in Africa and they came upon a leopard, up in a tree sleeping.

When it woke up and started climbing down, the whole savannah erupted into cacophony. Birds and baboons sounded the alarm of danger.

As it turns out, the leopard was just thirsty, going to the lake for water.

Sorry, false alarm.

“Do you think the same thing happens when you walk through the office?” I asked him.

Nah, he shook his head.

“Actually,” said a member of his team who was on the call, “it does.”

As a leader — someone in a position of authority — you inherently pose a status threat.

Doesn’t matter how nice and caring you think you are: We’re wired to be wary of someone with higher standing in the group.

So your team is constantly watching you.

  • Analyzing every word, every reaction.
  • Noticing how quickly you respond to email.
  • Pretending to know the answer when they don’t.

It’s not productive but they can’t help it, it’s a survival instinct.

And if your people are focused on self-protection, they don’t have the mental energy to think about your deadlines, your problems, your objectives.

Still, you can mitigate the effects:

  • Show interest in what they’re doing, let them know you see them.
  • State your opinion last (avoid the HIPPO* effect).
  • Be transparent — let them know when it’s you, not them.

Make sure your team feels safe, heard, appreciated.Then, they can actually think about work.

* HiPPO = Highest Paid Person’s Opinion

p.s. Understanding our survival biology is one of five shifts you need to make to be competitive in a fast-changing world. Want to learn about the other four shifts? Go here to watch my (free) online training.