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Cultivating Your Voice : a Neuroscience perspective, Part 1

“I wish my organisation would stop making ‘excuses’ and make some real changes to move closer towards Net Zero!” 

“ I really did not like the way my manager spoke in that meeting… such a sexist remark” 

“Saying No is challenge for me”

“Why does management not tell the truth? We are not children!” 

“I know I should speak up more for myself but…” 

“That tone of voice almost borders on bullying… someone should tell them off!”

“This is how we do things in this place. It’s wrong but no-one will speak up.”

Different statements for different scenarios. Each statement also refers to a different type of voice leaders must cultivate in the workplace today — no ifs or buts. If not, leaders are not doing their job.  My work with C-suite has shown that those who shy away from cultivating their voice will, by mid-career, begin to experience an inner restlessness which can lead to stress, a drop in abilities to influence, and a misalignment of purpose. 

My discussions with them have also led me to conclude that a lack of the right kind of leadership voice is the major reason why some organisation cultures are toxic, workplace stress is on the rise and progress on sustainability targets is lagging. 

The good news is that we can change it with a bit of brain re-engineering! It is a skill that anyone can sharpen, and with practice leaders will be more powerful, on-message and leap forward in their leadership journey.

How the brain works

Unless trained to, speaking up and standing out against the norm is not what the brain is designed to do. We may have thoughts and feel the discomfort associated with ‘this is wrong’, but not everyone will speak up. This is simply because the brain’s overarching operating principle is to keep us safe and when we perceive speaking up and challenging the status as a threat, we won’t speak up. 

As we evolved as a species, our brain learnt to minimise behaviours that made us stand out in the crowd — it could result in being ‘ejected from communities’ our ancestors needed to survive. The only exception being when standing out implied survival of species (for example, protecting young ones or finding a mate). In other words, for most of us in day to day scenarios not speaking up is ‘natural’ and ‘ingrained’ in our subconscious wiring. 

Luckily our brain is also designed to rewire. It’s called neuroplasticity. If the current neurological reaction of a person in one of the scenarios I eluded to with my opening quotes is ‘keeping quiet’, ignore, brush off, rationalise or gossip, they can replace it with new behaviours like speaking out, challenging, being a devil’s advocate, etc. New behaviours require new neurological responses and so by re-wiring our brains we can be the leader who can skilfully and with mastery speak up.

Simple? Not really. 

The brain is also designed to resist when we try to replace old behaviours. This is due to ‘myelination’. Our brain is an energy hungry body. To ensure efficient use of energy our brain coats the most often used neurological pathways with a fatty tissue called myelin. It makes the neurological impulse move faster and with least resistance — the cost of efficiency being default thinking patterns and behaviours. In fact it becomes so fast that it lies beneath our conscious awareness resulting in us not even noticing that we did not speak up when we should have!  

This same mechanism comes in the way when we try to create a try to find our voice and speak up if that has not been our usual behaviour. The brain wants to use the well-myelinated path and so we may experience feelings of awkwardness and uneasiness. Our heart beats faster and the brain send out frantic signals to stay with default thinking and behaviours. 

The Solution? 

We can hack the brain and train it to respond to the stimuli in our chosen way. 

In doing so, not only do we find our voice, we can cultivate it to a level of sophistication that will change the way we lead ourselves, our teams, businesses and communities. As we do so, we notice a difference. We become active agents of change, courageous leaders, transformational visionaries and take the less trodden path to success – the one which leads to happier workplaces, higher employee morale, creative breakthroughs, increased business profitability and a better world. 

Ways to Cultivate Your Leadership Voice

There are many techniques to cultivate one’s leadership voice. It is after all a learned skill. 

One of the most impactful way is to move out of our comfort zone and take action by speaking out. Action is the one of the most effective enablers to finding your voice. It initiates neuroplasticity. It may feel clunky and uncomfortable, but well worth the trouble. 

Join me again in August as I discuss ways to hack our brains and cultivate a leadership voice that is authentic, powerful, engaging and impactful. Till then, I invite you to take note of situations in your life and workplace where you would like to cultivate your voice. It will act as a  landscape for you to practice what I have in store for you. 

Reena Dayal is an Applied Neuroscience Specialist and Leadership and Team Coach. Backed with 22 years C-suite roles in Corporate HR, transformation and leadership development, she has been blending modern day neuroscience and leadership development techniques for the past decade for founders, CEOs, C-Suite and teams to accelerate. An accomplished IFC coach with certifications from Gallup, MIT Sloan and IPEC-USA, her work is often described as ‘fresh, empowering, energetic, thought provoking and life changing’.

About Aziz Corporate

Aziz was founded over 40 years ago by Khalid Aziz, a media pioneer of his day who at 21 became the youngest ever appointed BBC producer.

About Reena Dayal

Backed with 22 years C-suite roles in Corporate HR, transformation and leadership development, she has been blending modern day neuroscience and leadership development techniques for the past decade for founders, CEOs, C-Suite and teams to accelerate. An accomplished IFC coach with certifications from Gallup, MIT Sloan and IPEC-USA, her work is often described as ‘fresh, empowering, energetic, thought provoking and life changing’.

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