Leadership: Getting Inside the Brain

Leadership Getting inside the Brain


It’s been said that to be in management, you have to have thick skin. True, yet the trait of a good manager may go deeper than having a tough outer shell.

Finding the search begins and ends with just being keenly aware of how the brain processes memory, makes decisions, and manages emotions.

When brain chemicals mix, emotions can naturally flare

The Amygdala is the two almond-shaped areas deep in the brain that drive how a person acts or reacts in any situation. Depending on the circumstances, the Amygdala can overcome the Midbrain, which regulates the body’s chemical cocktail of dopamine and adrenaline, as well as internal states like temperature and blood pressure.

When the brain’s chemical balance gets rocked by a stressful situation – or even a good one – a person can easily lose control of a given situation, make bad decisions or lack the leadership that drives a successful apartment community staff. Having control in the fast-paced world of apartment management is a must.

Terri Norvell doesn’t ask apartment managers to relax on a couch when delving deep into the Amygdala. The long-time apartment industry trainer regularly teaches large apartment industry leadership groups how to manage an Amydgala under attack. Because the brain can process over 400 billion bits of information every second, emotions can be triggered in a flash. They can be quite predictable, especially when a resident or employee is punching the wrong buttons.

“It’s just a wired-in pattern everybody is running,” she said. “But nobody has to overreact or throw a temper tantrum. You just don’t have to. Once you’re aware that it’s just a pattern you’re running, and your awareness is the stimulus of that, you can catch yourself.”

Amydgala hi-jack can compromise a leader or manager’s effectiveness

An Amydgala hi-jack, as Norvell calls it, can happen at that moment that a resident charges into the leasing office and starts screaming at whatever unsuspecting soul is behind the desk. Or, any other situations on and off the property, even when an employee’s actions drive a manager off the ledge.

The urge to fight back or cower is normal as dopamine (the pleasure chemical) and adrenaline (the aggression chemical) start mixing like a well-shaken tropical drink after a full day at a conference. Once the emotion has run its course and the chemicals stop boiling, composure gets restored. In between, however, the ability to effectively manage the situation can get out of control.

While timeouts and deep breaths are ways to deflect a stressful situation, taking control starts with realizing what can happen if the Amydgala is hi-jacked.

“You are out of control, and then there’s that realization afterward that it wasn’t appropriate,” Norvell said. “And it takes time to regain composure because you got to let those chemicals you just ran to dissipate out of your system. This is what goes on when residents come in and start screaming at our people. It’s a survival mechanism.”

Leadership Getting inside the Brain

What causes attacks and how to regain your composure

Norvell says there are five things that trigger the Amygdala attacks:

  1. Condescending and lack of respect
  2. Being treated unfairly
  3. Being unappreciated
  4. Feeling that you are not being listened to or heard
  5. Being held to unrealistic deadlines

And four ways to regain composure include:

  1. Breathe and move
  2. Release the thought and feelings
  3. Replace it with empowering thoughts and feelings
  4. Repeat the positive focus – over and over and over

‘You can change your brain’

Managing an Amygdala hi-jack is only half the battle, however. Managers should understand that the mind cannot be in two places at one time and has to make a choice. Even multitasking under non-stressful circumstances can be a brain drain.

“You cannot be running adrenaline while you’re running serotonin,” Norvell said. “You can’t be in pain and pleasure at the same time. You can’t biologically, you can’t be running two different chemical cocktails. Everybody gets a choice, where you want to focus, where you want your life to be.”

Reaching a balance will help managers not only empower themselves with rational thinking but enable the people they lead to do the same by setting the bar.

“When managers and leaders understand how their minds work, how their employees’ minds work, and how by not understanding they are causing their own problems by the language they choose, by inadvertently putting people in a hijack, it really becomes black and white,” Norvell said. “People can’t change until they know and understand what’s going on. They don’t know they are in control and can make different choices. You can change your brain.”

Controlling of your inner Amygdala may just be the difference.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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