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The Amygdala effect

AmygdalaAre you in your rational mind at work all the time? OK, maybe you think you are, but what about the other people around you, are they?

To read management textbooks and most articles, you would think so.

Management literature tends to be written with the underlying assumption that people working in organisations are principally rational and enjoy high levels of emotional intelligence. Similarly the assumption is that people leading organisations are perfectly rational as well. From this arises a wealth of information, guidance and advice that might work well under ideal situations but so often seems not to work in practice.

The more common reality of organisational life is, that for a lot of the time, in a lot of organisations the occupants are functioning below their usual level of emotional intelligence and are instead in what we might call ‘a sub-optimum brain state’ triggered by the ever-present stress response.

Reinventing management thinking

Essentially the flight or flight stress response is the reason why organisations sometimes don’t work as well as management theory would predict and why so many management ideas fail to fulfil their full potential. We seriously need to reinvent management thinking.

I believe that so much of current management thinking triggers the stress response and this has a powerful impact on how we run our organisations, drive growth, eliminate waste, increase productivity and improve profits.

The important point to understand is that when individuals are stressed, they are very far from being rational. Under such conditions they frequently work against organisational objectives, find it difficult to learn anything new or even get on with one another. Research shows that stressed individuals have a susceptibility to pursuing a wide range of destructive or at least unhelpful thinking patterns, working relationships and behaviour that get in the way of productive workflow and creative innovation.

The amygdala triggers the stress response

It is a tiny organ in the brain known as the amygdala that triggers the human stress response.

From the moment stress is triggered, it is the primeval amygdala, not the higher functioning rational brain that is in control of events. The amygdala’s stress response progressively shuts down rational thinking, balanced judgement, attentive listening, empathy and a number of other valuable mental and emotional faculties needed for organisational effectiveness.

The repercussion is disrupted workflow, demotivation, disengagement and generally a dysfunctional if not downright toxic working environment.

This is what I call the ‘amygdala effect’ and wherever it erupts, the result is low performance and productivity, poor decision-making, a dearth of creative problem solving, mistakes, errors and incoherent group activity.

Thirty organisational stressors

Over the last fifteen years, I have identified at least thirty common ‘organisational stressors’ that stimulate the brain’s amygdala to trigger the instinctive stress response and start shutting down effective organisational functioning. Ironically, the majority of these are created by management activity and thinking. Typically we see management working against human nature because of a complete lack of understanding about how potent the stress response is in breaking down work efficiency and effectiveness.

So, the good news is that these stressors are not inevitable, and as a manager or business owner you have the power to remove or at least alleviate the problem both quickly and relatively cost free.

Refocusing attention on how your decisions, planning and leadership may be generating stress in the working environment is the first step. Taking this step will enable you to come up with corrective stratagems and structures to improve almost any work situation. the result is a transformation in working conditions that will then greatly enhance productive working, sound decision-making and a harmonious collaborative effort.

Eleven key emotional drivers

All that you need to achieve this transformation is the knowledge of eleven key emotional drivers that keep people motivated and able to access high functioning mental and emotional faculties. These faculties, often taken for granted by management theorists, include our innate ability to collaborate together in joint enterprises, a fairly stubborn loyalty to our host group and a wonderful proclivity for group problem solving. These innate resources are easily accessible wherever you have a healthy and alert workforce free from the debilitating amygdala effect.

Reinventing management thinkingYou can learn more about organisational stress, the eleven key emotional drivers, the thirty stressors and how to remove them in 'Reinventing management thinking' available from Amazon.

About Jeremy Old

Jeremy Old is a business turnaround specialist and psychotherapist. He is author of the ground breaking book 'Reinventing management thinking' Jeremy spent seven years analysing the root cause of organisational failure or under performance from a psychological point of view.

He has come up with a plain speaking practical business manual that will help managers or business owners design stress out of their organisation and transform performance.


"This is a terrific book. It is a great business studies manual, and a superb contribution to the application of psychology in business and leadership. It is very meticulous and thorough in spelling out precise stressors in workplaces and exactly how these stressors impact on the biological needs and resources (human givens). It made me want to rush out and sort out all the ailing and dysfunctional businesses around here." Mike Grevis, psychotherapist.

Reinventing management thinkingReinventing management thinking - Using science to liberate the human spirit.

How and why changing organisational design and leadership style transforms work culture and provides real competitive advantage. Buy now from Amazon

Employee engagement WPEmployee engagement programme white paper

Taking a systems approach to improving employee engagement can have an impact out of all proportion to the costs and effort involved. Free download

Save the NHSCuring the NHS

Management induced stress provokes low performance, compassion fatigue and mistakes that puts thousands of patients' lives at risk every day, read the white paper to learn why ...


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