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Why Savvy Leaders Operate Above The Line

How often do we hear from a friend or family member the toll that a toxic workplace is taking on their performance, capacity for teamwork and on their wellbeing?

When the workplace climate is harsh, or hostile, it is detrimental to optimal human performance. A negative environment significantly affects how our brain functions. Our executive brain is less accessible, making it harder to think, relate and learn effectively.

Savvy leaders understand this and recognise they have an influential role in shaping the interpersonal climate. They understand their role is to create a positive workplace ecosystem, one that brings out the best in themselves and their employees.

Wise leaders also know that the culture of a workplace is determined by the worst below-the-line behaviour that they are willing to tolerate.

Many workplace challenges can result from behaviour that is ‘below- the-line’. Bullying, incivility, disengagement, high turnover and low productivity are all manifestations of a workplace functioning far below-the-line. When the poor interpersonal environment slips below what supports humans to function at their best, they are unlikely to achieve organisational success.

Humans need a positive and healthy environment to function well.

An employee’s capacity to contribute their best to organisational success depends on the accessibility of their highest brain functioning which become increasingly unavailable when leaders operate below the line.

Modern workplace demands require humans to function well cognitively and psychologically. We need our brain to function optimally to think strategically, laterally and creatively, to make decisions with increasing complexity in the context of unpredictability and uncertainty.

Equally important is that our interpersonal relationships depend on our capacity for empathy, positive relationships, self-awareness and self-management. These skills allow us to see situations from different perspectives including viewpoints with which we may not agree and to cultivate an interpersonally healthy environment, where people feel psychologically and physically safe.

The crisis of COVID-19 has provided leaders with a once in a lifetime opportunity of enforced reflection on our workplaces. Many of us have deeply reflected on the importance of the psychological and mental health of our team environment and are challenged by the responsibility of positively influencing this critical aspect in the new era in which we have found ourselves.

Every organisation and employee both deserves and requires the benefits of an above-the-line culture, a psychological environment that enables humans to perform at their peak. Senior leaders must safeguard and elevate the ecosystem to achieve organisational success and ensure their workplace thrives.

Savvy leaders invest in 4 key areas to ensure their workplace operates above the line

  1. Workplace climate awareness

    They make time to reflect on and understand what is happening at the level of interpersonal relationships - they understand that this is the context that either helps people thrive or burnout.

  2. Self-Leadership

    They lead themselves above-the-line, cultivating self-leadership to optimise their cognitive and psychological agility, performance and wellbeing; become a powerfully, positive influence for others.

  3. Lead others above the line

    They lead their employees above the line in ways that optimise their potential and strengths and help them feel valued and trusted. They recognise that their employees’ performance, engagement and wellbeing are highly affected by the relationship they have with their leader or manager. This relationship is a central factor in employees’ experience of work and even more vital, like a lifeline, especially at this time of unpredictability and uncertainty.

  4. Build a thriving workplace eco-system

    They create a thriving, high-performing team culture where employees feel valued and psychologically safe to learn, ensures they can perform at their peak cognitively and psychologically. The impact can be exceptionally positive as it unleashes the potential of the workforce - they are primed to think and perform at their peak. They don’t hesitate to ask questions and take the interpersonal risks of learning. This environment, like any flourishing ecosystem, supports and sustains individuals in cohesive ways, and naturally fosters productive collaboration and teamwork.

A toxic ‘ego-system’, where people feel psychologically unsafe, unvalued and where toxic interpersonal interactions are rife, reinforces reptile brain functioning that undermines all workplace aspirations, performances and values.

Savvy leaders understand that the psychological environment or ecosystem their employees are marinating in each day has a huge and powerful impact on them at every level. This is why they operate and lead above the line.

Author Credits

Michelle Bihary is a people leadership and workplace resilience expert, author of Leading Above the Line - applying neuroscience to build psychologically safe and thriving teams. She applies neuroscience in her work with leaders and teams to help them build thriving workplaces to achieve organisational success. For more information about Michelle’s work https://www.michellebihary.com/.
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