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The See-Say-Do Chain Reaction

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between second- and firsthand experiences. Whether you’re doing something or watching someone else do the same thing, the same neurological regions in your brain are stimulated. Interestingly, research shows that the same pattern of neurons, called mirror neurons, fires in the observer as in the person performing a task or telling a story.

Neuroscientists attribute the understanding of the goals, desires, intentions, feelings, and actions of others in large measure to the mirror neuron system. Cognitive and social psychologists have found that mirror neurons also give humans the ability to see others’ points of views.

According to neurologist V. S. Ramachandran, the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, mirror neurons are responsible for the evolution of complex skill in humans, such as tool making, using fire, building shelters, and language development. Because of mirror neurons, these complex skills spread horizontally through the population and vertically into future generations, thus shaping culture and civilization.

Now, let’s apply this knowledge to the leadership sphere. When you perform an act of leadership, the same neurons that fire in your brain will fire in the brains of your team members. Thanks to mirror neurons, the do—and the feeling or tone behind that do—is highly contagious. The mirror neurons of your listeners mirror your leadership actions, initiating the process of imitative learning and spreading cultural norms and behaviors throughout the team.

These findings highlight the asset-based thinking (ABT) principle that leaders must set the example for what they want their followers to see, say, and do.

When the leader is enthusiastic, team members will respond with a similar level of high positive energy.

If the leader is in the responsive, creative mode, the team is more likely to operate in that way too. The negative corollary is also true: what the leader does in the reactive, high-alert stress mode will trigger a similar high-alert reaction in team members.

The Lead Positive See–Say–Do chain reaction starts with you.

What you see influences your desires, intentions, goals, and actions. Asset-based or deficit-based thinking: it’s entirely up to you.

What you say allows others to place themselves in your mental shoes. The ability to see from your point of view allows them to develop a picture of who you are as a leader and what you hope to achieve.

What you do leads others to imitate your actions and develop the complex skills that form the culture of your team.

It is also important to note that what your followers see, say, and do can and should influence your leadership actions. Your job as leader includes being aware of and receptive to what others are seeing, saying, and doing. By focusing first on creating your own asset-based See–Say–Do cycle, however, you can initiate a positive chain reaction that makes it easier to monitor and manage the see–say–do interactions throughout your team.

Leading up to the launch of Lead Positive on March 17, I will be sharing more tips and tools directly from the book to help you shine the spotlight of attention on the positive and possible.

All I ask is that you let me know what is working for you!

Photo by:  Marina Noordegraff

Dr. Kathy Cramer

Kathryn D. Cramer, PH.D.
Founder and Managing Partner, The Cramer Institute