Going Limbic

Years ago I worked for a business which fairly dramatically went from a period of great prosperity into sharp decline of revenues.  The leadership of the business, who had been used to leading growth had little experience of what to do in such a crisis.  All of a sudden leaders who had been visionary and inspiring became indecisive and autocratic at the same time.

A highly insightful colleague described the leadership as having “Gone Limbic”.  Meaning that instead of applying their usually cerebral thinking approach to the problem, they were, in effect, panicking.

I am sure most of us have had the experience of “going limbic” at some time.  Something highly stressful triggers an emotional reaction which makes it hard or impossible to think. Tasks or evaluations that we would normally take in our stride become challenging or impossible and our decision making is seriously impaired.

If we are sufficiently self aware when such an experience occurs we may be able to calm ourselves down and get a better grip on the situation.  If we have had similar experiences before we may even have some techniques we can use.

In a business situation where an extreme reversal takes place and the whole management team are pitched into a steep change curve that they had not anticipated, the whole team can “go limbic.”  When this occurs in a group it is very difficult for any individual to simply calm things down and create the opportunity for rational thought.

If the team do “go limbic”  they will be highly susceptible to the first thing that comes along to ease their fear or stress.  So when someone suggests cutting 10% of headcount unilaterally, and the first pass of the numbers seem to back up the idea, a measure like this can be accepted quickly without ever being rationally considered in terms of the implications for the brand, the culture or the long term.

The antidote to precipitated action is preparation.  A management team that know each other well and trust each other deeply will be far less susceptible to going limbic and will be far better equipped to regain self control if they do.  If you can add in deep self knowledge, so that each individual knows themselves, their own responses to stress and how to deal with it, the “group think” element can also be diminished.

In a team building project I will usually use some personality profiling tools to help build knowledge of self and each other.  I will also help each individual  articulate their purpose, vision and values using the exercise based on the process in this e-book.  We will then develop a purpose, vision and set of values for the team, by integrating those of each individual. (In a larger organisation this will be complimentary to the purpose, vision and values of the whole).

When each individual in the management team, and indeed the whole organisation, can see the organisation as a platform for achieving their own vision and values in alignment with the business purpose, motivation and commitment shifts to a whole new level.  For the team, understanding each others’ purpose, vision and values is an important part of knowing each other and building trust.

Typically we also do some work to understand the nature of leadership and teamwork and how they interact with one another.   Shifting from a hierarchical world view to one where leadership is seen as something dynamic that moves around the team to where it is relevant in the moment, depending on skills, relationships, state of mind or whatever might be appropriate to a situation.

We also build the understanding that the role of leadership is situational. A leader has absolute responsibility for ensuring that the vision, strategy, team membership, roles and responsibilities and ways of working are articulated and understood, without having to be the author of any of them.  Once these strategic elements are in place the role of the leader is both to be the clearest living embodiment of the vision and the values and to get out of the way – unless and until there is a real need for their support with a specific challenge.

Such an intervention might take two days of management time and as well as dramatically improving team effectiveness it significantly reduces the risk of the team going limbic when things go wrong.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business



About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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One Response to Going Limbic

  1. Hi Neil, thanks for this lovely piece.
    I love the term “going limbic”! It made me reflect on a few instances over the past couple of days where this has happened for me and I can absolutely concur that slowing down, becoming mindful and reconnecting with self and purpose enabled me to move quicker through the limbic hijack and back to being more rational of thought.

    Here’s to a limbic free week!


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