Leading with Emotion - The Powerful Effects of Music in Leadership, Personal and Professional Development Programs
I am currently living out an unexpected irony. Our school education system has moved in a direction where arts subjects such as music and drama are far less valued than literacy and STEM. Yet in teaching this very population of educators (as well as leaders and managers), it is through using these “nonessential” crafts that I have received the best results in my 20 years of teaching. nb. if you are curious about how, you can see us in action below:.
Some random feedback from our recent deliveries include:
“That is hands down the best PD I have ever been to! Absolutely loved it and took more away from that than I have in a long time. What a refreshing and considerate session to organise. I think this is just what I needed!
There is no topping this. Absolutely brilliant!
Wow!!! What can I say? This session was excellent and absolutely blew everyone at my table away. It was well presented, had high quality content and contained information that every person in the room could relate to. It was one of my most favourite presentations ever.
If there was an absolutely awesome button I would have rated as that. Love, love, loved it!”
I would like to point out here, that I didn’t always receive such favourable reviews for my teaching. I actually started out as a university lecturer, where holding a PhD was the only requirement needed to get you in front of a class. In this context you were considered “the sage on the stage.” The general approach to teaching is you just get up there and talk, students take notes, and that’s pretty much it. Or so I thought….
When I moved to corporate education, it was a shock to the system. You are no longer the “sage on the stage” – you are presented with a room full of leaders who are all experts and don’t necessarily appreciate being “talked at.” My first teaching feedback report was ok considering, but contained one student comment I will not easy forget - “Scott should never be allowed to teach again.” Ouch. I quickly learned that in this context, the best approach is not to lecture, but to view teaching as a conversation, where your role is to pull out the knowledge and expertise already in the room, and to help students apply the knowledge to their own situations. In this context “the guide from the side” often works best. And thankfully my teaching evaluations improved with my new approach ;)
But, I always felt that something was still missing …
My area of expertise and personal passion is positive psychology. My role is to teach leadership and personal development. Well, I should say, my real role is to facilitate change.
The standard approach to leadership development is to have participants take a range of assessments (such as personality tests, and 360 degree feedback surveys), to help reveal “blind spots” and “areas for development.” We can then help them do SMART goal setting, and throw in a bit of coaching to help them address these limitations. It can be a very clinical experience, if you simply follow this approach. And the good teachers and coaches don’t.
What is missing from the above “standard” approach is emotional engagement. To change, you must WANT to change. To want to change, you must not simply “think” the change is beneficial, but you need to FEEL it.
Emotions are the guidance system of the brain – they tell us important information about our current and future states. They tell us if we are getting things right. The basal ganglia, that helps us select actions to take, uses this signal, and attempts to optimise our position – it leads us towards states that are likely to be emotionally positive, and away from states that are negative. We take jobs, follow careers, find partners and choose food options, based upon estimated emotional valence. We don’t marry someone or choose a career if we think we will be miserable as a result. We want to be happy.
Successful personal development and coaching is around tapping into these emotions. So is successful leadership. If we want people to change, or be motivated, we need to help them create an inspirational vision for the future – one that emotionally resonates. We need to lead from the heart.
And this is where music comes into our programs….
Music is one of the few stimuli that activates the whole brain. It activates deep pathways responsible for memory, motor actions, creativity and emotion. Music, intonation and sound convey important emotional messages that words alone can’t express. Before infants can speak or understand language, they respond to sound, preferring positive speech and music over negative or neutral experiences.
Music also impacts brain circuits responsible for social bonding. Studies have shown that twice as much oxytocin (the brain’s “social bonding” chemical) is released when groups sing together than when they simply socially interact. According to Professor Dunbar an Evolutionary Psychologist from Oxford University, music evolved over five hundred thousand years ago, as a means for humans to bond together in large groups.
There is definite power in music.
In our programs, we use music as part of an emotional narrative - a tool for storytelling and helping participants “feel” what is currently wrong and what is possible. It is when participants FEEL the need to change, that these other techniques for personal development have the most impact.
Also, it is the most fun I have ever had as a teacher :)