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Hormones: The Hidden Leadership Tool You Are Overlooking

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You've taken a Dale Carnegie course, a Stephen Covey course and read every book on leadership that's been printed. You're always looking for that leadership edge. Recent research indicates you should look beyond training your mind and boosting your emotional intelligence -- you should manage your hormones.

University of Texas researchers have shown a relationship between effective leadership, testosterone and cortisol. According to their research, the most effective leaders have higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And the results are gender-neutral.

Does this mean you should start taking testosterone pills if you want to become a more effective leader in your organization and be promoted? Hardly.

The reason these hormone levels are relevant to leadership is testosterone has a buffering effect on cortisol. In other words, testosterone neutralizes the anxiety, cognitive dissonance and fear that comes with the fight-or-flight response. That means the higher the levels of testosterone a person has in comparison to their cortisol levels, the more calm and collected they are in a crisis. A calm leader is trusted and trust is a cornerstone of an effective leader.

Higher testosterone and lower cortisol also mean more energy. One symptom of low testosterone is fatigue. As my readers already know, high cortisol and a high-stress lifestyle suck the energy out of you. And who ever saw an effective leader who was crashing and burning with fatigue?

So, how do you use this research to energize and accelerate your career? Here are a few tips I've learned to rebalance your hormones by resetting the balance.

Zen Out

As you know, I don't believe in stress management. Stress cannot be managed. Believing you can manage stress requires you to believe you can control other people's behavior. How has that worked for you so far?

The key to being a more effective leader and reducing your cortisol levels is to neutralize stress. Stress is a physiological response starting in the limbic brain. It is our fight-or-flight response.

We come in contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of stressors every day. Rarely are these stressors life or death, as was the case in caveman days. Yet, until we learn to neutralize our response, we act as if everything from missing a deadline to our spouse forgetting to pick up eggs at the store is a life-or-death situation. This fight-or-flight, the-sky-is-falling thinking clouds our judgment and wastes energy.

For each daily stressor, we have a choice of responses. I recommend reframing it from fight-or-flight to "freak out or Zen out." When we freak out, we pump cortisol into the situation, get tunnel vision and lose perspective. When instead we Zen out, we reduce our cortisol and think more clearly and calmly. Choosing to Zen out in crisis leads to better decisions because you can step back, collect enough data and make a reasoned decision; yes these are traits of an effective leader.

Boost Your Testosterone Naturally

The other side of the effective leader hormone equation is the testosterone. Now we have to careful, especially women, about messing with our testosterone levels without working with a health practitioner. However, there are a few things you can do that boost your levels naturally while giving you more energy and improving your over all health. Note this is further evidence that a healthy mind and body lead to greater professional success.

Start with diet. A whole foods, plant-based diet has been shown to improve testosterone, cortisol and energy levels. Foods you might want to add include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale, aromatics like garlic and onion and my new favorite, brazil nuts.

When coaching clients, I always start with what to add, but eventually we have to consider those things that are reducing our testosterone and boosting our cortisol. The two biggies are sugar and alcohol. Yes, they both suppress testosterone and not surprisingly, increase fatigue and cortisol. I'm not suggesting a complete elimination (although that will boost your confidence and energy), but looking at your habits and learning to cut back will help balance these leadership hormones.

Stand In Your Power

Physiology is a profoundly simple tool to boost your energy, get you focused and balance your hormones for more effective leadership. We all know the physiology of an emotionally weak person versus an emotionally strong person. It turns out our physiology can trigger our emotional state. So, stand up straight.

Seriously, whether you're asking for that promotion or making a sales presentation, mind your physiology so you can stand in your leadership power. For instance, stand with your feet hip width apart. Stand or sit straight with your shoulders back. Lean back in that way that calm, cool and collected people do (leaning forward indicates anxiety). Keep your palms open. All of these tips not only send the signal to others that you are a calm and effective leader, but they also send a chemical signal to your body to stay calm, lower the cortisol and boost the testosterone. You got this.

Watch Your Language

The final area to monitor in managing your body's chemistry and thus your confidence and leadership skills is your language. Do you use phrases like: "crazy busy," "freaked out," "stressed out," "overwhelmed," etc.? As with your physiology, you are not only sending a signal to others, but to your body, that you are stressed out and not to be trusted to make decisions.

By minding your language, you can boost your testosterone and reduce your cortisol. Instead of talking about how much you have to do, flip the tables and talk of the opportunities you have to excel. Instead of crazy busy, recognize how grateful you are for this opportunity to serve. Instead of overwhelmed, focus on how you can leverage Parkinson's law and get it all done.

Most leadership training focuses on how to inspire, self-awareness and seeing the big picture amongst other things. These are all necessary skills. But it turns out our hormone balances also plays an important role and should not be overlooked. Instead, balancing your hormones is an opportunity to step into your more successful self. If you're serious about getting ahead, its time you got your body on board with your career.

Not only will these strategies help propel your career but when you support your team members with these strategies your team's performance will improve.