Managers, it’s time to sit on your hands

Participants of my leadership trainings are asked to define what they aim to achieve when they put brain-based leadership into practice. One of the things I often hear is that participants expect to be able to “sit on their hands“.

Sitting on your hands

Sitting on your hands means letting go of control. It means that when you, as a manager, can truly listen, you don’t automatically spring into action, or present solutions. When you sit on your hands, this motivates the other person to take action. In other words, it activates the active potential of the other.

Two mindsets

Neuro-leadership is a perfect instrument to explain this effect. Everyone has, roughly speaking, two minds sets: the mindset of the follower and the mindset of the internal leader. The mindset of the follower halts personal initiative and maintains the status quo. The mindset of the internal leader involves personal growth, opportunities and personal development.

A managers’ attitude has a significant influence on the mindset of the other person. When a manager sits on his hands, this stimulates the mindset of the internal leader of the other. On the other hand, when a manager is focused on providing solutions, it becomes far easier for the other person to step into the follower.

Why is it so hard for managers to “sit on their hands’?

A lot of managers are very uncomfortable with this concept of ‘sitting on your hands’. The human brain is geared to finding short term rewards. Then, the brain produces dopamine and this makes you feel good. So: when you can help a person with direct advice, or with finding solutions to problems, you are in fact rewarding yourself. This reward is highly addictive. Breaking such a habit is like beating an addiction.

If you set out to promote development of others by sitting on your hands you will, at the outset, receive fewer short time rewards. You will miss your dopamine moments. When you are not fully aware of this mechanism, you can easily relapse into taking back control.

What to do?

Fortunately, there is effective and easy to adopt replacement behavior. With this new behavior the other will grow and you yourself won’t have to miss your dopamine moment. This other behavior is asking questions. Questions that make the other person think about future actions and behavior. It is crucial that the wording of these questions is positive.

An example

I’ll give you an example. When a relationship with someone is not what it should be and working together is a struggle, most people would advise you to improve this relationship. Such advice often has an effect on the one giving the advice because of the dopamine moment. But the person giving the advice can just as well become someone who asks questions. He can ask: what can you do to improve this relationship? This is a positively worded question. When you turn it to a negative, the question can be: what can you do to so this relationship is no longer so challenging? A negatively formulated question puts or keeps you in a follower mindset sooner.


I often tell the participants of my trainings that it’s not so difficult to become an effective leader: understand your brain and practice, also practice sitting on your hands.


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