In this summary, I have concentrated on the chemicals in our brain and healthy living. I encourage every leader or member of a team to purchase the book and learn about the incredible way God has created us to work in the community.
God has fearfully and wonderfully made us. When we look at not only His creation but how He has made us then we start to see the ingenious way we respond to different things and how we are able to have healthy communities and relationships through the clever way different chemicals support us to function most effectively.
In the book by Simon Sinek titled "Leaders Eat Last", there is a remarkably interesting overview of how God has created our body to produce 4 key chemicals, to support us in living in a community and to work as a team. We are designed to live in a way that we support all members to achieve success for the benefit of all. Success as a team starts with leadership that intentionally nurtures and grows people in a safe environment. As our world is full of danger, by creating a safe space in which people work, they are released from fearing danger from inside the organisation and instead can focus to be the most productive and creative they can be. He calls upon leaders to develop a place called the Circle of Safety.
To develop this team in which all can experience maximum success, the leader needs a goal of establishing a culture that is free from danger from others in the team. This is done by establishing a sense of belonging through offering a strong culture that has the foundations of clear values and beliefs. On top of this, giving people the power to make decisions is essential. A Circle of Safety is created by offering trust and empathy. This Circle of Safety allows the members to feel safe and as a result invest energy in the tasks at hand and to feel confident they are able to face the outside threats in a unified manner as a team.
Although Simon speaks a lot about evolution, it is evident that he sees the hand of a designer as he speaks about how the body works. What is most interesting in his book is the link between positive functioning as a team and chemicals that God has given us to support or even enhance the way good teams function. His approach is quite different from most authors, as he ties in the incredible way four chemicals promote positive feelings in our bodies. These chemicals are endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Not only do these chemicals help us feel good, they function in ways that cause us not only to survive but to thrive both individually and as teams.
The Achieving Chemicals - Dopamine and Endorphins
These two chemicals are a big factor in people desiring to hang, gather and achieve. They cause us to feel good when we find something we need or achieve a goal.
Endorphins: The Runners High
Endorphins have one quite simple purpose. They mask physical pain. Our body releases this chemical when we are stressed or are fearing something and mask any physical pain with pleasure. Therefore long-distance runners or fitness fanatics crave to exercise to relax after stress. Laughing is another behaviour that releases endorphins as we are causing our organs to convulse when we laugh, causing them pain.
Dopamine - An Incentive For Progress
When we find something we are looking for or do something that needs to get done our body releases dopamine. This chemical causes us to feel satisfaction when we have completed an important project or task, or we have reached a goal. It is released when we cross off something from our to-do list. Because of dopamine, humans are a goal-oriented species that desires progress. Every step we make towards our goal releases a hit of dopamine, leading to a big hit when the goal is finished as a reward for completing all the hard work.
It is interesting that Simon believes the best visions are ones that will never be reached but we will gladly continue trying. Each step helps us feel we are making progress on something bigger than us.
The thing to note is that dopamine is highly addictive and the feeling we can have is quite intoxicating. This leads to many being addicted to this feel-good chemical. For example, when our phones buzz or beep or when we get a message releases a hit of dopamine as we think we have something special. We may hate the constant mail but are addicted to the "ding". As we crave a hit of the chemical dopamine, we repeat the behaviours that we know will produce the hit. Dopamine is released with gambling, alcohol, social media, shopping, pornography etc.
It is important to note that even though our accomplishments may be fuelled by dopamine, lasting feelings of happiness come through engagement with others. Who we did it with becomes more important than what we achieved.
The Selfless Chemicals - Serotonin and Oxytocin
These chemicals help us feel valued when in the company of those we trust, giving us feelings of belonging and inspire us to work for the good of the group. These chemicals keep the Circle of Safety strong.
Both serotonin and oxytocin encourage pro-social behaviour. They help us form bonds of friendship and trust, so we look out for each other. When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin, and oxytocin reward us with feelings of security, fulfilment belonging, trust and camaraderie. They can help us to become an inspiring leader, a loyal follower, a close friend, a trusted partner leading to a Circle of Safety. This leads to decreased stress, increased fulfilment, a desire to serve and a willingness for others to watch our backs. Without oxytocin and serotonin friction results leading to the sabotage of our careers, happiness, and the organisation's success.
Serotonin: The Leadership Chemical
Serotonin is the feeling of pride when we perceive others like or respect us. This causes us to feel strong and confident, and at times we feel we can take on anything. Serotonin works to reinforce the bond between parents and their children, teacher and student, coach and player, boss and employee, leader, and follower. When a sportsperson has others they know and care for cheering them on, they get an injection of serotonin and it helps them to work even harder to achieve their goals to make their audience proud.
Oxytocin: The Love Chemical
Oxytocin is the chemical that is loved by most people the most. It is the feeling of friendship, love, or deep trust. It is the chemical released when we are enjoying the company of closest friends or trusted colleagues. This is the feeling we have when we do something nice for others or they do something nice for us. Oxytocin is the reason we do nice things for others, have empathy, develop strong bonds of trust and friendship, and feel like our backs are being watched by others. Oxytocin causes us to make human connections and enjoy other people's company. Oxytocin is the chemical that causes us to be social.
Dopamine brings instant gratification, while oxytocin is long-lasting leading to humans being able to be more vulnerable with people the more they are around others. The more we spend time around individuals and gain their trust, the more oxytocin flows. Over time, the mad, spontaneous dopamine hit is replaced with a more stable and relaxed oxytocin-driven relationship that is long term.
Simon gives a powerful definition of love. "Love is giving someone the power to destroy us and trusting they won't use it".
Any quality relationship requires time and energy. To develop this relationship we need a specific focus in ensuring we watch each other's back, help each other grow and help people feel like they really belong.
Why does it feel good to help someone else with time, energy, or give a little favour with no expectation of anything in return? When we do this, not only does this feel good to ourselves as we are injected with a small shot of oxytocin, but the person we helped also gets a shot. An added bonus is that anyone watching will also get a shot of oxytocin. As we like this feeling, the more we help others the more we enjoy helping.
Oxytocin is also released when we touch another person. A hug, handshake etc causes a warm feeling when someone we like touches us.
Finally, oxytocin boosts our immune system, makes us better problem solvers, and causes us to be more resistant to the addictive qualities of dopamine. It also gives us lasting feelings of calm and safety.
The Danger Chemical - Cortisol
To help us understand the dangers of living outside the circle of safety, we need to understand the chemical cortisol and what it does. When we live in a team or community that is healthy, each person looks out for the dangers from outside. If one individual spots danger, then all help to protect each other.
When we are threatened with danger, our body releases the chemical cortisol which causes us to experience a heightened sense of alertness. This stress causes the person to be distracted and as a result, they cannot do anything until the stress has left. Cortisol is not designed to be in our system for long, but it quickly enters our system when we sense a threat and then leaves quickly when the threat has passed. If it stays in our body for an extended period, it causes serious stress on our bodies. When people feel they are in an unsafe environment, they disengage and cortisol drips constantly into their system. This cortisol inhibits the release of oxytocin (this chemical allows us to show empathy) and causes people to be more selfish and less concerned about others in our team or organisation. As humans, we easily adapt to this unhealthy, unbalance culture and our bodies get used to the conditions, so we continue to persevere. This, though, comes at a high price. Increased levels of cortisol disrupt our glucose metabolism, increases blood pressure, reduces our ability to fight inflammation, impairs cognitive ability, increases aggression, suppresses our sex drive and leaves us feeling stressed out. With a constant drip of cortisol, we are constantly ready to fight or run and our body turns off essential body functions including digestion, our immune system and growth.
How, then can we live a healthy life? One of the most important ways it to be in places where we feel safe. If we exist in a Circle of Safety, then we have strong relationships, feel we belong and are protected leading to oxytocin diminishing the effect of any cortisol. This leads to trust, a desire to do things for others and look out for others leading to an increased sense of security. As we feel our well-being is not threatened then we have a greatly reduced level of stress.
What Does This Mean For Leaders?
To create an environment at work that is healthy for all, time needs to be taken to build proper relations and for staff to know they are more important than the numbers. When there is a sense of trust amongst the team, oxytocin is released into people's bodies, and this can reverse the negative effects of operating in a high-stress environment that causes cortisol to be released. An important goal is to create an environment that increases levels of the two key chemicals that keep organisations running most effectively. By increasing the release of serotonin in an organisation, people have increased self-confidence and are inspired to help those who work for us and make those we work for be proud of what we do. By increasing oxytocin in an organisation, workers have their stress relieved, are more interested in their work, their cognitive abilities increase leading to the ability to solve more complex problems. This chemical boosts our immune systems, lowers blood pressure, increases libido and reduces cravings and addictions. Most importantly, it inspires people to be able to work together.
6 Ways to Boost Serotonin Without Medication https://www.healthline.com/health/tryptophan#health-benefits
What Is Cortisol https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol
What Are Endorphins? (Plus, Hacks to Trick Your Body into Manufacturing More of These Feel-Good Chemicals) https://draxe.com/health/what-are-endorphins/
How Does Dopamine Affect the Body? https://www.healthline.com/health/dopamine-effects
What Is Serotonin? https://www.simplypsychology.org/what-is-serotonin.html
What Is Oxytocin? https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-oxytocin-5090160