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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Executive Insider

3 Reasons Why Your Employees Procrastinate and What You, As Their Leader, Can Do To Lead Them Scientifically Beyond

As a leader, you are driven, goal-orientated and aspire to more. By leading yourself, you lead your team and your organization. You have identified your goal, are ready to accomplish it, believe you can, know you have that can-do attitude and you start doing it.

BUT what happens when your employees procrastinate…? It stops you and your plans in your tracks, right? Everything starts in the mind, and I’d like here to help you understand and work with yours, not against it, so that you not only understand your own brain but you also understand your employees’ ones, so that you can all thrive for momentum.

The root cause of procrastination is a lack of confidence which often shows up in 3 different ways. A lack of confidence takes you on a disappointing and demotivating path. Confidence guides us to act and behave both consistently and mindfully on our journey. It also helps us avoid putting off tasks, and instead align our actions for maximum results. So, ready? Let’s engage all your brains!

All these strategies belong to what we refer to as cognitive control. Also called executive function, cognitive control is the scientific name used to describe a series of neurocognitive processes – the functions – especially required for the control of behaviour to facilitate your goals. These functions – think of them as thinking processes, such as planning, working memory, cognitive flexibility, strategizing, sequencing, problem-solving and set-shifting, to name a few – develop progressively in your brain over the years. Using neuroplasticity, these can be improved and strengthened as you learn and grow.

The name ‘cognitive control’ was first coined by Michael Posner, a psychologist and influencer in this field in 1975; however, the earliest mention of these functions is attributed to Donald Broadbent, also a psychologist, in the 1940s. Neuroscientists and neuropsychologists have continued their research to bring us the insights we’ve learned so far.

Your employees procrastinate because of…

Reason A: Confusion

A confused mind does not take action.

What you as their leader can do => Spend time on your plan of action for your goal. The idea here is to increase your awareness of the clear and aligned next steps ahead. I’m adding the word ‘next’ here as planning is key, but it does not mean to over plan and know step #486…! I’ve seen so many people freeze before even starting, feeling stuck by a multi-multi-multi-row action plan table. Confidently map out your steps, goals and milestones. Focus on knowing where you are right now, where you are going and what needs to be done to lead in that direction. Remember what it takes to get the ball rolling: that one first action. So focus on the first step and drive momentum. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.’ Planning helps you engage better as it makes your goal more actionable.

Why it works scientifically => Spending time on your plan engages your cognitive control from the get-go. As you plan, you strategize, you prioritize, you sequence. It increases efficiency while reducing risks. All these action steps to manage and achieve your goal are leveraging these executive functions: planning; strategizing; sequencing. In addition, when you face adversity and alter the plan of action, you are utilizing a few more functions: cognitive flexibility, problem-solving and set-shifting. These help you to adjust flexibly to the unexpected, thus avoiding triggering the threat response.

Reason B: Overwhelm

An overwhelmed mind does not take action.

What you as their leader can do => Break your goal into a series of chunks. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed by one of your goals, which can be paralyzing, this step helps you take your big goal and chunk it down into smaller, specific and manageable steps. These steps take the fear out of the big ‘how’ question too. Focusing on a chunk and then another one and then another one helps you engage better, as it makes your goal more attainable.

Why it works scientifically => Breaking your goal into chunks engages your cognitive control at several levels. Think of the reward system as it is particularly relevant here, as instead of only assigning a reward for the overall goal completion, you get to assign a series of rewards for each of the chunks along the way! This seriously builds momentum, and the dopamine releases help you stay motivated. Talking about dopamine, you’ll also experience its good vibes effect as you tick off or strike through your various chunks.

Reason C: Uncertainty

An uncertain mind does not take action.

What you as their leader can do => Add dates as deadlines for your overall goal as well as its steps. Milton H. Erickson said, ‘A goal without a date is just a dream.’ So true, isn’t it? When you think of the goals you have in mind, the things you’d like to be, do and have, it can sometimes feel vague and fuzzy. Frame these by adding a completion date – both for your overall goal and its steps along the way. Adding dates helps you to engage better as it makes your goal more tangible.

Why it works scientifically => Adding dates engages your cognitive control at a high level as, thanks to your PreFrontal Cortex, you get to utilize the planning executive function. Plus, here let’s add another layer. Studies have shown that when it comes to deadlines, we respond with a higher sense of urgency when it is phrased in a number of days, so in addition to your goal-completion date and step completion dates, do also specify these in deadlines – in other words, avoid thinking of a quarter deadline for instance and instead think of it as a 90-day one.

These actionable strategies help you to engage your brain to its best as you and your team take action. Your actions are moving you and your life, career, organization forward. Leadership always starts from within, and leading confidently not only impacts you but also others around you: at work, with your colleagues and team members; at home, with your family and friends. Confidence drives you and others to impactful behaviours, such as the ability to empower, motivate, inspire, decide, innovate… It leads you to a much richer path. It leads you beyond the edge towards extraordinary results.


Written by Frederique Murphy. Have you read?
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Frederique Murphy
Frederique Murphy is a leadership mindset strategist who inspires and equips leaders to move through extraordinary change. With her Mountain Moving Mindset platform, as a multi award-winning keynote speaker and consultant, she helps global organizations – including Fortune 500 companies – tap into the power of their leaders’ minds to rewire their brains for success to drive powerful transformations. She brings together 17 years’ experience in corporate change and scientific expertise in positive psychology, neuroscience and behaviour change with strategic vision and business acumen. She’s also the author of a new book, Lead Beyond The Edge: The Bold Path to Extraordinary Results.

Frederique Murphy is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.
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