The Science of Performance

Three more character traits to cultivate: courtesy, humility and unselfishness.

Increasingly, neuroscience is uncovering new fundamentals for how to drive organizational performance from our Jobs at the Top.

Capitalizing on these findings requires courage. And enough self-confidence to reconsider the “truths” you’ve “grooved” over the years about leadership and management. To embrace fresh perspectives. That throw out hubris. And for you to step into a cloak of service.

Most simply, science has identified patterns of brain activity that foster optimum achievement … and the stimuli from the outside … from you and me … that either create, or suppress, those incentives.

The big news? It’s not what we’ve thought.

Fear, the anchor point of our legacy model for organizational authority, triggers the limbic section of the brain, which shuts down creativity, the willingness to innovate and motivation. Under the authority of fear, most people retreat to doing only what they know is safe.

Encouragement, on the other hand, particularly when it’s tied to an emotionally stimulating goal, triggers our prefrontal cortex … the crucible for expansive thinking and motivation.

In the last installment I introduced three traits of character. Overarching principles for the spirit with which you approach your job to create motivation … Patience, Kindness and Generosity.

Here, we’ll examine three more character traits … not overarching principles this time … but rather more specific ways to handle yourself, every day, to add momentum.


Courtesy in business? You’ve got to be kidding … business is combat … and I’m a general under fire! Recent science proves you wrong. An atmosphere of courtesy is not just for parlor games. It’s a lynchpin of culture in maniacally successful organizations. And it starts with you.

A great friend describes the difference between kindness and courtesy. Kindness is picking up a hitchhiker on a lonely road. Courtesy is not making him feel in need.

Your role in courtesy is to make people feel good about themselves. In tiny ways. By smiling. Opening the door. Not interrupting. Looking them in the eye when they are talking. Repeating what they say. Asking rather than telling. Knowing about their lives beyond work. And by comments and actions – small things – that make them know that you appreciate and care about them.


Gone in my organizations are the days of executive parking spaces, big offices and someone else bringing you coffee. Executives’ only “prequisites” are those directly related to fulfilling their responsibilities. Meg Whitman, CEO at Hewlett Packard, is a great example … Meg sits in a cubicle and drives herself to work.

What replaces the satisfaction of the “old school” kinds of benefits for being at the top? It’s the deeper emotional satisfaction of service. Of coming to work every day to help others be successful. In helping you. And knowing that the more you are seen by them as like them, the greater will be their incentive for making that happen.

Furthermore, no one wants to disappoint a humble leader. And besides, everyone else already knows that you’re the boss.


He who takes last, takes most … when he’s at the top and does a great job. The translation? Develop the habit of seeing yourself last.

Discipline yourself to be the last person to cross your mind. Expunge, “What does it mean for me?” … from your thinking in every circumstance. Particularly in moments of crisis. Or of opportunity. Get over any need to save yourself. Or to be recognized as the savior. Be first to encourage, first to sacrifice. Last to leave, last to taste the spoils of victory.

Everything you say and everything you do needs to telegraph one single and blindingly clear message: that you care more about everyone else than you care about yourself.

Add conscious attentions to Courtesy, Humility and Unselfish­ness into your daily routine … backed up by your overarching intentions to be Patient, Kind and Generous of Spirit … and you’ll begin seeing a difference. Where it counts most!