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Toward Understanding Humans@Work: How Emotion and Motivation Shape Leadership Styles

By Debra Kaufman

If you’ve ever considered where leadership styles come from or if you’ve ever given feedback repeatedly to a co-worker only to find yourself frustrated with the lack of acknowledgement, or improvement or even simply the willingness to be accountable, this session promises to open the door to a new way of looking at interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

Neogy came to her knowledge base through personal experience. Early in her career, after working at numerous startups, she realized she was fascinated by learning and development in the work world and earned a master’s degree in transformative leadership development at the California Institute of Integral Studies. That led to positions first at Adobe and then at Facebook working with team building. But the experience was not what she expected. “I had a horrible, wonderful experience,” she said. “I felt excluded most of the time, and I was really flummoxed and confused by that.” Digging deep into that experience, she relied on her personal development and research to launch herself on a new path. “That’s what started me on the road to neurobiology and attachment theory.”

The psychological concept of family constellations – a therapeutic approach to revealing hidden dynamics of family relationships – was her starting point and it led her to epigenetics, the study of how the environment and other factors can change the way that individual’s genes are expressed. “The first track of epigenetics is our nervous systems and cellular biology,” says Neogy. “The second track, which is the most fascinating, is trans-generational epigenetics. The research shows that we carry the traits, tragedies and traumas for centuries.” The latter is described in scholarly publications by Dr. Rachel Yehuda and geneticist Dr. Moshe Szyf. Neogy absorbed the scientific data and brought her new understanding to her own clients.

“The ask was – can you do diversity and unconscious bias training, and I’d say, no, we can’t talk about that unless we are really able to hold our own lens of self-awareness and self-management,” she said. “I went to a lot of meetings and people laughed at me.” But, she adds, “if we are not able to truly speak the languages of emotion and needs directly correlated to team culture and organizational dynamics, it doesn’t matter how much diversity training you do.”

In the face of this reaction, she spent time to craft a way to share the data in a more understandable way. “I talked about concepts of belonging and how we use leadership behaviors to signal inclusion – and people started to resonate with that,” she says. “I started to include an ‘epigenetics light’ section with actual personal stories, and people were blown away with it. Now, we were talking about compassion, safety, now we had collaboration and communications we didn’t have before. It was a whole new ballgame.”

Belonging is a key concept in Neogy’s telling, and points to Dr. Stephen Porges description of “neuroception,” a term he coined to describe the underpinning of the sense of belonging. A professor of psychiatry and the director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Porges uses the term to describe how neural circuits distinguish whether situations or people are safe, dangerous or life-threatening. “We’re constantly scanning for safety, danger, life-threatening situations in every meeting,” Neogy says. “If we dread going into a meeting because we think we’ll be bullied, micro-managed or endangered in any way, we’ll either shut down, withdraw, get defensive or not listen.” That, she pointed out, is why more deeply understanding ourselves is a necessary first step towards creating an empathic, unbiased workplace. “We need to have a mastery of understanding who we are, and the ability to be fluent in both our needs and our unmet needs, such as trust, respect, safety, efficaciousness. We need to have conversations where we can surface those unmet needs when a transgression or conflict has arisen.”

Neogy has paired this understanding with her own journey in learning how to convey information in a meaningful way in team building. She began working with Sarah Peyton, a neuroscience educator who has integrated brain science and what she calls “resonant language” to heal trauma. “We’ve done some amazing collaboration,” says Neogy. “A lot of my understanding of people at work came from her. She realized the power of our inner voice, and that drove why I wanted to understand how to rewire our brains so we can be in more relationships with ourselves for better relationship management.”

Neogy now works with corporate teams to build psychologically safe cultures and will bring that to the HPA community this month. “What kind of corporate world would you like to create for yourself and your co-workers?” she asks. “To do that, we need self-awareness, self-regulation, understand and our coworkers and relationship management. To the degree that we are able to connect and navigate our own internal landscape allows us to hold broader depth of our team culture.”


On Monday, May 24th during HPA ALL IN, Rajkumari Neogy will present Understanding Humans@Work
We encourage you to attend this invaluable, free session, exploring the brain’s circuity of emotion and motivation and, how it directly shapes our leadership styles and our levels of engagement from meeting to meeting during this 45-minute introductory session, with 15 Q&A at the end.  In the coming months, Neogy will present a series of in-depth sessions for HPA Members.

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