Leading in a SACRED Way

Yesterday I went down to the Spit for a walk. I know. Not every town has a Spit.

Ours is a 4-mile narrow strip of turf hanging out in Kachemak Bay. Walks on the Homer Spit mean the sea is in surround-sound, surround-view, and surround-sense. In deep October, the Spit refreshes the senses. It’s a great place to tap the reset button on one’s nervous system.

In glaring contrast, summertime on the Spit sports a vibe of whirlwind proportions. Packed with dazed tourists, glazed-over seasonal workers, wandering RVs, summer shops, odiferous food carts, and a fishing frenzy. It’s a high frequency zone then.

We locals know when to stay away 😉

And It Got Me Thinking

It got me thinking about the vibe of any workplace, any time of year.

Last week, one leader told me that he equates the excitement of the workplace with stress and anxiety. Well, OK. All of those emotions leap to the high wire.

He seems to be missing one truth of us mere mammals (aka, everyone in the workplace). We mammals operate well when our neural states are humming. As in: Not. Too. Stressed.

When we are spending more of our time in what I call the Humming Zone. This is when we feel: Calm. Alert. Kindred. Engaged. (yup, that’s our CAKE) It’s our optimal neural state for wise work.

You’ve felt it. When you are deep in the flow of a task without noticing the passage of time. When you are collaborating on a project and enjoying a laugh with a co-worker. When you are walking through a forest and taking in all of the sights and senses. When you are inspired through a TED Talk.

In the Humming Zone, we know employees are more engaged, creative, and productive. Absenteeism decreases. Working relationships improve. Turnover goes down. And profits and quality go up. This science abounds!

Here’s the Scary Thing

If we know that employees in the Humming Zone tend to yield better results in the organization, why wouldn’t a leader do everything possible to set this climate?

Why wouldn’t leaders strive to set a positive, dependable culture? Set up structure and clarity as a scaffold of certainty? Practice management principles and values that would allow employees to soar? View disagreement as a spark for creativity?

It seems so simple. And yet, many leaders don’t get this. Or maybe they just don’t have the tools at this time in their career.

A Few Treats for Leaders

The most valuable resource in any workplace is its employees. Without question.

And if you need a cue sheet to help lift your mammals into the Humming Zone, try this SACRED one below. (I adapted it from David Rock’s neuroscience model of SCARF.)

The SACRED approach reflects how to develop more psychological safety and authentic connections with managers and staff in the workplace. How to treat employees in a SACRED manner while promoting performance and efficacy.
Status: All employees want recognition for their skills and contributions. To matter and count. Give unconditional regard always. Be generous with appreciation and simple thanks.
Autonomy: Don’t micro-manage. Determine who has the level of authority to make what decisions. Everyone wants some control of her work. And maybe others want to organize their work differently than you do.
Certainty: Be sure that there’s enough structure and clarity that colleagues aren’t tripping over each other or the organization doesn’t suffer gaps. Discuss and share goals and plans. Refrain from leading via the last shoe dropped.
Relationships: First and foremost, regulate your relationship with yourself – take care of yourself emotionally. Nobody needs your emotional spillover (there’s therapy, coaching, and training for that, feel free to call me). With others, offer goodwill and friendliness. Listen more deeply than you talk. Inquire with curiosity. Hear concerns. Show interest in others. Readily apply kindness.
Equality: Be fair. Refrain from playing favorites. Apply policies consistently. Share information quickly, widely, and clearly. And make sure your words and deeds match. All eyes are on the leader.
Difference: Connect how the work of one is affecting the work of many, the impact on the organization, and the benefits for clients. Everyone wants to make a difference.

One Step at a Time
Just like the Humming Zone-induced walk out on the Spit, my 4-mile journey happens simply one step at a time.

It’s similar to making changes in your leadership style and skills. Leaders just need to choose one small step they are going to deliver on raising employees into the Humming Zone more often than not.

Maybe it’s expressing appreciation of workers more. Maybe it’s balancing your own emotions better. Maybe it’s allowing others to make important decisions, too. Maybe it’s giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone.

All of these are sacred gifts of leadership! And we mammals love it — almost as much as a walk on the Spit in deep October.

Wishing you wisdom and clarity in your work world and beyond,


Check out our new workshop: Unlocking the Wisdom of Leaders