What drug is your organization on?

April 28, 2015

As a leader, have you ever considered yourself as a sophisticated drug dealer, who controls the minds and lives of your employees by administrating drugs?

In some ways you are. The way an organization is run and organized affect what chemicals are released from our brains, and then influence our feelings. And most organizations release chemicals in employees’ brains, which end up being damaging to the individual as well as the organization.

Uden navn If you have read Simon Sinek’s latest book ‘Leaders Eat     Last’, you might already know this. If not, this post will  give you insights into the book as well as from one of Sinek’s keynote speeches, I recently attended.

One of the drugs, which can be damaging to organizations, is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a brain chemical – that is released in the brain to communicate information throughout the body. Together with other neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins, it makes us feel happy.


You get a dopamine hit every time you hit a target, complete a task, or accomplish a goal. The hit makes you feel happy. And the bigger the challenge, the bigger the hit you get, and the happier you feel.

Many organizations are oriented towards and organized in a way that encourages constant hits of dopamine in employees’ brains. They put emphasis on and reward reaching targets, goals, KPI’s, complete tasks and so on. As people we will focus our attention on things that can earn us a reward, and naturally we focus our attention on living up to these expectations and reward systems, which Leadership and the organization emphasize.

And every time we do that, we will get a dopamine hit. Which will make us feel happy. All of this is great for the company, who reaches higher and higher targets, get more and more deals, and complete tasks and responds faster.

The problem is that they are so good at it, that employees become addicted to dopamine. Like when you are addicted to checking your emails, FB messages, text messages and so on. They are all dopamine rewards. And as we know, with all addictions come the side effects. We will sacrifice more and more of ourselves and others to get that next fix. When you become dependent on dopamine, you will start to sacrifice time, money and other people to get that next high. The consequence is mistrust, selfishness, paranoia, stress, and decreased desire to help others.

Dopamine in itself is not bad. Dopamine is a great drug that serves an important purpose in life. It helps us progress, help us complete goals, tasks, grow and get places. We need it. We need it to run a business. But an organization, which has too much emphasis on rewarding dopamine behavior, will experience damage to a work culture, which will become more and more selfish.

The great thing is that you can balance the focus on dopamine-rewards with rewards that release other happy-drugs in employees’ brains, and then set yourself and your organization up for a completely different kind of success.  Success that is build on people feeling long lasting fulfillment, commitment, trust, loyalty and the desire to cooperate, and where you accomplish bigger goals because people are not focused on what’s good for them, but on what is good for the group.

Oxytocin is the love-drug that can rescue your organization from fostering too much narrow minded, selfish behavior. Oxytocin is also responsible for creating feelings of happiness, but where as dopamine gives instant gratification for just you, oxytocin gives a self-less feeling of happiness that is long lasting and is all about bonding with other people. It is the foundation for trust. When oxytocin is released you form bonds of trust and friendship with your colleagues. You feel secure, fulfillment, belonging, trust. Our want to serve others go up.

And we need it to accomplish big goals with other people and overcome difficult things. And as research shows, the equation goes – More trust = more engagement = higher performance.

In many workplaces oxytocin is only released during the annual Christmas party. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Oxytocin is released by behaviors such as unexpected praise, concern for the whole person, personal touch and compassion, helping others, just to mention a few things.

It is all about the balance. Incorporating initiatives and a leadership-mindset that release oxytocin and balances the focus on dopamine-rewards can change your organization for the better. Where people are moving towards goals and targets, while also being focused on serving the group and the company. Balance is key, as Simon Sinek puts it:

“Working exclusively to advance ourselves may hurt the group, while working exclusively to advance the group may come at a cost to us as individuals. The truth is that we need to look after the group and ourselves”


Sources: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moral-molecule/201310/is-your-organization-oxytocin-part-i

‘Leaders Eat Last’, by Simon Sinek

Keynote talk by Simon Sinek, 8th of April 2015, Chicago

Share This