Good leadership is like sex and chocolate ice cream

Scientists at the University of Graz have investigated what goes on in the mindsScientists at the University of Graz have investigated what goes on in the minds of motivated employees. Photo: Yan Krukov - pexels

Good leadership is like sex and chocolate ice cream: what goes on in the minds of motivated employees

Who wouldn’t want a boss like Barack Obama? A leader who carries the team along, communicates visions and inspires enthusiasm. But why are employees more motivated by such behavior? Scientists at the University of Graz know the answer: because good leadership activates the same areas of the brain as chocolate ice cream or sex, and can therefore have just as motivating an effect.

They change the way employees see things and make them perceive their work as something bigger than just a job," says Sabine Bergner, a psychologist at the University of Graz, describing so-called transformational managers. They play a very special role when companies start new projects and face an uncertain future," adds Robert Rybnicek, a business economist at the Institute for Corporate Management and Entrepreneurship.
Both researchers knew that this kind of action is effective and goes down well with employees. But the question of why was still open. A look into the brain provided the answer.
In an experiment, test subjects listened to bosses who led a project meeting and represented different leadership styles. The corresponding reactions in the brain were observed in the MR scanner. The result: transformational leadership stimulates those basic regions in the brain that are involved in reward. It is the same, for example, when you eat chocolate ice cream, think about sex or receive a compliment," explains the psychologist. "All of this has a highly motivating component that is a central element of transformational leadership."

And it confirms that not only financial incentives are important for employees, Rybnicek points to a study published in 2017. In the study, he, Sabine Bergner and Alfred Gutschelhofer, Professor of Corporate Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Graz, found that not only salary bonuses have a motivating effect. Rybnicek: "Other decisive factors are reputation, status symbols, but also good leadership." The latter, by the way, can be learned and developed in the form of the transformational style, emphasizes Sabine Bergner.

The findings were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience .

Andreas Schweiger

If you want to know even more about business management, you can study Bachelor Business Administration at the University of Graz, for example.