You are in the delivery room. The doctor is at the foot of the table and the nurses are standing by. You and your partner’s hands are tightly locked, and with each contraction your knuckles turn white. Suddenly, with one final push, you become part of a miracle—the emergence of another human being. The child’s cry mingles with the sound of your breath and, for a moment, time stands still.
Taking that child in your arms, you instantly fall in love. There in your arms is an amazing little being whose potential is so vast, you can’t even fathom it. Suddenly all the screaming pain, sweat, and anxiety were worth it. In all likelihood, there will be a moment (or longer) of feeling complete. The words may even slip from your lips as you look at the baby and then your partner and say, “Now we are complete. Now we are a family.”
You take your baby home and each day you look at it with wonder and awe and fall ever more deeply in love with this eating, sleeping, crying and, let’s face it, pooping machine. You do things that would have repulsed you just a few short months before…and you do them willingly.
Why? We humans are pack animals. We want to bond and belong. Our neurology and biology support that. When we hold our child the hypothalamus — the mood and appetite centre of our brain — works in concert with the endocrine system to release a neuro-chemical cascade of hormones including vasopressin and, most powerful of all, oxytocin.
Oxytocin is an amazing hormone that plays a powerful role in pair bonding. It is a star player in the game of love, helping determine whom we fall in love with, but its not just for humans. Oxytocin released during sex is an important part monogamous pair bonding in prairie voles.
The largest doses of oxytocin flood into the system during sex, the birthing process and breast-feeding. Oxytocin is a big part of why you patiently love your wailing baby when you haven’t had a complete night’s sleep in months.
Oxytocin on the job.
This “delivery room” hormone also has a lot to do with loyalty between managers and employees. Research has linked oxytocin to the trust and social attachment vital for leaders looking to build fiercely loyal teams.
Paul J. Zak, Ph.D. pioneered the behavioural study of oxytocin. He and his team have proven that when the brain synthesizes oxytocin, people become more trustworthy, generous, charitable and compassionate. He dubbed oxytocin the “moral molecule,” in his book of the same name.
Oxytocin makes us more sensitive to social cues, and understanding social cues is essential to becoming an emotionally intelligent leader. If you are struggling to become an emotionally intelligent leader, get more oxytocin into your own system. You don’t need to spend your time in delivery rooms to do this.
Hugging is the simplest, and one of the best, ways to increase oxytocin. Pennsylvania State University research finds oxytocin levels increase when we hug or kiss a loved one (not just a baby): “A hug, especially a long one, releases the neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.”
Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks increases happiness. But it doesn’t have to be human contact. A 2003 study found that petting a dog increases oxytocin levels in both the human and the dog.
If touchy-feely just isn’t your style, we can have a deeply bonding experience without physical touch. Research indicates oxytocin is released when we are in deep discussions and feel the other person “gets me.” In other words, it feels good when someone we are with responds to us in a genuinely empathetic manner.
So if you want to generate fierce loyalty in your team, consider how often you have genuine, oxytocin-releasing encounters — and make an effort to increase them.