How Leadership “Addiction” Impacts Team Performance Through a Crisis


When most people hear of addiction in the workplace, they think of drugs, alcohol, and maybe the overuse of technology where employees can’t seem to separate from their iPhones. Outside of work, people have addictions to shopping, love, food, and gambling. Regardless of the addiction, they have one thing in common—all provide a hit of one or more of the feel-good chemicals of serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine.

Our decisions in how to seek out these pleasure chemicals have a profound effect on what our leadership looks and feels like, not only to us, but to the teams we lead. Each chemical is triggered and released into our bloodstream in a different way. Some are self-serving and others selfless, and the balance we seek as leaders will shape company culture and how we lead out of a crisis. As a leader, what pleasure chemicals are you addicted to?

Sinek (2017) discusses how endorphins are the survival chemicals that help mask pain and keep us going even when we think we can’t go any farther. In this high-stress, performance-driven business world, endorphins have a powerful influence in mitigating cortisol. The dopamine high is the reward we receive after accomplishing an important task—it motivates us to keep trying to achieve a defined goal. Dopamine and endorphins are chemical highs that don’t require interaction with others.

On the opposite end of the pleasure-seeking continuum are the selfless chemicals that make us feel valued and keep teams feeling they’re in the Circle of Safety (Sinek, 2017). Serotonin is also known as the leadership chemical—making us feel strong and confident knowing someone likes or respects us based on our decisions and behaviors. Oxytocin, more commonly thought of as the “love” chemical, increases our empathy, makes us social, and expands our generosity, which in turn creates bonds of trust and friendship.

Where leaders choose to get their chemical fix influences company culture, their effectiveness, and how their teams ultimately feel about them. During a business crisis, it’s highly unlikely that a leader can single-handedly lead a company through it. It takes a dedicated team, who feels part of the Circle of Safety, to work tirelessly for their leader as they successfully pull through the crisis. Those leaders, who inspire that level of commitment, are likely those with a significant level of serotonin and oxytocin running through their veins.

Which chemicals are you addicted to? What re-balancing do you need to make? How will you lead differently?


Sinek, S. (2017). Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Penguin Group: New York, NY

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She administers DISC® and Myers-Briggs/MBTI® testing, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches both individuals and teams. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

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