Neuroscience in Leadership

Neuroscience in Leadership

Discover how understanding the inner workings of your brain can lead to better leadership.

In a fast-moving world of increasing uncertainty, we need our teams and ourselves to consistently deliver our best performance, quarter after quarter, year after year.

To satisfy changing customer demands, businesses must continuously innovate to stay ahead. Developing new products and services and innovating internal ways of working. Imagining new and better ways. We cannot do this alone. In this post-covid era, collaboration is essential with our peers, our teams and externally with new partnerships (start-ups) and new technologies. And we do all of this in a globally and AI-connected world. How amazing, yet also daunting, when this is alongside unlearning and re-learning so as not to get left behind.

Our role as leaders is so much more now. We deliver leadership under substantially increased levels of complexity, pace and expectation — from all angles of our internal and external worlds. And on top of this, we don’t know all the answers any more, and how could we? We don’t need to; we just “ask Google or Chat GPT”.

For now, it’s about bringing to work a ‘beginners mindset’ that recognises that I don’t know, but is willing to ask the right questions to explore and experiment with what comes forward. For many leaders and many businesses, this is a radical shift. From command and control to collaboration and innovation. Hierarchical, into flatter structures.

Analytical thinking into social thinking.

So with this in mind, let’s understand the impact on our brain circuitry when we receive old-style leadership behaviours of command and control, and why they don’t work anymore. These old-style behaviours induce fear, anxiety and stress, which activates the hormone cortisol in the brain. Cortisol closes down the effective functioning of the prefrontal cortex; our big thinking, ideas and concepts, connecting the dots part of the brain, which is essential for our creative thought process and insight.

Cortisol mobilises the body for energy (also known as the fight, flight or freeze response), putting the entire metabolism on high alert. As a result, we lose our ability to think rationally and to problem-solve.

The exact opposite of what is needed to innovate, collaborate and respond to an ever-changing environment!

Fear also encourages us to have negative thought processes. To combat this requires focus, mental agility and the self-awareness to train yourself to avoid these negative emotions. In contrast, another neurochemistry; oxytocin — brings people together, builds trust and fosters collaboration. Our brains, because of our limbic region, are hardwired to connect to others, thanks to this mammalian part of the brain.

As leaders, when we create environments where people feel connected, supported, valued and in a place of psychological safety, it’s no surprise that inspiration, innovation, creativity and performance flourish.

Leaders who encourage learning and reward curiosity will also create optimum conditions for innovation. As a leader, by really knowing ourselves and our impact, we bring higher levels of empathy and self-awareness and, in turn, create much stronger, deeper and more effective relationships with others.

Every part of life is about relationships. Effective leadership is how we relate to others.

Therefore, as leaders, we must become conscious of our behaviour — especially because followers mimic a leader’s actions. To be effective leaders, we must become more self-aware. This is a seismic shift in society, where analytical thinking has taken the front seat over social thinking (like empathy) in the last two decades. We know that the analytical part of the brain is completely different from the part of the brain that wants us to connect (our social circuits). By using one, you are strengthening its neural pathways and effectively shutting off the ability of the other.

It’s no wonder we are seeing the rise of more women leaders because women tend to have more connections in the brain between the limbic (emotion/ evaluation) region and the prefrontal cortex (big picture thinking/ problem solving) — allowing them to be more aware of emotional tones and have higher levels of empathy and self-awareness.

The good news is that all of our behaviours can be linked back to our brain, and with breakthroughs in neuroplasticity over the last decade, we have demonstrated that we can continuously adapt our brains.

By applying neuroscience to leadership, we understand how our brain functions and what affects its optimum performance. This is an extraordinary superpower level of awareness and understanding for leaders and future leaders! Understanding the impact on our brain functioning from things like; how much or how little we sleep is hugely insightful. As well as the importance of:

  • Allowing time and space with no distractions to tap into our creativity through meditation and inner-directed thought.
  • The power of movement and exercise, and what we eat.
  • How we connect with our heart and tap into our intuition.

All combine to enable us to become the most effective leader we can be.

By discovering insights about neuroscience and leadership, we can now apply new strategies that enable us to function at our very best, consistently over time.

So how do you do this? Imagine Beyond can help. We are passionate about helping leaders to become more self-aware and understand the science behind how the brain works for optimum performance and impact.

Contact us to learn more about Neuroscience in Leadership and our workshops on this topic.

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