The Importance of Neuroscience in Leadership

So what kind of expertise do leaders need? They need sustained, continuous practice in the underlying skills of leadership:

  •  Be able to focus their attention.
  •  Change that focus when required.
  •  Reflect critically on their thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.
  •  Manage themselves so they can mobilize their will power, persist in adversity and calibrate their attitude to risk and uncertainty.
  •  Regulate their emotions and moods.
  • Balance their intuition with their rational thinking.
  • Maintain their health and energy.
  • Spend time and effort developing relevant skills and knowledge for their area of activity so as to focus on the right issues, more often and not and to have a reliable intuitive response to what comes at them, when circumstances are relatively stable.
  • Hone their ability to relate well to others.

Taken from NEUROSCIENCE FOR LEADERSHIP – Harnessing the brain gain advantage – by Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm and Paul Brown.

What an interesting and highly relevant read – especially in a world where the demands on leadership are rigorous and challenging. The theory and narrative on Leadership is based wholly on the latest advances and research in the field of Neuroscience – what until now was perhaps a ‘hunch,’ is now scientifically established and able to reliably be applied. I think we all have a desire and interest to deepen our insights around how our brain functions (yet at the same time, keeping the theory understandable to the man on the street).

To lead effectively, (with all the above expertise) requires the intention and application of a sustainable and consistent practice of self-reflection and self-regulation. It is only with a regular awareness – one which is constantly being explored and expanded – that we gain insight to so much about ourselves, what makes us tick (both good and not so good), what motivates and drives us, how we interpret our world etc.  Growing Self- awareness is work in progress – it is never a final destination point of completion. It is also challenging in a world where the ‘cult of self’ has become so predominant and in many ways acceptable. Perhaps the counter concept for a ‘self aware’ leader is a ‘self deluded’ leader. A topic for another discussion!

However, we now know that Leadership qualities and capabilities can be learned and developed. Perhaps not an easy process, but a possible one. And not a process necessarily confined to classrooms and lecture halls. In developing our capacity for greater self management (resulting from more accurate self-awareness ), we can enhance our ‘muscle ‘ around self discipline and response control in our daily engagements. Rather than leading from a place of mindless reactive behavior, we can start to notice how we are responding in any given interaction – or for that matter thought process as it happens. But we need to start noticing.

There is now evidence that the practice of Mindfulness results in physical changes in Neuralbiology – the brain can actually be rewired, and as a result, function in a more productive way. All 9 aspects of Leadership mentioned above are directly enhanced by regular Mindfulness practice – improved cognitive and creative thinking, empathy and focus. Improved ability to manage stress effectively, rather than using maladaptive behaviors. Increased ability to respond rather than react and overall improved health.

It is an exciting new Leadership tool – certainly worth exploring if you aren’t already. Start today with 10 minutes and develop a daily habit! Research shows that you can change the physical structure of your brain with only 10 minutes a day for 8 weeks – worth a go?

Lindsay Braithwaite