The world is certainly going through a shift in the way we think about leadership these days. Executives have begun to recognize the importance of a people-first approach to business. Workplaces are throwing out the old hierarchy and beginning anew. We are questioning the norms of office culture and management, leading to better business outcomes, more engaged employees, and happier workplaces.
But what’s behind all this? I sat down with Dr. David Rock, who is paving the way in “neuroleadership.” With his team, he brings together global experts to develop the science of leadership development. It’s all about a research-backed approach to the way we think about, process and execute our leadership styles.
Read on for the latest in brain science and leadership. You’ll be a better CEO in no time.
How is brain research changing the way leadership and success is viewed?
“We are seeing a cumulative value to the recent research, rather than one particular study completely changing the game. There are enough studies within the last decade that enable us to build a complete language in what leaders do and what leadership is, linked back to biology. All of these different aspects of leadership–decision making, innovation, persuasion, collaboration, influence–have been studied at different angles. What’s new is now we are taking an integrative approach to it all.”
What do you mean by integrative approach?
“The state of the art right now is helping leaders have a more robust and complete language for the mental experience. One of the first ideas from brain research to make its way into leadership is the idea of an amygdala hijack–suddenly there is language for telling others that your brain is shutting down. If you understand an amygdala hijack, you should not try to talk sense into someone or make important business decisions.
We also have language to recognize the biases that get in the way of good decision making. We have language for why we like certain people and not others and how can we collaborate better. This language allows leaders to be more adaptive and develop better decision-making strategies.”
What trends do you see emerging in the business world as a response to these findings?
“We are seeing an interesting trend to simplify the whole approach to leadership development. So we’re getting rid of competencies and focusing on a small, memorable set of expectations for leaders. If people can only recall 3 or 4 ideas easily, having a leadership framework with 7 or 8 categories won’t work well. Simplify and focus on what is essential rather than try to do everything.
We are also seeing companies re-think their whole learning strategy based how the brain really learns. There’s a huge movement against ranking and rating people, and that is all driven by our research. Overall, companies are shifting the focus on increasing engagement, agility and collaboration.”
How do you change human behavior?
“The active ingredient to large-scale behavior change is facilitating insight in social situations over time. Research points to the importance of a three-step process: seeing something different in a social setting, having an insight about that behavior, and making these types of connections over time. Insight to action causes change. If you have those insights and discuss them in a social setting, you are more likely to want to change.”
How has learning more about your brain and leadership changed you?
“A thousand ways. I was fascinated to understand the brain because I wanted to wrestle down my own brain. I wanted to gain more control over the quality of my decision-making. I think I am significantly more effective at making great decisions–I am not perfect and am aware of all the mistakes and how biased I am, but over-all I have become a much better leader in my ability to manage my own emotions in the midst of complexity and chaos. I’m better able to connect with other people and bring people together. Also, my ability to read social situations more effectively has improved.”
What would be your top tips for someone to be a better leader in 2016?
“Start every meeting with complete clarity on what the objective is. Work out what your goal is, what you’re going toward. Then work out the best plan to get there, and be sure to foster a sense of clarity and alignment with everyone involved. Whether you’re in a meeting or having a conversation, be clear on the purpose and the plan. Throughout this process, continue to notice the quality of your thinking along the way–be meta-cognitive.”