Brain picture

The Neuroscience of Leadership

By Dr. Jan Lüdert

Do you want to improve your leadership pedigree? Neuroscience offers useful insights. During the last two decades’ neuroscience vastly improved our understanding of human behavior. The implications of these findings are significant for organizational leaders in the private, public and nonprofit sector. This blog post invites you to consider how neuroscience can help you influence transformational change and lead effectively.

Paying attention to how the brain works

Evian Gordon, a neuroscientist at the University of Sydney Medical School, outlines how the brain works. It’s called the 1-2-4 brain model:

  • (1) Our brain follows a key organizing principle: minimize danger and maximize reward. The brain decides whether a situation is safe or threatening. Especially when our brain judges a moment to be threatening our perception of reality is affected not least because there are five times more neural networks for processing threats than rewards.
  • (2) Our brain has two operational modes: conscious and nonconscious. And, surprise, most of its operations function at the level of the non-conscious.
  • (4) Our brain has four highly-integrated ways to process information: emotion, thinking, feeling, and self-regulation. For a bit more detail on the model view Dr Gordon’s short video.

Leading with the 1-2-4 model

As a leader, there are four takeaway points from this theory:

  1. When a brain is put into a state of threat, our ability to think and perform is compromised. Given that most of us work in the knowledge economy, that’s a big deal. Leaders consequently want to create consistency and certainty for themselves and those around them. This will enhance a sense of security and predictability.
  2. Enabling others autonomy is rewarding. Exerting too much control or micromanagement can push our brains into threat mode. Our brain also finds fairness highly rewarding. Leaders consequently want to create a just and equitable environment.
  3. Given the primacy of our non-conscious mode of operation effective leaders are asked to be masters of introspection and reflection. Be aware of your biases and get in touch with your intuition.
  4. Good leaders will take all ways of processing information into account when making decisions and when working with others. Because our brains are highly integrated understanding how the four processes hang together is but the first step.

Toward optimization

This entails challenging once capacities and improving on areas that require improvement. Emotion: What are your unaware affective cues? Thinking: Do create spaces that increase attention, focus, memory, planning? Feeling: Recognize the conscious experience of emotion in yourself and others. Self-regulation: Become a master of managing emotion, thinking and feeling. These four processes do not exist side by side they depend on each other.

Neuroscience makes clear that recognizing one’s emotions are a significant detector for effective decision making. In other words, you will be a better leader when these processes are aligned and given equal weight. Leaders consequently want to optimize each area in themselves and others.

Reference:

Gordon, E. (2011) Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYU1WgteWKU