Briefings on Talent & Leadership carried an article on the biology of leadership, with a specific focus on the brain, in the Q4 issue last year. Given the discussions on brain-based education and research in independent schools, this article is valuable for its insights into organizational leadership and how we might be better aware of the role the brain plays, in a leader as well as in employees, managers, etc.
Author David Berreby proposes some "guideposts for leadership" that are helpful:
(1) "It's top-down and bottom-up." Bottom-up processes (i.e., sights, sounds, strong feelings) are important in how people within an organization behave, but so too are top-down processes (rational decision-making and conscious thoughts). "To reach people and motivate them, engage both their top-down thinking and their bottom-up intuitions.
(2) "Big challenges don't always need big solutions." One of the brain's biases is that big problems need big reponses. Not true, as Berreby says, "remember that everything you experience has multiple meanings, because the same object is treated differently in different parts of the brain." Instead of making that big change, you might consider "slight adjustments to detail that matter at other levels of meaning. These are easier and quicker. Often, they're all it takes." Berrby cites the example of "opt-in" versus "opt-out" programs. If you institute an opt-out regime, where people have to consciously choose to refuse something, they will do the action in question (most of the time). Why? Simple: people are averse to change, and paperwork (opting out) is yet another task that seems burdensome.
(3) "Awareness of the biology helps control the biology." The weather is cited as an example of an influence over an interview, etc; folks who interview on cloudy and rainy days tend to have poor interview experiences, as opposed to those who interview on sunny days. We need to plan for the possibility that our judgment may be clouded (no pun intended) on such days; we need to identify a way to correct the rain effect (or similar).
(4) "Make the story coherent on many levels." We know that all brain functions are inter-connected; they depend on one another; they do not work in isolation. Knowing that, "the best way to engage the multi-leveled brain is to tell a story [to others: employees, mid-level managers, etc.] that works at many levels. The more parts [...] you can speak to, the more effective the message."
Check out David Berreby's blog, Mind Matters.