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Optimizing leadership a brain-based approach


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Published in: Leadership & Management

Optimizing leadership a brain-based approach

  1. 1. A Brain Based Approach to Optimizing Leadership Susan Penn ReInventure Consulting Neuroscience and Leadership Optimization
  2. 2. In a world of increasing interconnectedness and rapid change, there Is a growing need to improve the way people work together. Understanding the true drivers of human behavior is becoming even more urgent in this environment Neuroscience Research: The Brain is a Social Organ ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  3. 3. Social Neuroscience Research  Dodgeball/avatar experiment (UCLA Naomi Eisenberger)  Social needs treated in the brain much the same way as the need for food and water (survival)  When people felt excluded= activity in the dorsal portion activated (MRI) provoking the same sort of reaction that physical pain might cause.  Brain will label good/bad and trigger either approach/avoid within seconds.  Much of motivation governed by 2 things…. ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  4. 4. Minimizing threat, maximizing reward ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  5. 5. We’re making a decision about good or bad all the time.  Safe or unsafe?  Ton of research in the last 10 years= the things that create the strongest threats and rewards are social.  Triggers brains primary threat and reward center  Feeling left out=same reaction as putting hand on hot plate  Link between physical discomfort and social connection  Social connection is necessary for survival  The workplace is experienced as a social environment, not merely an economic transaction. ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  6. 6. Threat or Reward…  …a neurological and largely unconscious mechanism that governs a great deal of human behavior  Encounter!-limbic system aroused-”Mission central…” survival systems  Activate neurons!  Release hormones!  Friend or foe????  Danger? Hijack! Emotional overwhelm…CALL TO ACTION!!  HOW LONG DOES THIS ALL TAKE? ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  7. 7. TheThreat and Reward Response  Easy to see how this helped us out a million years ago, but what are the things we react to now? ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  8. 8. Research suggests:  The same neural responses that drive us towards food or away from predators are triggered by our perception of the way we are treated by other people  More intense and longer lasting!  Big reframe of the role that social drivers play in influencing how humans behave  Being hungry=being ostricized, similar neural responses.  Social needs=survival! ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  9. 9. Challenge to leaders  Enormous!  People who feel betrayed or unrecognized at work  People who are reprimanded  Given an assignment that seems unworthy  Pay cut  Performance Reviews  Experience this as a neural event, a powerful, painful blow  Become transactional, Impact on engagement, commitment, retention when it’s perceived social context getting in their way. ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  10. 10. The threat or avoid response is not ideal for collaborating with and influencing others ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  11. 11. The modern workplace and the hypervigilent amygdala  A boss undermines the credibility of an employee, or perhaps just didn’t smile….  Perceived threat  Resources and executive functions in prefrontal cortex decrease  Less oxygen and glucose available  More mistakes, defaulting to generalizations  Less ability to solve complex problems  Reduced cognitive performance and ability to take risks  Decision making  Stress management  Collaboration  Motivation  ….more?
  12. 12. The threat response is mentally taxing as well as deadly to the productivity of the person
  13. 13. The “approach” response is synonymous with the idea of engagement ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  14. 14. How creating ‘safety’ pays off in the workplace  Ability to do difficult things, responsiveness  Safety to take risks, innovate  Accelerate learning through ability to think deeply about issues.  Dopamine: critical for interest and learning, accessing the whole brain, ‘higher thinking.’  Building resilience from the inside out: Key to responsiveness in an environment that changes by the nanosecond ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  15. 15. David Rocks’ ‘SCARF’ Model:  An easy way to remember the social triggers that can generate the approach and avoid responses.  To minimize threat responses  To maximize positive engaged states of mind  To influence others  Maximize rewards inherent in everyday experience  Helps understand why you can’t think clearly when you feel threatened in any of the following ways.  Focuses on the deeply social nature of the brain
  16. 16. STATUS: Your Relative ImportanceTo Others  In the animal kingdom, status=survival  Higher status=lower baseline cortisol, live longer and healthier (primate studies)  Perceived loss of status: strong threat response  Research, being left out of an activity, dodgeball/video game  Very easy to threaten someone’s status:  Meeting expectations  Body language  Introductions  Verbal: “We need to meet,” “Let’s take that off line.” ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  17. 17. Certainty= Predictability  Hurricane Sandy: the feeling of uncertainty feels like pain. Holding multiple uncertainties in your head can be cognitively exhausting!  Big job of managers and leaders!  Providing clarity about business plans, strategies  Break down projects into small steps  Establishing clear expectations  Setting structure in chaos  Give new hires an idea of cultural norms as they are onboarding  Other? ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  18. 18. Autonomy= Control: The sensation and freedom of having choices  The degree of control organisms can exert over their environment=level of stress and functioning  Same stressor:  Inescapable=destructive  Escapable=significantly less destructive  Rodent studies: life and death  Subtle perception is important  Not micromanaging  Giving choices, decision making capabilities  Setting up desks, working hours
  19. 19. Relatedness: Friend or Foe?  The amygdala and meeting someone new (in group/out group?) Foe until proven friend (unless really attractive or you are drinking)  In the absence of safe social interactions, the body generates a threat response (life and death)  Tribes and sense of belonging formed in organizations  Gallup studies: “I have a best friend at work.”  The need for safe human contact is a primary driver (food).  Closely related to trust, collaboration, empathy, sharing of information  Share personal aspects of yourselves via stories, photos  Water-cooler conversations  Buddy systems, mentoring or coaching programs
  20. 20. Fairness  Threat response can be triggered easily  Favoritism: “He has a different set of rules for Sarah.”  Incongruity: “We have layoffs, but they just bought new laptops for the Executives.”  Create through:  Increase transparency  Allowing teams to establish rules, initiatives  Self directed teams
  21. 21. Challenging Implications:  If you’re the boss, you trigger a threat response by simply walking in the room.  Triple threat:  Status: You “rank” higher  Certainty: What now?  Autonomy: You have more power  Fairness: You earn more
  22. 22. Keep Calm and Carry On  Rationalizing, tempering reactions or “sucking it up…”  Decreases commitment  Disengages  Disempowers  Results in ‘transactional employees’ reluctant to give of themselves
  23. 23. Big picture implications for leaders:  A new intentionality to address the social brain in the service of optimal performance  Create emotional safety and trust  Rethink old hierarchical approaches (HR, Executive Leadership) processes and “how we do things around here.”  Focus on team interactivity which reward working together  R –create hiring process and criteria (as well as performance reviews and other processes.  Building Resilience from the inside/out: A distinguishing leadership capability in the years ahead
  24. 24. What leaders can do:  Create shared goals, “in group” mentality  Work on certainty and autonomy to make sure your establishing clear expectations  Play down status, “link” rather than rank. Meet people where they are  Fairness: be more transparent  Relatedness: build mutual respect, shared goals, and insuring there is a feeling of being valued and on the same team  Set the stage for even informal meetings. Pace, listening skills key
  25. 25. Steps you can take:  Education and Training: Use interest, focus on how people are improving (increasing sense of status)  Create a Coaching Culture: Personal and Executive Coaching can increase all five SCARF domains.  Leadership Development: Train on how to impact each area positively through igniting an approach response  Organizational Systems: Reward systems more creative ways of motivating that are cheaper but also more sustainable.  Performance Reviews: Design and conduct with objectives to build engagement and alignment. Train Managers on how to set up.  Interviews: Selection criteria clearly defined and aligned with culture,inclusion, assessment processes
  26. 26. Bottom line: Leaders are cultural architects and environmental agents “The ability to intentionally address the social brain in the service of optimal performance will be a distinguishing leadership capability in the years ahead.” David Rock ReInventure Consulting, 2013
  27. 27. Bibliographies David Rock, Managing with the Brain in Mind, Strategy & Business (issue 56, Autumn 2009) Michael Marmot, The Status Syndrome; How Social Standing Affects our Health and Longevity (Times Books: 2004) Adam Bryan: Interview with David Rock “ A Boss’s Challenge: Have Everyone Join in the ‘In’ Group ,(The New York Times, March 24, 2013). David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, “The Neuroscience of Leadership: Summer 2006, (Strategy-Business article, 6/2007.) David Rock, “SCARF: A Brain-based model for Collaborating with and Influendcing Others,” (NeuroLeadership Journal, vol 1, no 1, December 2008) Naomi Eisenberger and Mathew Lieberman, “The Pains and Pleasures of Social Life,” (Science, vol 323, no 5916, February 2009).