Science Reveals How You Can Be a Great Leader!
One chilly winter evening, a twelve-year-old boy sits on the edge of the coach in his family’s living room. He is alone, but he is not lonely because he is transfixed by a documentary about the “mysterious brain.” Riveted to the screen, he listens as the narrator talks about how the brain develops and what mysteries lie beneath its wrinkled grey surface. And he talks about what happens when people are missing a huge part of their brains and how it plays a role in leadership development.
Today, I am still fascinated by the brain; so much so that brain science and why people do what they do (psychology) have become lifelong passions and have driven my life and my career. Did you know that we used to believe that the brain you were issued with was the brain you were going to die with? Meaning, no upgrades, no new operating systems. Just one brain for a lifetime. Now we know that just isn’t true… Even for Leaders!
During “The Mysterious Brain” documentary I watched as a child, the researchers were trying to understand several cases of people who had been born with large pieces of their brain missing. What was fascinating to me as a curious boy, and apparently the researchers, was that even though these people were missing as much as two thirds of their physical brain they appeared to be “completely normal.” In other words, they were in no way incapacitated. If you met them on the street, you wouldn’t say, “Hey, he’s got a piece of his brain missing!”
As you probably know, the paradigm held at that time (and still is held to some degree today) was that certain parts of the brain do certain things. For example, if the part of your brain that deals with speech is missing, you shouldn’t be able to speak. However, the people in the documentary were all living perfectly normal, and often highly functional lives. Even without a so-called speech center, they were able to talk!
Another belief that was held in those days was if you destroyed brain cells they could not be repaired. Furthermore, lost brain cells were lost forever! That booze-filled blackout when you were in the 20s? It was believed that those brain cells went right down the toilet, never to be recovered. What all that added up to was the brain you were issued at birth was the one you were suck with for the rest of your life. If the one you got wasn’t all the great or if you lost a few cells along the way, too bad. Suck it up; only one brain per customer. Guess what? We now know that was absolutely incorrect! The brain you were born does not have to be the brain you keep. Stay with me and I’ll tell you why…
The old “fixed brain” theory falls apart. It does not take into account what we now we know about brain plasticity. (Brain plasticity is also known as Neuroplasticity. These are broad spectrum terms that reference changes in neural pathways and synapses in the brain, which, in turn, refers to the way the connections in the brain interact with each other.) I hear you. “Yeah, great. Neuroplasticity. Brain synapses. But how do I change my brain?” Let me put this in the simplest of terms: the brain you were born with can and does dramatically change when you implement changes in behavior, environment and the way you choose to think.
While it’s true that your brain, its structure and its original functionality were impacted by your genetics, the overwhelming evidence is that the environment a person is placed in, or places themselves into directly impacts the shape, form and functionality of that individual’s brain. In a nutshell–nature puts you on the starting block, but it’s nurture that ultimately runs the race by facilitating the ongoing modification your brain.
So what’s all this has to do with Authentic Leadership and Leadership development?
The Alpha Male. For starters let’s take a look at the old/traditional theory for leadership. The number one thesis in the old model was simple: Leaders had to be “men.” According to that model, to be a leader, you must not only be male, you must think and act as an alpha male, (even if you were a woman). Once again, this is proving to be completely incorrect. Here’s why. Even though, when brain scientists look at a brain they can see specific differences between the brain of a man versus that of a woman, the observable differences don’t take environmental conditioning into consideration.
A man’s or for that matter a woman’s brain is the way it is because it is socially, culturally and environmentally conditioned to be a “male brain” or a “female brain.” It has very little to do with the actual grey matter upstairs in your coconut!
Maybe you doubt what I’m saying? Okay, let’s consider a genius.
When we think of the word “genius,” many names may come to mind, but none more dominant than Albert Einstein. Einstein was an interesting fellow because, as you may or may not know, his brain was examined after he died. Initially there was little that surprised the examining experts. Yes, there were a few things like a larger amount of folds than in an average brain, but nothing that really seemed to account for his genius. That was until they examined a particular part of the brain call the corpus callosum.
The corpus callosum is the part of the brain that creates a bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain and it tends to be denser in women. In Einstein’s case, it was unusually thick “for a man.” In other words, this part of his brain looked more like a woman’s. At the very least, it suggests that the overall neuro activity between his left and right hemispheres was extremely high.
There is no doubt that Einstein had a brilliant logical mind.
However, he himself stated on many occasions that imagination was more important than knowledge. In other words, although he had a very strong mathematical/logical brain, he also had great access to the parts of his brain that are more associated to creativity and imagination.
So what does this have to do with Leadership development and more specifically being a Full Monty Leader?
The world of leadership is already changing and those who succeed will be those who get ahead of the curve. The most effective leaders both now, and in the future, will be both men and women who are willing to embrace traits that have been traditionally associated with women.
Make no mistake: These are traits that old school stereotypical male leaders may struggle with. However, those who want to be tomorrow’s leaders must adopt these traits. Look learning these traits will require you to engage your brain’s neuroplasticity. Furthermore, a whole lot of the ideas we hold about men and what they are emotionally capable of are nothing more than long-term environmentally-conditioned LIES.
Simply put, I predict that the gender lines between those traits considered masculine and those considered feminine will fade away. This will be especially true with regard to those traits that were once considered feminine (and previously even weak) such as Creativity, Empathy, Compassion and most of all the Power of Vulnerability… In fact, these traits are already highly regarded and respected in the Millennial workforce by both men and women.
If we think of traits as skills instead of biological directives, we will simply understand that for many leaders they are skills that they have not practiced much and therefore they feel clunky and awkward, just as they would be with any new skill. Think of them like ice skates you are putting on for the first time. There is bound to be a learning curve and even some bumps along the way, but learning these skills is simply another level of leadership development.
I would also like to offer something for your consideration in order to take this one step deeper.
I spent 30 years in the Personal Development industry. When the walls came down, without fail it was in men who would step up and dive the deepest into their vulnerability. Men yearn for a safe place to feel all their feelings and still be seen and honored as men. By the way, every time these were powerful men who were all committed to outstanding results in everything they do.
You can no longer keep your top people purely based on the incentives you offer. There comes a point where they don’t care about more money, the corner office, or the parking spot. To have your people become Fiercely Loyal they must have an actual bond with you (and the organization.)
The good news on this is that the latest scientific research shows that an emotionally connected relationship between a leader and a team member has the capacity to actually modify neural systems (of both people and enhance emotional regulation. Let me put it this way: Bonding and attachment provide the foundation for positive and lasting change.
So what can you do to become a more whole-brained leader in this new and changing world of leadership?
I suggest three places to begin as you move along your Leadership Development path:
1) Find a way to create a safe place for your people to feel their feelings without being judged or condemned.
2) Spend five minutes twice a day figuratively walking in someone else’s shoes. Imagine what it must be like to be them. Let your imagination run wild, but don’t just assume that you are correct and that’s exactly what they are feeling. This exercise will teach you empathy and compassion. (And it’s not as easy as it might seem!)
3) Do at least one thing differently than you usually do every day. (Brush your teeth using your other hand, take a different route to work, put the other sock on first) This will allow your brain to develop new neuro-pathways. In turn, teach you how to think outside the box. Tthe “box” I’m talking about isn’t the “business box.” The box up there between your ears that contains three pounds of grey matter. The box that contains your amazing brain that science has finally realized can adapt and change throughout your life.
So what are you doing for your amazing brain today? Are you keeping it in the box in a feeble attempt to hold onto the status quo? Or are you taking it out for a major stretch?
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