How do leaders who understand the brain behave?

After three inspiring, educational and at times confronting days in Sydney last week at the NeuroLeadership Summit, my head is spinning.

Neuroleadership is an emerging field of study connecting neuroscientific knowledge with leadership development. It’s data-driven principles for leadership development, taking into account what we are now learning about the brain.

So much to share, and for now here are three immediately applicable insights I took from the Summit.

1. ‘Social pain’ is real

The same regions of the brain are involved in ‘social pain’ and physical pain. (Studies have shown that social pain can be eased by paracetamol in the same way that physical pain can!) Taken to extreme, the impact of social isolation is as damaging to your health as smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day!

Human beings have evolved as pack animals, wired for social interaction. So when someone in your team is left out of an important decision forum or missed off an email list, it really can hurt.

What are you doing as a leader to build social cohesion and avoid social pain?

2. Social and non-social thinking and mutually exclusive

‘He’s a people person and looses sight of the goal.’ ‘She focuses on task at the expense of people.’

You’ve heard criticisms like that before…  A study of over 60,000 leaders showed that less than 1% scored high in both goal focus and social ability.
We are now learning that there are separate systems in the brain for social (people focus) and non-social (goal focus) thinking, and the two systems appear unable to run simultaneously. The challenge for us as leaders is toknow when to focus on what, and switch between social and non-social thinking as needed.

How’s your flexibility moving between people and task focus?

3. Large AND small decisions tax the brain equally

I have been known to get through lots of decisions and activity first thing in the morning, so I can focus on bigger things for the rest of the day.  Bad move!
The PreFrontal Cortex (PFC), often referred to the Executive Centre of the brain, is responsible for reasoned decision making. The PFC fatigues easily, and is taxed similarly by small and large decisions. Now I will always get straight into the heavy work, and save the small stuff until the end of the day.

How could you schedule your decision making to optimize the operation of your brain’s Executive Centre? Share your comments below.

Have an Extraordinary day