NeuroLeadership or Follower-Ship: Which Camp Are You In?

May 17, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

Neuroleadership is about using our understanding of the way the brain works to develop leadership; that is to say, using the findings of neuroscience to apply to leadership models that create better performance – and it is a growing area of interest in the business world.

In the past, business has trended towards mechanisation and away from the human element, so it is encouraging to see a swing back towards the realisation that people, whether in a professional or private situation, act a particular way for a reason; neuroscience is dedicated to finding out why people behave the way they do and neuroleadership works from the standpoint that knowing this helps a leader get the best out of themselves and their people.

Here we look at some of the key characteristics that separate leaders from followers – from what’s going on in the brain.

The “Machine” of the Brain

We often hear that the human brain is the most amazing “machine” around. The more we know about it the more this seems to ring true; a newborn baby has 100 billion neurons in its brain and the brain itself has an incredible ability to make connections and “patterns”; as the brain develops its ability to think, these patterns become more complex.

It is the neural pathways and patterns that allow us to recognise, organise, store and retrieve information as needed, and the more you use the brain, the better it gets at the process.

That’s why people are encouraged to keep their minds occupied in retirement, because otherwise a process of degeneration or deconditioning of the brain can happen… and disease can result.

Reflective Intelligence of Good Leaders

Leaders’ brains show strong neural patterns, because they often involve themselves in activities that expose them to new ideas, concepts and procedures. They embrace change, knowledge and learning and this helps them build their neural networks which, in turn. better prepares them for leadership roles.

Others who are closed-minded and avoid discussion or new challenges, fail to build these neural networks and therefore remain as followers.

Leaders are often seen to respond to problems better than followers too – by retrieving information and thinking about it to create options. This quality is seen in people who indulge in activities like writing, meditation and investigative learning. This is because it enhances the quality of “reflective intelligence” which is used in critical thinking and analysis.

Critical thinking is about making connections between things or seeing relationships between things that are seemingly unconnected.

In a business sense, these people are leaders by example, creating innovative new solutions to problems. Followers are more likely to do things the way they have always been done, ask fewer questions and accept the status quo.

Good Thinkers – Not Always Good Doers!

But, I hear you say, there are people who think deeply but don’t make great leaders because they can’t translate their thoughts into action that benefit the group.

The “reflective” part of intelligence needs to be backed by a “constructive” intelligence to make a good leader.

He or she will act on his critical thinking to produce results and seek opportunities to cultivate both reflective and constructive intelligence – the latter meaning they will actively put themselves in social and professional situations that allow them to act; whilst the follower will avoid these situations and often react spontaneously, without the necessary reflection on the consequences of their actions.

Emotional Intelligence

There is another side to good leadership and that is about being in tune with one’s emotions, so that they don’t cloud judgment. Leaders will use their emotions as a source of inspiration and motivation but they will moderate their responses and maintain control, whereas followers will act on their emotions, often without pausing to consider the consequences.

Our understanding of these areas has created the concept of neuroleadership and has helped organisations recognise characteristics of people who can become excellent leaders and also helped existing leaders improve their performance.

Neuroscience has many applications for producing better performance through leadership, high performance teaming and organisational development. Find out how to improve results in your organisation at the NeuroPower website:

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