Our brain changes behaviour, and our behaviour changes our brain.
Effective leadership starts with neurons because when we understand that our thoughts, ideas, habits and behaviour impact productivity, we can see how neuroscience can help leaders be more effective and agile.
Having an insight into how our and other peoples’ brains work also enables a deeper understanding of employees and customers.
Neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist, Dr Lynda Shaw, tells us 10 ways that neuroscience can help business leaders.
Leaders who are more able to adapt to life’s ever changing circumstances and events are likely to be more effective, influential, able to pivot and change, or break habits more easily than others, whilst remaining true to themselves and the business’s strengths and values. We actually change the structure and function of the brain by what we choose to do. Choose wisely.
It is a form of remapping or reorganising the brain and explains how the brain can recover from damage through reinforcement or repetitive activities. Neuroplasticity enhances patterns of thinking, making relevant networks stronger and irrelevant ones weaker, bettering our learning and memory.
If you lose people’s attention because of over-detailing or inconsistencies, they will only semi-hear the important messages. The brain doesn’t do gaps and so fills in missing information based on experiences, beliefs, and messages from others who may well be ill informed.
The prefrontal cortex does a good job in anticipating and predicting consequences thus enabling us to control our impulses and emotional reactions, so taking a moment to focus our attention and think is a wise move. The knock-on effect is we feel calmer, engaged and driven because we feel in more control of our behaviour. Then by sensing the emotions that drive other people’s behaviour we employ empathy leading to healthier working relationships.
The thalamus receives information from our senses and sends them to the brain, and the hippocampus stores memory and physical sensations of emotion. Strong emotions can cause our rational brain to shut down meaning that rational thinking, creativity and empathy are all disabled during that period. Understanding the process of the brain and how our sensory information, emotions and thoughts impact our behaviour will also allow us to understand how it may impact others.
Intuition is subliminal processing based on implicit knowledge, involving pre-conscious pattern recognition (psychologists Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman). Therefore, the more experienced we are the more we can rely on our intuition to solve problems quickly. For instance, a study conducted by Cambridge University * found that participants who relied on their intuition when playing a card game did better than those who did not.
The initial information is sent to the prefrontal cortex which determines if any additional information is required to make this decision and if so, retrieves this from the hippocampus. Understanding that decision making is within your control helps to make better decisions and to break poor patterns of behaviour that hold you back.
However, chronic stress is facilitated by the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland secrete hormones that stimulates the adrenals to secrete cortisol.
So whilst a little stress in the short term will do no harm and may even improve and optimise our performance, such as if we are about to do a presentation, if cortisol is secreted in the long term, it can be a danger to our mental and physical outcomes.
Ironically, we sometimes pat ourselves on the back because we have the illusion that we are being productive, but we are actually NOT accomplishing as much as we think. So if you are the type of boss who interrupts your people whilst they are concentrating, think again.
You may be costing your organisation a lot of money and wasting valuable time. Allow people to chunk their time to get things done and agree a time to discuss other matters.