Why neural leadership could boost your bottom line
Written by Michael Vaughan
Business owners and managers today face a myriad of challenges - a tight market with strong competition, workforce issues, slimming margins and the need to keep pace with technological advancements to name a few. Add to these a rapidly changing environment and a barrage of noise generated from the Internet, smartphones, television, and other media.
How do owners and managers stay in step with daily competing priorities and deadlines, filter out the noise, and keep their businesses on the fast track to productivity and profitability? The answers can be found in neural leadership.
Neural leadership is part of brain science, which studies how the brain works and how business leaders can leverage brain function in themselves and their teams to create a more robust work environment.
It’s an exciting time for brain science. New insights and discoveries about brain function are being made every week, and the focus on neural leadership is forging the way. As Dr. David Rock, editor of the NeuroLeadership Journal, points out, increasing understanding of how the brain works can help align work practices with the brain’s affinity to create a more productive and successful workplace.
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How can business owners and managers better use their brains to understand what employees need psychologically in order to excel and perform? Adopting these five neural leadership practices can help them work better with their teams to solve problems and make more-informed strategic decisions:
Neuroscientists have discovered that when people feel they have been treated unfairly, activity is stimulated in the amygdala, the part of the brain that performs a primary role in processing memory and emotional reactions. In short, memories of being treated unfairly run deep, so it is better to err on the side of being fair than right. Understanding this innate need is helpful in creating relationships that focus on respect, acceptance, and equality. Maintain a fair environment, and synergy will likely be created among workers, who will unite to evaluate and find viable solutions to difficult problems.
Take a social approach
The human brain is a predominantly social organ that needs some level of socially driven interactions and goals. Most workplace cultures, however, focus on optimizing results instead of improving social interactions. The unintended consequence of focusing on results instead of people is that, over time, even top performers will feel devalued, less secure, or maybe even unfairly treated. This means that it’s important to inspire teams to be collaborative in their approach to getting the job done. Collaborative teams are productive teams, and over time, they will demonstrate enduring engagement and improved results.
Add sufficient sleep to the toolbox
If inventor Thomas Edison had slept more, he may have made fewer mistakes. Edison and many prominent thinkers in history have encouraged work over sleep. However, the brain needs sleep. Debates about why this is true are rampant among neuroscientists, but many good reasons come to light. During sleep, it is believed that the brain consolidates memories, makes new connections, conserves energy, and unconsciously chips away at problems.
Getting enough rest also affects safety and the number of mistakes made. The best way to tell if a person is getting enough sleep is if he wakes up rested without the need for an alarm. During the workday, encourage workers to take a break, go for a walk, or enjoy lunch without checking phone messages or working - all in the interest of re-energizing and recharging their brains. Step away from the caffeine and be sure to get 40 winks, as well. Finally, recognize teams for a job well done. Their brains will release dopamine, which is a natural energy booster.
Pay attention to one task at a time
When tasks compete for the same limited mental resources, the quality of the results of all tasks is diminished. In other words, the benefits of multitasking are vastly overrated. Most notably, prolonged multitasking causes a decline in and erosion of the quality of thought and energy. In other words, it’s probably not in anyone’s best interests to try to work on a report, review contracts, and solve a client dispute at the same time. Stop multitasking and focus on one item at a time to avoid the inability to fully process each discrete task.
People are wired to predict. That is, when in any situation, they automatically try to make sense of it by predicting what will happen next. The danger in creating predictions is that most are inaccurate or incomplete. With experience, the ability to make predictions will improve. However, holding on to a prediction may stop a person from seeking new perspectives that can help set a better strategy or make a better decision. To break the prediction cycle, teach workers how to recognize when they are jumping to conclusions and encourage them to suspend judgment long enough to entertain alternative solutions.
About the author
Michael Vaughan is the CEO of The Regis Company (www.regiscompany.com), a global provider of business simulations and experiential learning programs. Michael is the author of the books The Thinking Effect: Rethinking Thinking to Create Great Leaders and the New Value Worker and The End of Training: How Business Simulations Are Reshaping Business. Contact Michael at [email protected] or follow his blog at www.thethinkingeffect.com.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.