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.
How innovation is transforming government
According to Washington Technology’s Top 100 list, Leidos is the largest IT provider to the government. But as Lieutenant General William J. Bender explains, “that barely scratches the surface” of the company’s portfolio and drive for innovation.
Bender, who spent three and a half decades in the military, including a stint as the U.S. Air Force’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), has seen action in the field and in technology during that time, and it runs in the family. Bender’s son is an F-16 instructor pilot. So it stands to reason Bender Senior intends to ensure a thriving technological base for the U.S. Air Force. “What we’re really doing here is transforming the federal government from the industrial age into the information age and doing it hand-in-hand with industry,” he says.
The significant changes that have taken place in the wider technology world are precisely the capabilities Leidos is trying to pilot the U.S. Air Force through. It boils down to developing cyberspace as a new domain of battle, globally connected and constantly challenged by the threat of cybersecurity attacks.
“We recognize the importance of the U.S. Air Force’s missions,” says Bender, “and making sure they achieve those missions. We sit side-by-side with the air combat command, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure across the Air Force. There are multiple large programs where the Air Force is partnering with Leidos to ensure their mission is successfully accomplished 24/7/365. In this company, we’re all in on making sure there’s no drop in capability.”
That partnership relies on a shared understanding of delivering successful national security outcomes, really understanding the mission at hand, and Leidos’ long-standing relationship of over 50 years with the federal government.
To look at where technology is going, Bender thinks it is important to look back at the last 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve seen is a complete shift in how technology gets developed,” he says. “It used to be that the government invested aggressively in research and development, and some of those technologies, once they were launched in a military context, would find their way into the commercial space. That has shifted almost a hundred percent now, where the bulk of the research and development dollars and the development of tech-explicit technologies takes place in the commercial sector.”
“There’s a long-standing desire to adopt commercial technology into defense applications, but it’s had a hard time crossing the ‘valley of death’ [government slang for commercial technologies and partnerships that fail to effectively transition into government missions]. Increasingly we’re able to do that. We need to look at open architectures and open systems for a true plug-and-play capability. Instead of buying it now and trying to guess what it’s going to be used for 12 years from now, it should be evolving iteratively.”