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Brain Science

Leaders don’t create followers but they create leaders! They make a subtle shift from ‘driving’ their team members to developing their team members. With the current pipeline shortage of talent and need for a good second in command, this shift becomes critical. This however needs to be done well, in a focused manner and with efficiently.

Here is a scientific approach for senior managers and leaders to bring the best out of their people. It comes from some interesting facts that have come out from extensive study of the brain (contemporary neuroscience) and then applying these facts in leading teams towards peak performance and creating more leaders.





There are 6 approaches in all and we have tabbed them below:

The brain is a connecting machine

The brain is a complex connection of maps, sub-maps, sub-sub-maps and so on. These maps could take the form of our thoughts, memories, skills, attitudes, beliefs and preferences and all these are interconnected. Each map, it is found, has millions of connections. Everytime there is a new bit of information, the brain connects it with the existing maps by comparing, associating and matching. The brain seeks order at all times. When we are able to see how one piece connects with the other, there is a release of energy which motivates and drives actions. Connecting maps is like connecting the 'dots', which enables logical reasoning in the actions that are performed. Many a time we ask our team members to do things, without them really buying into them. As we take on the position of leaders and become responsible to manage teams, it is imperative that we facilitate the process of connecting the dots and thus providing scope for 'buy-in'. This is used generally by engaging the team member in a 'coaching conversation', which is so different from the usual 'instructional' or 'telling' style of management or leadership. Understanding the maps of the team members and then helping them 'fit in' the new piece of information would be a win-win way to opt for. This also recognizes the importance of the 'thoughts and feelings' of the individual team member enhancing his/her self esteem, gives him an opportunity to think through the situation, and finally automatically motivates towards action. Coaching also helps when the team member has hit an 'impasse' by helping the member think through a problem and make the connections possible. Thus, today's leaders would be far more effective when they understand this first principle about the brain, and take on a coaching style of helping team members connect their dots; thereby energizing them towards fruitful action.

Up close, no two brains are alike

Each and every brain is as unique as ever! From the beginning, we have been exposed to different surroundings, learning, experiences, ideas and so on which have contributed in wiring every brain differently. The brain is unimaginably complex with around 300 trillion constantly changing connections. Knowing this fundamental truth enables us to come to terms with different learning styles of individuals and hence maintaining our cool when a point does not get driven across. It becomes important to know that a piece of communication is not necessarily perceived in the same by two brains. There is always a difference and appreciating this difference is an important step in becoming effective in our endeavors. While it may seem quite straight forward, this is an area, when we come into practice, where we fail. As a manager, I have a standard way of communicating to my team and expect similar response from each of them. I fall into the trap of comparing how one member has picked the strings up and moved along in the direction suggested while another lags behind. My expecting different members of the team to have the same interpretation of my communiqué and to thus expect the same response goes against this fundamental principle. It is due to this understanding that the idea of 'situational leadership' came to fame, proved successful and has been well received by many leaders. Keeping this in mind, our conversations will shift from the 'one size fits all' mode to individual one on one coaching conversations, where powerful questioning takes on a very crucial role in the dialogue. We are also wary about giving advice to others in accordance to our perspective! We refrain from 'telling' others what to do, and choose 'asking' them what they think about the situation.

The brain hardwires everything it can

The brain has a working memory and a long term memory. The working memory is small, energy intensive and cannot concentrate for long. According to Joseph LeDoux from New York University, the brain can hold on seven concepts in the working memory at one time. The long term memory on the other hand has massive capacity, is hard to distract and requires minimal energy. Everything that is repeated is hardwired in the long term memory. Processes thus are automated and work gets completed faster, more effectively and at a lower metabolic level. This allows for the working memory to be freed up. Understanding this phenomenon helps the individual consciously hardwire through repeating information that is important. It also helps when it is required to change some previous learning, i.e to unlearn by taking the focus out of the subject, and thus to avoid hardwiring. Old habits that need to be changed are best done by avoiding repetition in that direction, and new habits are giving more attention, repetition encouraged and hence hardwired. In the work place context, leaders are meant to constantly change certain patterns in others, and with this point in mind, the task gets easier. It also is important for some points to be driven home by the leader, and hence if the communication is repeated, then chances of success is enhanced manifold, rather than one simple message. We realize that changing someone's habit can demand much effort and demands a whole new approach.

Our hard wiring drives automatic perception.

What does the phrase below, from a famous Disney movie say to you?

When you wish

Upon a a star …..

We expect the sentence to say 'when you wish upon a star' because we have heard this phrase before, yet most people won't see that there are two a's in the sentence. We see the sentence according to our expectations, not based on what is in front of us.

We see the world through our wiring. It's how the brain interprets facts that determines how we perceive reality. Finding ways to shift these hardwired habits are often the central challenges of leaders.

We can make this work towards our advantage too. If our world is determined by the mental frames we hold in the mind we can thus improve people's performance by simply helping them shift their thinking.

It's practically impossible to deconstruct our wiring

We have understood that our current perceptions and hence performance is due to the way in which our brain is wired and also how we are hardwired. Thus, if we wish to improve one's performance, it becomes important to change the 'wiring' or 'connections'. Interestingly, we cannot change the hard wiring that's been embedded in the brain. Our automatic approach is to deconstruct the habit, this is similar to trying to get rid of the Grand Canyon. It is easier to cut a small new path in the side of the wall. Looking for the source of the habit, creates more connections with the habit. Where attention goes energy follows and where energy flows, life grows. Thus we can leave the problem wiring where it is and focus on wholly and completely on the creation of new wiring. This is just what happens in the brain when we are solutions focused. Thus, creating new habits are much easier than changing old habits.

It's easy to create new wiring

Science is showing that it is not too difficult to create new wiring. We need to give our new mental map enough attention, over enough time, to ensure that it gets embedded in our brain. Instead of just thinking about an idea, we also write it down, speak about it and take action. Thus many parts of the brain are linked. There a three key findings that will help us in this context New habits take time, but not that much – science shows that physical new branches called dendrites were emerging just after an hour of stimulation Positive feedback is essential – the brain has to see a happy face and to hear occasional laughter to cement its neural circuitry. If we as leaders want to help people improve performance at work, we need to become much more proficient at giving positive feedback Too many thoughts, too little time – sometimes it becomes difficult to remember doing what we know we need to do, in order to create new habits. We need to remember to remember. Therefore, it will make a world of a difference having another person as a coach help us change. The reminder, attention and energy that comes from knowing someone is thinking about our new habit helps create more links to the insight we are attempting to hold in mind It is nice to see that any pathways that we don't use for a while, slowly the brain prunes and removes unused links. Thus, as leaders, a paradigm shift, from finding behaviors to fix to being fascinated with growing people's strength is called for.