Day two started with an early morning session with Josh Davis
, one of NeuroLeadership Institutes faculty giving an outline of what we know about the NeuroLeadership field (summarized in a paper in the fourth NeuroLeadership Journal
). Josh also gave a high level taxonomy of the field, a work in progress, as well as led a discussion on postgraduate student research studies. Where the research needs to focus to build out the field further was a final discussion.
Focus your AIM: A social cognitive neuroscience model for goal pursuit
with Elliot Berkman, Ph.D., and David Rock
Berkman and Rock outlined new insights around successful goal pursuit. They identified three critical Antecedents
to achieving the goals important to our personal and professional lives: stickiness, motivation, and social context. To make progress toward our goals on a sustained basis, it’s critical that we engage the parts of our brain that help ideas and behaviors stick.
The brain uses two types of motivation: one to approach good things and one to avoid bad things. Fresh research underscores that setting gain-frame goals tends to achieve longer-term, more sustainable results in western culture, however does not fit for all groups or individuals.
Social context is a critical piece to add to models in helping leaders and companies’ work on goals. We know the social networks in the brain crave group context and connection; many goals involve other people, or groups of people, allowing for in-group dynamics to prime for success.
of how we think about and how we do goal achievement is where the ‘rubber meets the road’. Goal hierarchies are a useful and well-grounded model for goal pursuit. Shifting gears up and down the hierarchy, or between the why (higher) or how (lower) of goals is essential in today’s complex world.
is about about managing rewards and anticipation. The brain loves to anticipate and “predict” receiving rewards. This motivation is crucial to changing behavior and successful goal pursuit. Habits are formed through small victories and resulting rewards.
Social regulation: How we help others manage emotions
with Kevin Ochsner, Ph.D., and Jim Whiting
We interact with others either explicitly, with clarity of intent, or implicitly, without clearly defining or communicating our purposes. Through a combination of neuroscience and behavioral data, we’re starting to see how the implicit and explicit forms of social regulation of emotion play out.
Specific kinds of social cues—facial expressions, utterances, or actions—generate emotions. From research, we know the presence of other people experiencing particular emotions can automatically evoke emotions within us. Mirroring is a behavior that engages our emotions in social situations. We know from contagion research that motor systems in the brain in frontal and parietal lobe are activated by seeing someone else smiling.
If we maintain cooperative social relationships based on a sense of fairness, the brain encodes that. If we fail to regulate our emotions and generate excessive competition and conflict, this activates the parts of the brain connected to strategic control. When leaders or coworkers behave selfishly or unfairly, others predictably have less empathy for them.
This underscores the importance of using explicit social regulation to influence another individual’s emotions, preferences, or attitudes. Framing is a key strategy, when we give people a positive, approach-focused frame to events—their anxiety and threat response is reduced.
Any kind of significant change in role, such as moving to managing others, generates uncertainty. When employees go through a leadership transition—i.e., from self-managing to managing others to leading a department—there are three brain functions that go through significant change and growth at the same time: self-regulation, attention and goal focus, and rewards.
New managers need to mentally shift how they think about responsibility and performance. A key part of the self-regulation transition is being more “reflective” in thinking. Before becoming a manager, an employee’s number one priority was to accomplish tasks. Now as a manager, the critical responsibility is to help employees accomplish tasks in an outstanding way.
Karen Stefanyszyn of Aviva pointed out the company instills self-regulation in new leaders through intense meditation and mindfulness training and a strong culture of physical fitness.
The Attention and Goal-Focus Transition:
Managers expend more energy from their social brain than in their past roles, because their focus is to interact with people and represent employees to the larger company. This new role as a manager also means shifting motivation and goals. Workers set goals for themselves, as managers they establish goals for others. New managers need to develop their mentalizing capacity—understanding what’s happening in other people’s heads.
Erica Fox of Google shared a number of practices at the famed company that directly address these findings. One is by “priming collectivism”; Google talks to managers about being keepers of the culture and encourages them to broaden their views beyond their immediate work.
The Rewards Transition:
Successful managers must also navigate a third leadership transition: how they think about rewards. Managers no longer get immediate feedback, and must adapt to evaluating others with regular, insightful advice, while receive less “hand holding” from their own superiors. Managers begin to understand they will receive different types of reward that trigger different kinds of reward regions in the brain—rewards that are more uncertain. Managers must also cope with another underestimated hurdle: making the transition from being “part of the gang” to being more isolated.
This session engaged in the question of ‘how do we manage the aging brain’s decreasing capacity?’ While the science doesn’t look good for the brain as it ages there are ways to mitigate the damage, including sleeping well and exercise.
The changes in the brain may alter how leaders interact with others. For example older leaders are far more empathetic than younger leaders.
Leadership messes with the mind:
Ruby Wax and a panel of experts discuss leadership and the brain
The panel was a lively discussion on the general mental condition of leaders moderated by Ruby Wax
, including David Rock, David Reimer
CEO of Merryk and neuroscientist, Ethan Kross Ph.D
Ruby started by poking fun ‘Do you have to be crazy to be head if an organization? I say yes. Asperger’s is a big plus’
She also suggested that psych wards might be a good place to source CEOs. David Rock agreed ‘To be a leader you need to see things others cannot see, but this also is close to being a definition of madness’
While historical figures of CEOs include generalizations such as arrogance and narcissism this might not be accurate for future successful leaders. Studies show that arrogant bosses are not as successful, however narcissists generally interview well and are seen as excellent candidates.
But once they have the job, then what? A study across 50 CEOs by Merryk suggests that CEOs are not as stressed as you might imagine. CEOs reportedly spend 55% time under moderate stress 19% under extreme stress. However this may be because they are well paid and pass on their stress to others. Successful strategies for leaders to manage stress include exercise, mindfulness, and social time.
So what does a ‘sane’ leaders look like? The most desirable leadership traits: flexibility, resilience, adaptability and capacity to develop others. Self-regulation, curiosity and authenticity may also be crucial skills needed to develop in Leaders.
Ruby asked ‘Can you believe we need to teach people how to be real?’
If that‘s what it takes for better future leaders.