Neuroscience has made remarkable discoveries in the last 15-20 years, in particular, how the brain works in the workplace. One of the more intriguing studies concludes that while we all have grey matter, no two brains are exactly alike. In other words, based on our life experiences, both positive and negative, we all view the world through our own unique lens. This may be one of the keys as to why so many relationships fail at work.
To truly address the issues of leadership we must acknowledge that while all human beings have a brain each one interprets, processes, innovates, problem solves and sees the world from their own unique perspective. The brain has millions of neurons that store and process information.
As an example, have you ever walked into a room and caught the scent of something in the air that immediately brought forth a strong emotion and memory? That is a great example of the brains capacity to identify and make meaning out of information. For me, if I smell fresh dill, I always think of my grandmother. She cooked with dill quite often and just a whiff of it and I am brought back to her kitchen and the good feelings I enjoyed while cooking with her. Dill can produce a very different experience if you ever had food poisoning and one of the ingredients in the food that made you sick was dill. I use this example to show how wide a range of experiences we can have even from the most benign thoughts or sensory information. The brain stores experiences and is continuously looking for connections in order to understand and protect us from what it perceives as harmful (pain) or move us towards what is perceived as reward (pleasure). Based on our history of experiences, how we process information can vary in numerous ways. In spite of our differences we are all hard wired to survive- and their are many variations as to what each of us considers “survival”.
So, which part of the brain will help us lead in a more positive and productive way? We don’t want to be in fight or flight mode when we lead or are making major life decisions. All too often we have experienced the stressed out, anxiety ridden leader which is a big trigger for our fight or flight response and if we are feeling particularly anxious, pressured, too much to do in too little time we can often make decisions driven by our limbic (flight or fight) system.
The Prefrontal Cortex (Solutions/Innovation) which is located in the front of the brain is a great place to start. This is the part of the brain responsible for innovation, abstract thinking, inspiration and regulating behavior as opposed to the Limbic System (Problems/Fear), which functions as the “fight or flight” survival portion of the brain. When one feels fear or any threat to their well being, the brains Limbic system fires up and pretty much shuts down the possibility of innovating solutions to current problems. If we apply this to our work environments it is critical to keep ourselves in that wonderful Prefrontal Cortex. Relaxed, slightly optimistic and calm is the best state of mind for leading ourselves and others. This allows our brain to innovate new ideas and think “out of the box”.