Artikel: Neuroscience and leadership – how are they connected?

By understanding how the brain works and building on the existing foundations of psychological research.

This by adding neuroscience research as an evidence base, it is possible to become a better manager.

Most managers I meet have very high ambitions in their leadership role. Consequently, now and then the following question is asked: ”How do I become the world’s best leader? This is a question that is not easy to answer. After we have met a few times, however, the manager becomes aware that a good leader is one who provides feedback, demonstrates commitment, is fearless and inspires employees in the best possible way. A good leader is also fair, respectful, makes decisions, knows that setting goals promotes motivation and good performance and invests in the employees’ well-being.

A key to boosting the performance of others is to be a good leader. To achieve this, a manager needs to have advanced training in coaching individuals or needs to joining a professional management development programme. He or she needs to be challenged in order to have the resolve to try new things that are outside his or her comfort zone. It is just when we are on the border between what we are capable of doing and what is a little too difficult that we derive the greatest satisfaction as we then know that we are capable of taking our knowledge and skills to a new and higher level.

Working with a management development group includes raising awareness of how the participants perform and thinking about them in their role as managers, although it also includes educational and pedagogical elements. My role as a group leader is therefore to apply models and convey theoretical perspectives that can make it easier for the participants to increase their understanding of their own behaviour and the behaviour of others, and also motivate them to take new steps. Knowledge about neuroscience leadership research, together with psychology and leadership interventions, brings about an understanding of what happens in interactions with others as well as the influence of the brain on a person’s behaviour, choices and decisions.

Daniel Kahneman’s research (2011) tells us that the majority of decisions we make in a day are based on rules of thumb that are created by our experience and our world of information, which is subjective and not based on facts. We combine this information with emotions and intuitions, and then we perform some kind of “fair proportional consideration or analysis” as a basis for the decision.

If we instead devoted more time to the volitional parts of the brain and thought more logically, we would make more rational and better informed decisions during the course of a day. Furthermore, the expectations of the brain have a major impact on us and come into play in the way we perceive a situation. Different individuals experience the same information in different ways. When we look at the world around us, our brain begins to calculate what kind of reward we can expect from different situations and actions. Incoming information is being constantly compared with our predicted information. It could be said that our brain lives a life of its own at work. Only a small part of what is processed there is perceived by our consciousness. Evian Gordon’s research (2009) shows us that the brain spends its day trying to minimise dangers and maximise rewards. When we experience a social threat, the brain reacts in exactly the same way as if it was experiencing a shortage of food, water or security. When our brain experiences fear, it finds it difficult to concentrate on the job in hand. The brain’s analytical and creative systems simply shut down.

It is central to know that with relatively small means a manager can create a positive mood in the workplace and put the employees in a positive emotional state. This is achieved by building a company culture in which people act together and take an interest in each other’s differences and job situations and where communication is encouraged and stimulated on all levels. The feeling of being close to other people fosters cooperation. People who work together and interact in a fruitful way can create things they would not be able to do alone. It is therefore important in the workplace to allow time for employees to get to know each other. Responsibility for this rests with the manager and is a skill that needs to be developed when it comes to leadership, i.e. creating space for interaction, creating rapport and encouraging healthy contact between individuals. When people get to know each other they build up confidence and trust, they feel more comfortable and secure working together and they have the courage to take greater risks together. The opposite is the case when they feel insecure. In that situation it is easy for people to establish a more hostile environment. They can easily work against each other and derive pleasure from the failings of others. They can feel jealous and rivalry begins to emerge. Finally, they can create barriers, leading to conflicts that have a tendency to escalate.

The SCARF model developed by David Rock (2008) provides a useful framework for understanding and influencing our interactions with others and is a useful aid in understanding what can happen with regard to “threats and rewards” in the workplace.

September 2015,
Fil Dr. Tina Eriksson, Human Resource AB