MANAGE YOUR ENERGY NOT YOUR TIME
NEUROSCIENCE IS INFORMING LEADERS OF HOW THEY CAN PERFORM BETTER THROUGH UNDERSTANDING HOW THEIR BRAIN’S WORK.
Be it Alex Ferguson or Clive Woodward, Nelson Mandela or Winston Churchill, your understanding of what constitutes an effective leader will impact your behaviour on those you lead and manage.
Our brains are designed to explore and have a natural tendency to replicate learned behaviours which means, those with experiences of working under a ‘bad boss’ often mirror their mistakes. Understanding the brain is now helping leaders navigate the complexities of their unconscious mind and cultivate their personal leadership style.
What’s your style?
Professor Stephen Thomas from the Neuro Practitioner’s Guild believes a great influence on a person’s leadership style is experiential. “Many leaders often think they know what an effective leader looks like based on their experiences for who they have previously worked. Often, they will behave in a fashion to that of those above them as they see their higher status as a way to progress career-wise. Unfortunately, such experiences are often negative, and this leads to individuals replicating that behaviour with their own teams as it’s all too easy to forget the way they felt as an employee under a bullying boss. This in part is due to how we construct our memories as opposed to recalling them due to the brain’s plasticity, having the ability to change from experience to experience.
Critical to developing your leadership style is the given opportunity to assess your behaviour. You don’t learn from experience you learn from reflecting on your experience says Faulkner co-founder of VSI and the Masters in Sporting Directorship (MSD).
The then Liverpool manager Brendon Rodgers advocates the need to a have a learning mindset. As Rodgers says:
‘Stay at the leading edge of the game. I may grow old, but the players are still young. For their sake, I must never stand still’.
Learning is the fuel to growing your leadership style.
KNOW YOUR NUMBERS: THE THREAT OR REWARD RESPONSE
Our brains seek patterns. We become more comfortable behaving in a way we have seen, heard or experienced and is why many leaders use their own experiences as the influence. Self-awareness is paramount if a leader wants to be themselves, especially in times of crisis. Faulkner explains, “the brain’s primary organisation principle is to maximise reward and minimise threat and applies to all walks of life.
Phil Jackson who coached the LA Lakers to unprecedented success talks about knowing your numbers. Jackson states: “when my pulse reaches 100 I’m not in a place to make the correct decision”. Once this happens your brain is in a threat state and the likely outcome will result in your behaviours being somewhat emotional, impulsive and on occasions, irrational. It’s important to learn what creates the threat state in you and those you lead so you can predict their possible responses which in turn gives you choice around your behaviour.
Threat responses can cause people to feel stressed causing a tsunami of hormones throughout the body that impairs the executive functioning of the brain such as reflecting, decision making and problem-solving. Such causes of the threat response are challenges to a person’s status, autonomy as well as a sense of unfairness and removing purpose and certainty. As Carlo Ancelotti manager of Real Madrid at the time stated, “Leaders the world over find their greatest challenges lie in relationships”. Faulkner says, “leaders should make it their mission to mentally reward their staff whilst being aware of how everyday interactions may cause a threat response”.
ARE YOU REALLY THAT GOOD?
There is a long-standing tradition in sport of when you reach a senior position you surround yourself with lots of ‘yes’ people. Your position in an organisation will often impact on whether your team feel they have a voice.
Effective leaders surround themselves with people who are better than themselves. Leaders must position themselves in a place where they seek honest appraisal from individuals they value for their ability to offer knowledge that will impact and enhance performance.
TRAIN THE BRAIN
The Navy Seals have a saying “It takes balls to rest”
Brain hygiene is critical to human performance. The world of abundance we live in today very seldom allows for the brains most basic of needs to be met. Proper sleep, exercise and rest are all required for the brain to perform. There is strong evidence from the world of neuroscience and wellbeing that a ‘healthy leader’ is less likely to make irrational decisions. The Navy Seals with all their history, know the importance of allowing for time-out, or as Google call it ‘Dedicated thinking time’ and yet many individuals and organisations are yet to culturally accept this, as there is an assumption that you are not working.
Knowledge used correctly is power; leaders are beginning to learn about the constant argument in the brain between the emotional centre and our pre-frontal cortex; one drives emotions and the other drives thinking; there is a time and a place for both in all that we do. But beware…if we overload our pre-frontal cortex we run the risk of reducing our performance and the performance of those around us.
Remember, in our world it takes balls to rest, yet importantly, managing our energy better equips us emotionally, physically, and mentally to fulfil the role of a leader
Co-Founder of VSI & the Masters in Sporting Directorship