Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Using Neuroscience to Train Frankinstein Leaders?

Work has been undertaken which suggests that the behavioural and emotional qualities of leadership can be traced to neurological activity in identified regions of the brain.

In a really practical step, Pierre Balthazard at Arizona State Uni. is then working on linking this activity with the qualities that best benefit those at the top of a company to create training techniques that develop effective leadership abilities.

The FT reports on this in their article ‘A Brainwave in the Study of Leadership‘, noting that more recently leadership research has focused on more complex issues, ‘how to develop traits such as authenticity, charisma and visionary and inspirational leadership in less talented leaders’

Everything centres around evidence and belief that training (and subsequent scanning and rescanning) can show evidence of changes in signature brain patterns for certain behaviours: ‘neuro-feedback training can develop the behaviour individuals want to optimise’

Balthazard has gathered evidence he believes to be 100% accurate in determining who is  a strong leader (a bold claim….). He has also discovered that leaders with ‘high psychological capital’ – such as hope, optimism and resilience – display different brain activity.

Applications are obvious, and the US Military Academy at West Point and global management schools are looking at patterns that can be copied. It’s not surprising however that funding has been hard to find, and that there are obvious detractors (quoting 1984/ Orwellian Big Brother nightmare scenarios….)

For me, I feel intuitively that making such fundamental changes can’t be as simple as learning how to make lights flash differently on one screen to match a prescribed ‘best’ pattern on the other.

Apologies to Balthazard and his team for making such sweeping conclusions with such little evidence.  I’m sure it’s probably because I don’t want to admit that we’re absolutely as simple to change as all this. For me however, understanding; appreciation of how things overall ‘fit together’ and underlying values seem like bigger pieces of the equation of leadership excellence that cannot be trained so easily.

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One thought on “Using Neuroscience to Train Frankinstein Leaders?

  1. An interesting view of leadership traits Si – I now have an image of running assessment and development centres at hospitals so the asessors have access to a CT scanner.

    I agree with your comments. Humans are complex creatures and many decades of psychological theories trying to find the magic of great leadership has still not unearthed all the answers. It will add another dimension to the study of occupational psychology though!

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