Just Seven Things

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

Archive for the tag “Leadership”

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.

A Personal Conflict: Handling the Stress of Business Growth with the Demands of Leadership

A very personal conflict reflected in recent 360 feedback I received from my managers and fellow directors is well covered in Harvard Business Review’s June 2009 leader: How to Be a Good Boss in a Bad Economy

Robert Sutton found that people placed in authority become less mindful of others’ feelings and needs whilst those in subordinate positions devote immense energy to watching and interpreting the actions of leaders.

He suggests a useful framework to get bosses focused on what their people need from them: predictability, understanding, control and compassion.

1. Predictability: as much information as you can. Preparation reduces suffering and they can relax in the meantime

2. Understanding: explain why changes are necessary, and how it will affect routines. Internal communication should be simple, concrete and repetitive

3. Control: don’t frame an obstacle as too big, too complex, or too difficult to overcome: people will be overwhelmed and will freeze in their tracks. Break down into less daunting components

4. Compassion: tend to peoples’ emotional needs, however hard you are finding the process as a leader

Is Traditional Corporate Leadership Fundamentally Flawed?

Pyramid Restoration by Dyoptria

Pyramid Restoration by Dyoptria

I was struck today with the thought that the traditional corporate structure has a fundamental flaw. This flaw relates to its ability to harness the power of its peoples’ ideas.

I may be wrong, but it seems that the traditional corporate structure is predicated on the workers doing the doing, the managers doing the managing and the CEO/ Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) (with Board consultation and expenditure on consultants) doing the thinking.

The flaw for me is that unless the CEO/ CSO spends time directly talking to the people doing the doing, they’ll only ever be hearing from the managers managing the same thing they’ve always managed (with the expected change/ transformation that all corporates go through)

Where are the structures for the CEO to actively ask the questions of the people who perform the company’s activities and (arguably) are the best people to advise on how things are done better?

Is bringing in a firm of consultants to ask your staff for the answers the best investment of shareholder funds? Will the consultants end up filtering the message to what they ‘corporately anticipate’ the Board want to hear? I do not (totally) mean to be unfair to consultants in this in terms of their value add and business model in strategic decision-making – thinking independently is always of benefit.

Further to this, I believe that the aggregation of the average messages or required actions is also a structural flaw. If you seek to hear the ‘noise’ of an issue and prioritise action/ change on that basis, you’re by definition missing the silent issues or improvement opportunities. It does not bear testing to assume that in a sophisticated organisation of client or process focused roles that any broader ‘noise’ can be heard past questioning the lowest levels of the organisation.

I run recurring six monthly reviews with every member of the company (granted only 75 now: scale will require solutions). We spend half an hour and I ask them whether, beyond things that they’re working on with their line manager, there are things that I could enable or effect change on that would increase their happiness/ role enjoyment/ enjoyment of the company. Even in a situation where they are completely happy, I push them on how I could make them even happier. I also take the whole team away every six months and similarly we work up (and on) the things that we should be stopping, starting or continuing. My senior managers are not involved in guiding these conversations. Just facilitating.

As you would expect from the tone of the rest of this post, the stuff that they come up with is brilliant. I end up with pages worth of actions. And why? Because each of them has time whilst doing their job to think about how they could improve the activities of the company that they are undertaking. Managers think about how they can get better managing. So in act the CEO and the front line team are the ones that should be having the regular 121 conversations.

…but how to practically do this?

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