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Leadership and the Brain – A User´s Guide to EmpathyAdvertorial
24 Feb 2014 Career and HR
Insights into leadership in the fast-evolving business environment can be found in the history of our own evolution. Over the last few million years, the human brain has changed faster than that of any other living species. We have developed such a large cortex (modern brain) in comparison to the deeper, older regions of the brain, that we are less in touch with our instincts and non-verbal signals. Not only is the cortex the most modern part of our brain, it is also the most considered, reflective and forward-thinking. Most of this brain growth is connected to the evolution of language and interpersonal capabilities, such as empathy, cooperation and strategizing as a group.
As cave dwellers, cooperation improved the chance of our survival as a species, so an instinctive tendency for cooperation is deeply embedded in our brains. If this is the case, then why is cooperation sometimes so difficult to establish?
How Did We Get Here?
When systems become destabilized, we produce threat states and transmit signals that reveal these, to some extent. This is one reason why leaders are so influential in setting the tone of a business culture. It explains how a manager transmits a positive or negative atmosphere to his or her team – and why team members often appear to go to such lengths to avoid hearing bad news. And purely from the standpoint of the brain, people respond differently to a “threat” that they perceive as distant (an end of the year appraisal) than one that seems more imminent (being called into your office on short notice without knowing why). Furthermore, and despite the fact that we inhabit a society of instant gratification, our brains are still more acutely geared towards loss-avoidance than reward-seeking – and this is worth bearing in mind when preparing to give people feedback or lead change.
Language has transformed all kinds of systems, including that of the brain and the world. There is such an exquisite tension between the individual and the environment, such a complexity of inter-connections, that our evolving brains have shaped the world, just as the world, over millennia, has shaped our brains. That world, as we have perceived it from birth to adulthood, has been woven by complex interactions between memories, smells, emotions, responses and learning, creating the unique individual that we are today. So when we think that we are making a completely rational decision in our professional environment, in fact we are not. We are making a decision based on the accumulation of our life experiences, relationships and expectations. This phenomenon applies not only to individuals but also to collectives – a family, a team, a Board or a business as a whole.
Empathy – Soft Skill, hard Results
Empathy is the neurological basis of personal and professional development as a manager or a leader. It makes us more aware of threats as perceived by other people, particularly those who report to us, and helps us go some way to assuage them. Empathic attitudes and behavior can therefore stimulate the very collaboration that is so vital not only for organizational vitality, but for organizational survival. They can yield unprecedented results in terms of one-to-one relationships and stimulate high performance in individuals, teams and organizations.
The Neuroscience of Engagement and Empathy
What actually happens when there is an interaction between two or more people who are feeling engaged – connected and mutually empathic? We could begin by hypothesizing that feeling engaged and being engaging are probably mutual – that is, to be engaging we are engaged. This is similar to the concept from the social neurosciences: that to encourage trust in a relationship – any interaction between people, at work, at home or socially – we must be open to trusting, rather than being in a state of stress or fear, which others could become aware of on a primal level.
The brain is all about inter-connectedness – our genetic make-up combined with all our life experiences. From the womb, parenting styles, learning preferences, talent choices, social milieu, gender, culture, relationships and many other factors create a unique blueprint of who we are, what we find interesting and who and what we attract into our lives. These factors continue to shape us into the future. The ability to engage means being aware of and being able to regulate the impact of our brain on someone else. It is about providing enough, but not too much, novelty, challenge and choice to engage and motivate.
Neuroplasticity – the brain´s ability to learn, unlearn and relearn, means that we can develop these skills even if they are not already a strong part of our toolkit. We can learn explicitly through reading as well as implicitly through life lessons or brain-based coaching, a discipline engaging executives through both explicit and implicit brain learning areas, through logic and emotion centers, to change and sustain Leadership behavior that motivates and inspires into high performance.
Management Messages – Where Do We Go From here?
nderstanding empathy – whether towards ourselves, others or an organization – serves to help people fulfill their potential, passion and purpose. It takes us through the interrogations: “where have we come from?” and “what are we going through?” to bring us back to the fundamental question: “what are we really here for?” In this way, we can begin to explore – through personal reflection or with an executive or peer coach or mentor – how we collaborate, how we role-model, and ultimately, how to create genuinely cohesive organizations.
Shorten. Full version of the article may be found at www.amrop.sk
Executive search companies, apart from leadership assessment and board advisory, naturally provide executive coaching services to the top managers that they naturally work with. The increasing demand for executive coaching services has led Amrop to create a unique offering to its clients.
As Amrop is known to use the latest neuroscience findings in the consulting practice it does not come as a surprise that Amrop offers brain-based coaching as part of the coaching practice as well. A unique team of eight internationally certified coaches with diversified backgrounds and representing different coaching schools are in the portfolios of coaches who can work with different individuals.
Coaching is often used as a continuous active support during periods when people in an organization are seeking independent and constructive feedback on the direction the organization has embarked on, its structure and resources, improvements in self-presentation, vision, plan or strategy, or when the development of important interpersonal skills of managers is needed to better fulfill a leadership role. Simply put: it is applied whenever it is necessary to optimize and influence the ability of key personnel in order to increase their performance and contribution to achieve common goals.
It unlocks human potential. This is an extremely efficient and effective method of personal development, as it helps to understand and solve problems naturally and to face them using one’s own skills through the mobilization of internal reserves. Through offering different perspectives, initiating better perception of reality, inspiration and discovering new opportunities, it gets the best out of the person being coached and thus opens the way to further success.
Executive Coaching by Amrop is a form of high level development designed for Board members and senior leaders, executives and entrepreneurs applied in areas of strategic management. It enables an increase of personal managerial efficiency, influence and authority and achieving desired results. Moreover, it helps to successfully manage people and processes and to cope with the challenges of a dynamically changing environment.
For more information contact Ladislava Molnárová, Amrop Senior Manager & Coaching Coordinator
Amrop Slovakia is the longest active Slovak member of The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) – the most respected global association of consulting companies focused on Retained Executive Search & Leadership Consulting and still the only AESC member with a fully-fledged office in Slovakia.
“To find Leaders For What’s Next we offer our clients solutions based on a unique combination of sector expertise, functional knowledge and ownership-specific approach,” said Igor Šulík, Amrop Managing Partner.
For more information, go to www.amrop.sk
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