Leaders, the dawn of a new leadership is upon us! It's time to delve into the brain of the new leader.
But first, we have to go back in time. When I was about 12 years old, I was sitting in the living room one evening. No one else was with me as I sat, riveted by a documentary about the “mysterious brain”. Even as a kid, psychology and brain science fascinated me and they have become lifelong passions.
Researchers on the show were trying to understand several cases of people who had been born with large pieces of their brain missing, even though that fact wasn’t discovered until much later in their lives because these people appeared completely normal.
You see, the paradigm held at that time (and still is held to some degree today) was that certain parts of the brain do certain things. Therefore, if the part of your brain that deals with speech is missing, you shouldn’t be able to speak. However, these people were all living perfectly normal lives, some with as much as two thirds of their brains completely missing.
Another belief that was held in those days was that the brain you were born with is the brain you keep and that if you destroyed brain cells they could not repair. Lost brain cells were lost forever! We now know that was completely incorrect! Now we know about brain plasticity. Simply put, this means the brain you were born with can and does dramatically change when you create changes in behavior, environment and or the way you choose to think.
Fascinating stuff, Dov! What does this have to do with Leadership?
Well, let’s start with the old theory for leadership was that leaders had to be “men.” Therefore, to be a leader, you must think and act as an alpha male, (even if you are a woman). Once again, this is proving to be completely incorrect, even though many of the top scientists can look at a brain and declare “this is a male brain” and “this is a female brain” based on the differences they see. The problem with this…and it’s a fatal flaw that even some top scientists overlook….is that the observable differences do not take environmental conditioning into consideration!
A man’s or for that matter a woman’s brain is the way it is because it is socially, culturally and environmentally conditioned to be a “male brain” or a “female brain.” It has very little to do with the actual grey matter upstairs in your coconut!
Don’t believe me? Well, let’s consider a genius.
When we think of the word genius many names may come to mind, but none more dominant than Albert Einstein. Einstein was an interesting fellow because, as you may or may not know his brain was examined after he died. Initially there was little that surprised the examining experts. Yes, there were a few things like a larger amount of folds than in an average brain, but nothing that really seemed to account for his genius. That was until they examined a particular part of the brain call the corpus callosum. This is the part of the brain that is the bridge between the right and left hemispheres, and it tends to be denser in women. In Einstein’s case, it was unusually thick for a man.
In other words, this part of his brain looked more like a woman’s. At the very least, it suggests that the overall neuro activity between his left and right hemispheres was extremely high. There is no doubt that Einstein had a brilliant logical mind, however, he himself stated on many occasions that imagination was more important than knowledge. In other words, although he had an incredible left brain, he also had great access to his right, more imaginative, brain as well.
The world of leadership is already changing and I suggest that you get ahead of the curve.
The most effective leaders right now and in the future will be men and women who are willing to embrace traits that are not limited to the stereotypical male leader, but that will fit with both genders, especially those traits that were once considered feminine and even weak, such as Creativity, Empathy, Compassion and most of all the Power of Vulnerability.
So what can you do to become a better whole-brained leader for the new and changing world of leadership?
I suggest three places to begin:
1) Find a way to create a safe place for your people to feel their feelings without being judged or condemned for it.
2) Spend five minutes twice a day figuratively walking in someone else’s shoes. This exercise will teach you compassion and empathy. Imagine what it must be like to be them. Let your imagination run wild. Just don’t assume that you are correct and that’s exactly what they do feel.
3) Do at least one thing differently than you usually do every day. (Brush your teeth using your other hand, take a different route to work, put the other sock on first) This will allow your brain to develop new neuropathways and this will, in turn, teach you how to think outside the box.
Because that’s what it takes to become a whole-brained successful new leader: thinking outside the box. Not just the box of business, but that box up there between your ears. The one that science is learning, that can adapt and change throughout your life.