The making of a good leader – a neurological perspective (Part II)

Leadership is influence, says John Maxwell. And influence is first an internal process. Arising from awareness of how we present ourselves in the world, and interact with it.

One such means of strengthening our influence, is to tap into our intuition or instincts, and express it. Having good instincts is recognized as an advantage for a leader in any context, whether in reading the mood of one’s organization or in negotiating with competition. It is an ability to recognize patterns, and act to change or perpetuate them.

But, is intuition tangible? Thankfully, yes. Neuroscientists refer to it as our social guidance system, triggered by the spindle cells’ in our brain. These cells are longer than the others, and hence transmit thoughts and feelings quicker. This rapid connection of emotions, beliefs, and judgments creates what we know as our gut feeling. They help us gauge whether someone is right (or wrong) for a job. Within one-twentieth of a second, our spindle cells fire with information about how we feel about that person. Metrics reveal that such ‘thin-slice’ judgments can be very accurate.

Takeaway for leaders: do not fear to act on those judgments, especially when you are in tune with other people’s moods/ emotions. Though this comes with practice, thankfully mirror neurons do more than half the work. There is another class of neurons involved too – the oscillators. These are primarily responsible for coordination, how people’s bodies move and respond together – dances, hugs, handshakes, et al.

But how do we make all these neurons work together, to enhance our leadership?

The answer to this one is easy – you get what you give. Remember Ms. Robinson, the more preferred CEO candidate? She was chosen because she was constantly encouraging, hugging, and celebrating her team members. This behavior activates the neurons by the thousands per second. But if this doesn’t come to you naturally, then try to practice positive behavior by exploring the following:

  1. How do you want to impact people? Where do you stand currently with having your desired impact?
  2. Notice how people react when you share negative feedback. How can you express the same differently?
  3. Are you straightforward while expressing your opinions? Can you find tactful ways of sharing them?
  4. Do you pay attention to your team members’ feelings, especially frustration or disengagement?

If you’re wondering whether such practices are effective, research has proved their benefits time and again. Strong social skills in a leader bring out better performance from team members and predict impactful organizational crisis management. The good news here is that our behavior creates and develops neural networks, and we are not necessarily defined by our genes or early experiences. Change is possible through intentional practice. Are you willing to take it on?

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