Rethinking Organizations with the Brain in Mind: Part 2, Cor

How do we create better leaders?

Posted Nov 10, 2011

Matt Lieberman

How can bosses learn to manage better?

Day two of the 2011 NeuroLeadership Summit in San Francisco started with Matthew Lieberman (UCLA) presenting three fascinating pieces of research. Firstly, studies are suggesting that for humans, ‘social is our basic operating system'.

Secondly, Matt outlined that one of the reasons organizations and the workplace may not be as socially conscious is that most managers and leaders are promoted for utilizing their analytic and strategic thinking skills, which tends to switch off their social neural networks. Over time, the less we use our social neural networks, the harder it is to switch them back on, and the less human awareness our leaders are able to bring to their roles.

Thirdly, Matt talked about how we frequently guess incorrectly when detecting other's motivations and the implications for improvement of this one skill may be far reaching in an organizational context. Matt's lab is now researching how we can improve our ability to predict and understand another's motivation, as this is an integral skill in social awareness.

Lera Boroditsky

Language has the power to shape our experiences.

Lera Boroditsky (Stanford) presented next on the power of language and its ability to shape not only our thinking, but also our emotions. She noted language is a powerful tool in orientating ourselves in the world as well as within organizations.

In western societies we think of the past as being behind us, and the future ahead. If we orientate ourselves differently, with the past in front of us and the future behind, and therefore more unknown, how might that change our thinking and planning?

Reappraisal and mindfulness maybe the keys to adaptive organizations.

James Gross (Stanford), YuYuan Tang (Dalian), Karen May (Google) discussed techniques for emotional regulation and mindfulness, and looked at how we can apply these within an organization.

Emotional regulation is used everyday in many situations, with varying success and strategies, some with implications for those around you.

Suppression is cognitively expensive, raising not only your own blood pressure and heart rate but also for others in the room with you. Reappraisal and mindfulness may be a more successful strategy. Taking the time to become more mindful through a meditation practice can have long-standing results across many aspects of life and allow you to be ‘in flow'.

Facing difficult tasks, priming your brain to test your willpower, might be useful for avoiding distractions and keeping focused. It is useful to know that emotions can be regulated, and how we go about it matters; we all have the ability to learn to manage emotional challenges.

Other fascinating sessions across the day explored questions like the biological validity of leadership assessments, and the deeper neuroscience beneath how we successfully set goals.