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Becoming A Brain Smart Leader

Author: Lisa-Marie Hanson –  Chief Learning Officer

Everyone seems to be talking about the brain and finding the fast-track to understanding how the brain’s functioning impacts the quality of Leadership.

So when I accompanied Bob Eichinger (psychologist, thought leader and great translator of things complicated) on his February speaking engagement about the brain at a local Minnesota University, my brain was blown (sorry, I couldn’t help it).

Becoming A Brain Smart Leader

Ever have that moment when you just couldn’t help it?
When your initial reaction ruled, or your emotions got the best of you?
Fired off a response you ended up regretting?

Sure, I knew about “cooler heads prevail” or “counting to 10” before I do something, which isn’t easy, but I don’t think I understood what was happening in my head while all that was occurring. Lots of us “react” to things and “do first”—letting our feelings, emotions, impulses, intuitions, first reactions, automatic responses or even habits work first – which  can cause negative consequences after the action.

That first reaction is what Bob labeled “YOU #1” – the reactive you that just does things you regret later.  He went on to explain that there is a “YOU #2” that could have preempted the regret and has more critical thinking, problem solving, reflective kinds of actions and reasoning. Turns out even though there is a YOU #2, most of us let YOU #1 rule – and YOU #1 isn’t always our best friend. For most of us, the majority of our transactional life is driven by YOU #1.

In terms of neuroscience or NeuroLeadership, here’s what’s happening. During the last decade, we have begun to see what is really going on inside the brain in order to figure out WHY people do what they do or don’t do.  Functionally, the brain has a prime directive: protect the box it comes in (you) from all threats, real or imagined, at all costs. Your limbic system houses emotions, intuition, memory, and an automatic system that runs most of the box (body). The other is the thinking, reflecting, analyzing and applying wisdom part – the so-called higher functions located in the top or front of the brain. In the daily work of Leaders, it’s this second force that’s needed most. Unfortunately the first force is hard to turn off. Bob’s YOU #1 & 2 language translates this complicated neuroscience into something both my brains can understand.

There is good news here. There is ample evidence that the brain can and does significantly change, and that YOU can impact those changes through things like Optimism, Growth Mindset and the awareness of the YOUs lending their ongoing opinions in your brain.

Bob advised: Take better care of the box your brain and mind comes in. Sleep. Exercise. Fuel your brain.  Reduce clutter and distractions. Be mindful.

Mindfulness is an advanced Leadership skill for certain. It’s knowing how your brain works for good and bad, getting control of the dysfunctional parts of your brain, managing and regulating your emotions, as well as focus and attention, stress and realization management. You’re essentially moving your mind, which is in fifth gear already (moving at a rapid speed), and shifting it into neutral to allow for a moment of total focus and attention. It’s like turning part of your brain off – or at least asking YOU #1 to be quiet – insisting on nonjudgmental focus in the moment.

Bob also suggested we install a YOU #3 –as if we didn’t have enough going on already. Because those YOUs I am listening to are . . . ME.  And that ME can be a kind of Chief Brain Officer who gets it – understands ME. There are the thousands of task unrelated thoughts (Bob called them TUTS) we have in a day, or critical and negative thoughts that make it noisy in there. All these thoughts get in the way.

This ME #3 creates the mental strength leading to clarity of thought, which is important to the best problem solving and critical thinking possible. It’s building your own Brain Smarts to be the Leader you want to be.

And, that’s something we  can  help (for ourselves and the people we lead) – and will never regret.

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