How to lead with your whole brain

Good leaders inspire, persuade, and connect. They create productive relationships and environments for themselves and for others. Environments in which they and the people they lead can feel safe and motivated. Environments where they use their knowledge and brain strengths to achieve performance excellence and increase engagement.

Applying neuroscience to leadership begins with an understanding of self. It includes an understanding of how the brain works--your brain and other's brains. After all, Leadership involves interaction with brains. Not long ago I spent time in what I called a "brain jam session" with Stephen Hager, the creator of the well validated Brain PathWays assessment system. I wanted to "pick his brain" on how knowing how we take in information and learn (our sensory paths), as well as how we process information, plan and think (our cognitive paths) can help leaders in a practical way.  

This free white paper shares a few of the points we explored which have direct practical application to your leadership. It includes an introduction to understanding and taking care of your brain as well as how to understand others.  Understanding, leveraging, and welcoming the diversity of people's minds is critical to your success as a leader. 

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The practical neuroscience of leadership: How to lead with your whole brain

1. Know your brain

Only by knowing yourself can you have the potential to understand others better. Self-awareness builds clarity about objectives, fine-tunes your understanding of yourself as well as your ability to understand the perspectives, values, aims, and personality traits of others. Thus, when you know how your brain works, you are better able to relate more effectively. 

Every human being has a unique sensory sequence and cognitive thinking preference. When you are aware of yours, it's easier to improve things like: 

  • Communications by understanding your strengths and limitations.
  • Learning about yourself and others.
  • Creativity, both personal and group.
  • Alignment with your job characteristics for promoting success.
  • Decision making. Understanding neurodiversity, you will surround yourself with those that are strong where you might be weak or have a blind spot.
  • Productivity and effectiveness, by better managing time and stress.
  • Relationships, by enhancing the exchange of information. 

Generally speaking, the left and right hemispheres of your brain process information differently. You tend to process information using your dominant side. Both sides have certain commonalities, and help each other. Therefore, if you encourage the development of a weaker area, for example, intuitive thinking if you are more driven by logic, not only can you become more intuitive, but you can also help other mental abilities improve. Your thinking process is better when you can engage both sides in a balanced manner. Let’s review how this works.

Left brain

Your left brain is a grounded tactician, able to plan, reason, and execute in the moment. It controls sequential and linear thought. It’s where your verbal and analytical abilities come from. It helps you see things as they are in the moment. It’s ordered, quantitative, logical, realistic, and practical.

The left hemisphere reasons from part to whole and assigns names and labels. It is concern with facts, careful scrutiny, and closure, attuned to the realities of the present. It’s from where your realistic thinking comes from.

Right brain

The right hemisphere is your strategist, innovator, and visionary. It controls intuitive and emotional thought. It’s imaginative, nonverbal, and holistic. It reasons from whole to parts, is reflective, and envisions the world as it could be.

The right brain is concerned with future possibilities, creativity, change, and interpersonal connections. It has a transformational perspective and values interpersonal connections. That’s where your idealistic vision comes from.

Multi-dominance

Today’s leaders need to develop brain multidominance, having strengths in both left and right hemispheres. You can develop strengths in both hemispheres by engaging in diverse behaviors, experiences and actions. If you use your brain to do new and different things, increasing your processing options, you will be better able to deal with change. You need to get out of habitual thinking patterns, step out of your comfort zone, and try new ways of responding.

Self-reflection will also enable you to stay grounded during emotionally triggering events, and turn them into opportunities for learning and development. That way, instead of being caught up in your preferred way of thinking, you will be able to shift between both left and right brain styles, even when under stress.

In today’s world, challenges are complex. If you act solely from your dominant brain preference, you’ll come up short. If you lead from your left brain, you’re going to be methodical, expressive, grounded, and assertive. Your right brain will be strategic, innovative, transformational, and engaging.

Our world today is more demanding, more interconnected, and operates with faster cycles of time. The successful leader today must be ready to engage his or her whole brain with fluidity. 

We need organized, disciplined, analytical strategists, but we also need creative visionaries, inspirational leaders who are unafraid to challenge current paradigms. If you can use your whole brain, you’ll then be able to inspire realistic action!

2. Take care of your brain

Your leadership is only as good as your brain. If you want to have a clear head for decision making, innovation, relating to people (both internally and externally), and planning, you have to take care of your brain.

Your brain is an organ of the body. Anything you do that improves your general health will improve the quality of your brain and your thinking. Some places to start:

  • Get enough sleep and rest.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Find practices that help you deal with stress.
  • Breathe well and deeply to circulate more oxygen to your brain.
  • Drink more water and less sodas and coffee.
  • Consume enough complex B vitamins (which help brain connections).
  • Go light on sugary deserts. Sugars can cloud your judgement.
  • Take time to reflect.
  • Read and watch uplifting materials.
  • Practice gratitude, mindfulness, and forgiveness. 

If you try improving at least some of these, you might be surprised at how much your thinking will clear and your leadership improves.

Remember then to take care of your brain well. When your mind becomes clearer, stronger, and more positive and compassionate, your leadership will improve, your emotions will be easier to manage, and people will follow you more willingly.

3. Understand others

It's easy to assume that everybody learns and thinks the way you do. Therefore, you tend to communicate using your preferred methods. Yet, good leaders modify their methods to the preferences of their people, the situation, and the environment. When you learn to appreciate the preferences of others, you will expand your circle of influence by communicating in a way that others can receive more easily. . .

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