managemnet company strategy managemanet 3 Ways Our Brains Undermine Our Ability to Be a Good Leader

3 Ways Our Brains Undermine Our Ability to Be a Good Leader

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To be successful, researchers at the Neuroleadership Institute have found that we must master three key domains of good leadership: focus on the future, excellence in people, and drive for results. And yet, as we develop as leaders, our brains change in ways that challenge our ability to excel in these areas. The team analyzed several leadership development programs used by large organizations and found that they often fail to equip leaders in all three domains. The good news is that we can learn to resist these tendencies once we understand why our brain is fighting us.

Robin, a perennial high achiever, was recently promoted to her first leadership position. But his first few months on the job were more difficult than expected: His colleagues stopped making fun of him, he was pulled in different directions, and he was constantly putting out fires. When one of his top performers suddenly leaves for another opportunity, Robin realizes that his team lacks resources. The pressure was taking its toll, and Robin began to dread Monday morning. Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to be a leader?

Robin’s story is familiar. Sixty percent of new managers fail within the first 24 months. And this is not just an issue for new managers: 50% to 70% of new executives also fail in the first 18 months.

To be successful, our research at the Neuroleadership Institute found that we need to excel in three key domains of great leadership: being future-oriented, good at people, and able to drive results. And yet, as we develop as leaders, our brains change in ways that challenge our ability to excel in these areas. We have examined many leadership development programs used by large organizations and discovered that they often fail to equip leaders in all three domains. The good news is that we can learn to resist these tendencies once we understand why our brain is fighting us.

Focus on the Future

Instead of just doing the work now, leaders must constantly scan for what’s next and make sure their teams are ready. This is contrary to how our brains are evolved to value the immediate and short-term future. In fact, in one study, 27% of Americans say they rarely or never think about what will happen five years into the future. That’s a concern because anticipating things like industry trends, future skill requirements, and customer needs is critical to a leader’s success.

According to the management consultant Elliott Jaques, the higher you are in an organization, the more you have to think about. While a line manager may need to stick to a plan for one quarter, a CEO needs to think about where the business will be in 10 years. Jacques calls this concept “time span.”

The challenge, of course, is that thinking about the future is difficult at the best of times. The more people have to think about, the harder it is to notice the silent signals that can provide insights about the possible future. Our brains have to fight too distance bias, which causes us to prioritize ideas and decisions that are closer in time than things in the future. Furthermore, only 16% of the executive leadership programs we studied had outcomes dedicated to thinking about the future, and the numbers were even lower for mid-level and first-time leadership programs, at 4% and 6%, respectively.

Fortunately, research suggests that the habit of thinking and predicting the future is a LEARNING SKILL, and it is one of the many cognitive skills that leaders can and should learn as part of leadership training. One way to start is to block off time each month and map out a “future state” of where you want your team to be in three to six months. Using that vision, then work backwards to determine what you need to do to get your team to that destination in the next six months.

Your People Are Everything

Leaders are jugglers – and the things they juggle are often at odds. Consider, for example, the general responsibility of leaders: To provide a business strategy that creates successful results. And yet, they must also be good at connecting and motivating their people.

These two tasks often conflict because people are often promoted to leadership positions because of technical skills, not personability. Social neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman alluding that a leader who is both technically competent and highly personable is a unicorn. He cites a study in which a leader seen as results-oriented – who combines strong analytical skills with a strong drive to persist and solve problems – has only a 14% chance of being seen as a good leader. If a leader is strong only in social skills – qualities such as communication and empathy – they are seen as a good leader by a small margin, 12%.

However, for leaders who are strong in both results and social skills, the probability of being seen as a great leader increased by 72%.

So how many of these unicorns are there? One of us (David), along with Tricia Naddaff, CEO of Management Research Group, examined data from thousands of employees where people rated their bosses on goal focus and people focus. Less than 1% of leaders were rated higher than both.

It turns out there is a neurological cause to it. Neuroimaging studies shows that there is a seesaw effect that exists for separate brain centers responsible for focusing on goals and focusing on people: When one dials, the other dials. what’s more, RESEARCH REVEALS showed that as an individual’s power increases, the goal-focus network in the brain becomes dominant. This process is adaptive because in order to make effective decisions as a leader, one must always separate the needs of each individual and see them as more chess pieces than people.

Getting the right balance between goal and people focus is key. But according to our research, only 58% of executive leadership programs focus on people outcomes, with 64% and 51% for mid-level and first-line leaders, respectively. Knowing this, leaders can cultivate the right balance by being more intentional about sending signals to the employees they care about.

Driving Realistic Results

One of the biggest confusions in leadership is the way our brain understands power. as individuals see themselves to become more powerful, they tend to become more optimistic. This often leads to unrealistic targets and inflated expectations, which can cause a disconnect between leaders and their direct reports who do the heavy lifting.

The result is that leaders become more “focused on vision” and not very interested in detail. Having a sense of power stimulates our brain positively and makes us feel good in the same way that winning money or receiving a reward does. When the brain is triggered in this way, it tends to activate more rewards by directing our behavior toward activities that reward power, such as thinking big picture or pursuing goals rather than focusing on details.

The good news is that by understanding the brain’s tendency to become less detail oriented and more visionary, you can resist the urges by finding other perspectives to stay realistic about the present and put more into it. goals that people focus on which is tied to the welfare of others. For example, if you are starting a new project and think it should be completed in three weeks, ask the views of others who will implement the daily tasks to ensure alignment on how much time is needed to deliver a quality product – and then be open to shifting your timeline, if possible.

Fortunately for Robin, his company has invested in a well-designed leadership program that balances all three challenging capabilities. Over the next six months, he gained insights that allowed him to better understand what made his team tick while learning how to think ahead and balance the various aspects of leadership with day-to-day tactical needs. Although the brain isn’t naturally built for leadership, with the right science-based training and attitude formation, leaders at all levels can conquer tough Mondays — and beyond.

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