There are many buzz words and trending topics in the corporate business community, but most seem to pale in comparison to the issue of leadership. In fact, recent surveys indicate that developing strong leaders is the number one talent issue facing organizations around the world – with as much as 86% of respondents rating it as urgent or important.

We know identifying good leaders is critical. The question is how to do that!

When Vince Lombardi noted, “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there,” he was carefully pointing out that leaders do not materialize by accident. In fact, great leaders – the key for any great organization – typically share common attitudes and attributes.

Leaders who demonstrate emotional intelligence have the interpersonal skills and self-awareness that they need to become great in their role. Whether adopting an authoritative or a democratic style, or leveraging personal charisma, leaders exhibit the courage to make tough calls, the genuine concern needed as a coach or mentor, the strategic vision to motivate, the ability to manage conflict, the self-confidence (and the humility), and the integrity to do well.

What is the impact of neuroscience on developing these important leadership skills?

Recognizing that leadership is about influence and inspiration helps us to understand why neuroscience is becoming an important conversation as scientists seek to explain the physiology behind effective leadership behavior. By focusing on the physical brain and its activity, they may uncover the connections between the brain itself and the unconscious thought processes and conscious leadership styles.

There are many facts that have already been uncovered that help to paint a picture defining why we do what we do. Here are two key points to consider:

  • The brain dreads change. Hardwired to survive, change can be seen as a threat on the safety of consistency and status quo. So great leaders need to overcome their brain’s impulse to reject change.
  • Parts of the brain nurture creativity. So, when the brain is open to thinking in a complex and complicated manner, exhibits flexibility, a willingness to embrace innovation, and a welcoming attitude to accept new ideas, then great leaders have a chance to shape their organizations and become the new disrupters in their industries.

In Organizations & People, Jeffrey Schwartz, Josie Thomson and Art Kleiner wrote in "The Neuroscience of Strategic Leadership," that neuroscientists are now determining what happens between the human mind and the brain. “If you understand the dynamics,” they said, “you can set a course toward more effective patterns of thinking and action… Over time, this practice can help you take on a quality of strategic leadership, inspiring others, helping organizations transcend their limits and navigating enterprises toward lofty, beneficial goals.”

Leaders who are sensitive often find that they have the capacity and competency to work effectively with others, mindful of the situation and using their insights to build camaraderie in order to accomplish great goals.

The brain is still a mystery!

From the cortex and cranium and cerebellum to the parietal, frontal, temporal and occipital lobes, it is expected that leaders of today and tomorrow can be more successful when they manage and direct the process of their own thinking and behavior.

Want to know more about the intersection of neuroscience and leadership? Here are some helpful articles that were drawn on and referenced in this column:

  • The Neuroscience of Leadership: Practical Applications. Kip Kelly
  • The Neuroscience of Strategic Leadership. Jeffrey Schwartz, Josie Thomason and Art Kleiner
  • The Picture of the Brain. Matthew Hoffman, MD
  • The Neuroscience of Leadership. Your Brain at Work. David Rock