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Professor finds neuroscience provides insights into brains of complex and adaptive leaders
“This study represents a fusion of the leadership and neuroscience fields, and this fusion can revolutionize approaches to assessing and developing leaders,” says Hannah, the Tylee Wilson Chair in business ethics and professor of management at the Wake Forest University School of Business. Hannah is lead author of the paper in the May 2013 Journal of Applied Psychology titled, “The Psychological and Neurological Bases of Leader Self-Complexity and Effects on Adaptive Decision-Making.”
Hannah and four colleagues tested 103 young military leaders between the ranks of officer cadet and major at a U.S. Army base on the east coast. They administered psychological exams to assess the complexity of leaders’ identities, and neurological exams to assess the complexity of soldiers’ brain activity. For the brain tests, the researchers attached quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG) electrodes to 19 areas of the soldier’s scalp.
Hannah and his fellow researchers wanted to know if great leaders had more complex brains – measured by the electrodes which reported which parts of the brain were firing together at the same time. A low complex brain shows more areas of the brain operating at the same time at the same electrical amplitude and frequency – which suggests those areas converge to process the same task leaving fewer brain resources for other tasks and processes. It’s a process called “phase lock.”
But in high complex brains, the activity patterns are much more different and varied – which suggests more of the brains resources are available at any one time to handle other situations or tasks.
“Think of it as a single core versus a multicore computer’s central processing unit (CPU),” Hannah says. “A multicore CPU can multitask because one core can process a task while the other CPU cores remain free to process new tasks. More complex brains are also more efficient in locking together only the brain resources needed to process a task and then efficiently releasing them when no longer needed.”
The study showed the high complex brains of the great leaders had a different “landscape.” The scans showed more differentiated activation patterns in the frontal and prefrontal lobes of leaders who demonstrated greater decisiveness, adaptive thinking and positive action orientation in the experiment.
“Further, individuals who have developed richer and more elaborate self-concepts as leaders were found to be more complex and adaptable,” Hannah says. “These findings have important implications for identifying and developing leaders who can lead effectively in today’s changing, dynamic, and often volatile organizational contexts.”
The researcher team suggests that once they validate neurological profiles of leaders with high complex brains, they will be able to use established techniques like neuro-feedback to enhance these leadership skills in others. Neuro-feedback has been successfully used with elite athletes, concert musicians and financial traders in their training. These profiles can also be used to assess leaders and track their development over time.
These findings have relevance to the WFU Schools of Business’ new student development framework, which focuses on developing practical wisdom, strategic thinking and critical thinking skills, along with the ability to embrace complexity and ambiguity.
Hannah’s co-authors include Pierre Balthazard, dean of the School of Business at Saint Bonaventure University; David A. Waldman, professor of business at Arizona State University; Peter L. Jennings, of the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic at West Point; and Robert W. Thatcher of the University of South Florida.
This research team is at the forefront of applying neuroscience to study effective leadership. The team previously published a 2012 paper in the Leadership Quarterly, which identified unique brain functioning in leaders who are seen by their followers as highly inspirational and charismatic.
“There's no such thing as a self-made person. Someone believed and invested in you. Be grateful. Be and do likewise for others. Don't underestimate the power of these words and actions: "I believe in you. I'm rooting for you. I'm cheering for you." And if you've lacked people mentoring and investing in you, don't grow bitter. A new wave of pouring into the next generation can begin with YOU. It's never too late and never too early to invest in younger people.”—Eugene Cho
On Being Confident: Why Women Often Second-Guess Themselves
Chairwoman and CEO at IBM
Virginia Rometty, IBM
Virginia “Ginni” Rometty is the first woman to head the company and is the current Chairman and CEO of IBM. Rometty is credited with championing IBM’s growth strategy by shifting them into cloud computing and analytics businesses.
Interestingly, Rometty was offered a “big job” early in her career, but told the recruiter she had to think it over because she worried she might not have the proper experience. When she discussed the offer with her husband, he pointed out, “do you think a man would ever have answered that question that way?” There’s two takeaways from this. One, you know more than you give yourself credit for, so always be confident. And two – as Sandberg puts it – make your partner a real partner. Equality on all fronts (for men and women at work and at home) is key. Had she not discussed this opportunity with her partner, she may not be where she is today.
This example really struck a chord with me because it is something I think about all of the time: the fact that women often have a lot more knowledge and experience than we give ourselves credit for. It is pretty clear that in our society women who appear overly humble are often regarded more favorably than women who express confidence in themselves. Confidence almost always gets equated with being “b*tchy” or “cold” and so when seen that way, it’s not surprising that many women tend to shy away from promoting their own capabilities to the same degree that a man would. When put in situations where they are asked to do something of which they are fully capable, I often hear some of my other female friends make remarks like “well, I need more experience to do that” or “here is how I would do it but I’m not an expert or anything.”
Why do we often second guess ourselves and question our qualifications? Why do we insist on convincing ourselves we can’t do something?
I believe part of it is fear. I think the other part, though, is this learned behavior to constantly remain humble. It’s “not feminine” to tout our capabilities and excessively promote ourselves. Oftentimes, people tend to focus more on likability when it comes to women rather than respect. You want your boss to like you. You want your teammates to like you. You want your professor to like you. It’s much easier to get people to like you when you make them believe you don’t think you deserve the things you earned to get to where you are. But likability does not equal respect. In our society, a man doesn’t need to care if he’s liked, he only cares about gaining respect. When a women tries to emulate that, she gets called a “b*tch.” Thus, being “liked” seems like the next best thing. We can still seemingly get to where we want to go just by being liked…to an extent. Being liked only takes you so far. When a woman gets to a point where she needs to assert herself, people are suddenly a lot less receptive to her and her likability gets reduced. It’s a very difficult transition but that also seems to be the moment when respect is gained.
I’m not saying a person can’t be liked and respected at the same time. What I am saying is that we should stop caring and continue forging ahead anyway. Most people will like you if you do things from the heart and they will respect you if you assert yourself and demonstrate your knowledge without questioning yourself. You’ll always face resistance but pushing past resistance builds more self-confidence and helps you gain even more respect. Someone not liking you is not the end all be all, even in the corporate world.
This is something we have to remind ourselves of often because it can be very easy and safe to fall back into the habit of just wanting to be liked. The next time you get offered an opportunity to do something greater than what you are doing now, instead of seeing it as “I don’t have enough experience to do that yet,” try seeing it as: “This opportunity wouldn’t have been offered to me if those providing it didn’t respect me or think I could do it. I know I can do it and I’ll take it.”
“Toxic stress is the heavy hand of early poverty, scripting a child’s life not in the Horatio Alger scenario of determination and drive, but in the patterns of disappointment and deprivation that shape a life of limitations.”—
Poverty as a Childhood Disease, by Perri Klass.
As we saw at this year’s schoollibraryjournal Public Library Leadership Think Tank, school and public libraries have a very strong role to play in mitigating the effects of poverty, for both children and their caregivers.