Date: Feb 21, 2011
Neuroscience is highly relevant to the language and process of coaching in the executive environment. Neuroscience can be used in practical and effective ways to enhance the execution of strategies. Srinivasan Pillay shows you how.
It is one of my favorite times in teaching a class of managers, leaders, and coaches: those first five minutes when executives and leaders from a variety of personal and business backgrounds—small businesses and Fortune 100 companies, male and female coaches, "in-your-face" and "one-step-at-a-time" personalities—are all united by a single question lurking at the back of their minds: What the heck does knowledge of the brain have to do with business?
There is even a faint look of horror on some of the faces of the participants who have come to this neurocoaching certification program as they learn that we will be talking for three days on how neuroscience informs business practices. Everyone sits back at first, preparing for the information deluge. But even within the first half-hour, I can sense a "huh?" response: "Wait a minute. Maybe, just maybe, there is something here that I can use." By the end of the first hour, hands are up asking questions or down scribbling ideas, and fingers are tapping on the desk while the information being presented is processed. The brains of these listeners are suddenly faced with an understanding of themselves, and I can sense that there is a readiness to change. Is this not the point that all of us want to bring our clients to? And is this not the point when we say, "Okay! Time to create the action plan."?
Andy Habermacher is the Managing Director of CTP (Corporate Training Programs) in Zurich, Switzerland. As a coach, he works with a wide variety of leaders, including prominent leaders of political organizations. This is what he wrote about his exposure to neuroscience: "In the autumn of 2008 I sat down in a conference room in a hotel in New York. Just 15 minutes later I realized I now had in my hands an exceptionally powerful tool for coaching, for leadership and for change management. That was what I had realized after 15 minutes, now 6 months later do I still feel the same? No, now I would say it is my most powerful tool. And by saying that I don't mean that neuroscience makes my other tools and my love of all things psychology irrelevant—no it simply makes them more relevant. I feel like I could see the nail before and knew where to bang the nail and was banging it with a brick—still effective, still doing the right things at more or less the right time. The concept and insights neuroscience brought me gave me the hammer to really bang home the nail...."
Coaches are not only those people who have trained to be executive coaches. They often are managers or leaders who have to act as coaches within their specific business domains. In fact, the role of "coach" is intrinsically built into the role of managers and leaders. When we use brain science as the basis of a coaching methodology or communication, our goal is to make this as practical as possible. In fact, it is really only useful when it is the best way to communicate. This book is about how to use this knowledge of the brain to communicate in the business environment.
This does not require an immediately in-depth understanding of brain chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. In the same way that a mechanic does not have to know the basic engineering principles behind how a car works, a manager or coach does not have to understand irrelevant intricacies. Also, because neuroscience in coaching is in its infancy, the learning involved in coaching is a staged approach that is gradual but incremental. Although the field is advancing at a tremendously rapid pace, learning the fundamental principles of neuroscience and how brain science can help communication in coaching is a solid first step.
In this chapter, we will get a chance to end those burning questions (and hopefully inspire new questions) about the relevance of neuroscience to improving performance in the business environment once and for all. You will come to see what a substantial role an understanding of the brain can play in how you work with people; and why now, more than any other time in the history of building leaders, knowing how to apply a knowledge of the brain in the corporate environment is an important and fundamental part of creating a context for change. This—the ability to create a context for change—is what coaching, management, and leadership are all about, and neuroscience is a critical part of this context development. But before we take a look at brain science and its applicability to the business environment, let's briefly examine the specific angle of brain science that will be discussed in this book.
What Is "Brain Science"?
Neuroscience refers to the scientific study of the nervous system. Brain science is a division of neuroscience. Studies on the brain relate to either its structure or function. "Brain science," as it is used in this book, refers predominantly to functional brain imaging studies that have been published in the peer-reviewed literature. Functional brain imaging examines how the brain works when it is presented with a task or challenge when people lie inside an MRI scanner. There are various kinds of functional brain imaging, such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), PET (positron emission tomography), and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography). The focus of this book is fMRI, which measures brain blood flow as a correlate of brain cell (neuronal) activity. By understanding how brain blood flow changes in different brain regions in response to tasks or challenges, we can start to understand how the brain works, and in so doing, gain insights about a different metaphor to describe human behavior (apart from organizational psychology). In addition, we can develop communication strategies that target specific brain regions.
The Development of Brain Science
Important discoveries as a result of the scientific study of the brain date back to ca. 4000 B.C.E., when the euphoriant effect of poppy plants was reported in Sumerian records. Since then, there have been various findings and discussions within the field, including Hippocrates discussing epilepsy as a phenomenon of the brain (460–379 B.C.E.) and Plato discussing the brain as the seat of mental processes (387 B.C.E.; see http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/hist.html). In fact, much of Darwin's theory of evolution was centered around his theories about the brain.1
In contrast with these early interests in the brain, imaging the brain using MRI is a relatively recent technique. The first MR image was published in 1973, and the first studies in humans were done in 1977.2 Furthermore, the first papers in the area of functional brain imaging (fMRI) were published in 1992, and since then, the technique has evolved so that we can understand brain changes within very small time periods and we can also see these brain changes more and more clearly as the technology evolves. By having people respond to various challenges (imagery, reaction time, emotions), we are unraveling the mystery of how the brain works. In this book, we will see how this understanding of brain function can be applied to the business environment.
It is important to remember that the field of fMRI is relatively new and still evolving. We are still in the process of trying to understand what the "lighting up" of the brain actually means, but as we grow in our knowledge of this meaning, there are several compelling findings that deserve reflection and translation into the business environment. As with organizational psychology, our knowledge and understanding of the brain is constantly being refreshed.
How Does Brain Science Relate to the Personal, Managerial, and Organizational Problems That Coaches Face?
Accelerating the execution of strategies is a goal that managers, leaders, and coaches share.3 Up until now, coaching theory has been based largely on personal or organizational psychology. By understanding the ways in which people and organizations work, business developers have been able to institute effective interventions to create a context for change. Organizational development and coaching has distinguished itself from psychotherapy in being time limited and goal oriented, but over time, as the psychotherapies have evolved toward this approach as well, the gap between the two is getting smaller. Although the psychological frameworks can be used very effectively to help people develop, these are based mostly on "external" observations of behavior. Inferences about interventions have been based on these external observations. With the advent of fMRI, we now have a chance to infer what is going on inside the brains of leaders so that we can augment this "external" behavioral and psychological approach with an "internal" understanding of what is going on inside the brain. On their own, brain anatomy and physiology are too esoteric to have practical significance in the coaching environment, but when the brain is examined in the context of personal or organizational development, it can provide amazing insights and can also provide a template for targeted strategies in accelerating the execution of strategy.
How Does the Application of Brain Science Help Coaches Deal with Their Clients More Effectively?
There are six basic ways in which brain science can enhance understanding within the executive environment:
- Repackaging—Any person who has been in marketing knows that one can completely change whether people will buy a product by repackaging it. A girl's toy, for example, may be received differently when it is packaged in yellow versus baby pink. It is the same toy, but the packaging has changed. Similarly, business leaders and managers sometimes hit a wall when working with colleagues, and although they want to maintain their primary focus, the colleague may be completely closed to "buying into" the executive's suggestion. This can cause a stalemate in communication. For example, if a leader feels that unconscious fear is eroding the thinking of a manager, the manager may be closed to such "psychological" concepts as "unconscious fear." However, if the leader provides a biological explanation for how unconscious fear and stress impacts thinking and productivity, the manager may be more receptive to the follow-up interventions. Coaches can use this methodology when working with leaders or managers.
- Decreasing threat—One of the obstacles to communicating in the business environment occurs when there is a rupture in alliance between two people in conversation, and when the person being spoken to feels criticized or threatened. When a coach or the "manager/leader as coach" uses psychological language, some people may experience this as a personal affront and may close up. Using the language of brain science can be a powerful way for executives to understand their behaviors without personalizing the explanation. When a coach focuses on a leader, the effect is one of direct focus, whereas focusing on "the brain" is something the coach and client can look at together. For example, if a coach feels that a leader's overconfidence is getting in his or her way, the coach cannot simply say to all leaders that they are being overconfident. The leader may be insulted and may close up. Instead, if a coach explains that confidence is tricky, and that there are two types of confidence—real confidence (which reflects the truth) and illusory confidence (which does not reflect the truth)—and that both of these types of confidence activate different parts of the brain without us being able to know which one we have (details are presented later in the book), this would soften the impact on the leader and encourage an exploration of the type of confidence that the leader has.
Uncovering myths—This is one of the most important applications of brain science to coaching. When brain science tells us something different from personal or organizational psychology, it can provide major breakthroughs in how leaders think. Examples of myths include the following: (1) Productivity is fine as long as workers are not overtly anxious; (2) Confidence indicates that a decision is correct; (3) It is pointless interacting with employees if they don't tell you what is going on; (4) It is important to tell employees to avoid doing the wrong thing; (5) It doesn't matter if times are hard; I have to keep pushing on through. Each of these myths can be debunked by neuroscience and will be discussed in greater detail in the book. Table 1.1 points to brief examples of the new insights of brain science.
Table 1.1. Debunking Organizational Myths with Brain Science
Insight from Brain Science
Productivity is fine as long as workers are not overtly anxious.
The unconscious brain is connected to the thinking brain, and when anxiety is unconscious, it can disrupt the thinking brain and productivity; hence, workers may need to focus on unconscious anxiety.
Confidence indicates that a decision is correct.
Accurate confidence activates the temporal lobe of the brain, and illusory confidence activates the fronto-parietal brain without telling us whether the confidence is accurate or illusory; hence, the intervention may need to focus on exploring the confidence rather than assuming that it indicates the correct approach.
It is pointless interacting with employees if they don't tell you what is going on.
Even if employees do not tell you anything, your own brain can automatically pick up information from their brains because you share mirror neurons (details later); hence, it is important for leaders who want to know what is going on in the company to have in-person dialogues, even with people who are not talkative.
It is important to tell employees to avoid doing the wrong thing.
Under stress, the brain operates such that an avoidance command is misinterpreted as a "do it" command; hence, we have to be careful when providing feedback.
It doesn't matter if times are hard; I have to keep pushing on through.
"Pushing through" sometimes exhausts the unconscious brain, fatigues the amygdala, and will cause the brain to shut off; hence, less work, rather than more work, may be necessary
- Providing further insights and evidence—At times, the usual interventions may not work when trying to help a leader change behavior. The leader may be resistant to change and may say, "I've always done this a certain way, and I can't do it any differently." Here, we can use the language of neuroplasticity in the dialogue. For example, rather than saying, "Of course you can change and you have to," a coach may say, "Brain science teaches us that the brain can change even in adulthood; in fact, the brain can form new connections and pathways and by trying out something new, your brain can rewire itself in time." Here, the coach circumvents the resistance to change by overtly describing a biological reality: that the brain can change. Another example would relate to visualization. Many people know that visualizing goals is helpful, but this often sounds too "New Age" or unsubstantiated. In this book, we will examine the biology of visualization and a new language of brain science to understand this phenomenon entirely differently.
- Providing a system for targeted interventions—When we use brain biology to explain phenomena, we may also extend this to use biological principles to construct interventions or strategies. For example, in the example of unconscious fear given earlier, it is often difficult to just ask a leader to stop his or her unconscious fear. If the leader is not conscious of it, how will he or she stop this? By understanding that the amygdala (the brain's emotional center) connects to the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), we can target the functions of the ACC (the brain's conflict detector) to reach the amygdala. Details of these interventions will be provided later in the book. Another example would be, how do coaches increase the commitment of a client to a new plan of action in the face of old habits? Or how do managers increase the commitment of people who report to them? By understanding the brain science behind commitment (which requires activation of the left frontal cortex), coaches and managers can then develop interventions that target the left frontal cortex (explained in detail later). Thus, brain science can help us construct active interventions as well.
- Developing coaching protocols and tools—The aforementioned piecemeal interventions can be incorporated into a coaching protocol so that a significant part of the coaching may include the biological basis and related interventions. For example, I was hired by a company to work with senior leaders to help them increase their power and influence during difficult conversations. These leaders had found that the people they were reporting to were often closed, autocratic, and frustrating. By understanding the brain basis of difficult conversations, we can construct checklists as part of coaching protocols to help leaders have an organized approach to developing a new skill. Understanding brain functions allows us to develop a coaching protocol with different targets than one that looks solely at behaviors.
More Examples of How Brain Science Concepts Enhance Coaching When Dealing with Problems and Traps That Leaders Face
Problems are overt issues that leaders, managers, coaches, and clients can understand. Traps relate to unforeseen consequences that executives or coaches may face. In both of these situations, brain science can be very helpful to executives or coaches looking for alternate explanations and strategies.
The following examples illustrate the business problem, the brain science concept that relates to the problem, and the specific application of this concept to improving productivity in the business environment.
1. The leader is working too much in isolation
When leaders make unilateral decisions, this can impact the company in very negative ways. It erodes coherence, trust, and productivity. When coaches work with leaders whose social intelligence is challenged in this manner, they are often faced with the difficulty of communicating the importance of involving as many levels of the company as possible in decisions. Leaders see this as too labor intensive and often think that they are muddying the waters when they take too many opinions into consideration. As a result, they steer away from involving other people. How can you, as a coach or manager, use the language of neuroscience to communicate why this does not always work well in the company?
The concept: The neuroscientific concept that can be used here is the following: Much like the way in which a company works, brains also have a hierarchical structure that involves a "top-down" communication of information. In a company, a CEO may communicate information to a senior manager; in the brain, that executive function is served by the frontal lobe. That is, the final decision to act makes its way to the frontal lobe before action occurs. However, prior to this decision being made, there are multiple networks in the brain that have to have their say. Much like a successful company, the brain relies on the input of its various parts prior to making a decision. That is, the brain acts as a set of collaborating brain regions that operate as a large-scale network.
The application: Coaches can use this information to remind leaders that the company operates due to the brains of all the people who are employed. All of these brains together form "the company brain." The leader is that part of the company brain that has to make the final decision: He or she is the frontal lobe of the company brain. Let's reflect on how the frontal lobe functions: We know from extensive research that if there are insufficient inputs to the frontal lobe, it cannot make the correct decisions. Just as the frontal lobe of any individual brain needs inputs from the emotional center in the brain—the risk register, the reward center, and many other regions—before it can make a decision, the company's frontal lobe also needs this information. In the case of the company, these other "inputs" are other people. Coaches and managers can introduce leaders to the importance of working together by using this metaphor.
Furthermore, CEOs who form these networks prior to becoming leaders are more likely to be successful.4 In the rise to greater responsibility, it is important for leaders to conceive of themselves much like the frontal lobe of the brain in "reaching out" to other "brain regions" within the company during the rise to leadership rather than after they have been nominated to that position. These frontal lobe functions in the business environment may involve bridging, framing, and capacitating5—all ideas that are about relating and making the business environment relatable.
2. The leader believes that emotions have nothing to do with the final decision
The concept: There are two types of reasoning: hot and cold reasoning. An example of cold reasoning is a straightforward arithmetic operation—although even this is not as cold as we think! Cold reasoning usually activates short-term memory centers only, without activating regions involved in "hot" reasoning. Very few thinking process are actually cold. Even reasoning that appears cold is motivated when people have an emotional stake in it. This is almost always the case in business. Hot reasoning, on the other hand, activates the brain's accountant (the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, or vmPFC), the conflict detector (the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC) and the "gut interpreter" (the insula).6 Activation of these brain regions is critical to making effective decisions.
Consider, for example, the case of companies who were fearless about lending money to people for mortgages. Without this fear, they lacked the information that was necessary to judiciously distribute money. Fear is an emotion, and it needed to be part of the equation before money was lent. On the other hand, if fear dominated the thought of people who invented the airplane, we might never have been able to fly. In each case, the emotion of fear is necessary to ensure adequate precautions. In the former case, it discourages lending, whereas in the latter case, it encourages innovation with safety.
Scientifically, we know that hot reasoning matters because in an experiment using deductive reasoning, a group that received logico-emotional training moved from error to logic, whereas the group that did not receive the emotional component of this training still made many errors.7 This training involved teaching people to be in touch with their emotions and activated the brain's accountant (vmPFC).
The application: It is not easy to tell most leaders who are opposed to emotions being part of decision-making that they need to be "in touch with their emotions." Neuroscience can help to provide more acceptable language. As a coach, you may tell leaders that their brains' accountant relies on emotional data to make the correct decisions and that experiments have shown that when the accountant corrects for errors in the brain, it is largely because it makes contact with emotional centers in the brain. You may also remind leaders who are sensitive to "emotions" that emotions are really just electrical impulses travelling through the emotional centers in the brain. The accountant in their brains needs a read on this electricity prior to making a decision.
Following acceptance of this explanation, you will have created a logical permission for the leader to be more open to your subsequent emotional and social intelligence development initiatives. In fact, a leader's emotions may play a very important role in leadership effectiveness.8
3. The leader is not comfortable making a necessary change
The concept: When leaders say, "I am just not comfortable with that," when they resist moving in the direction of new decisions, they need to be finely attuned to this sense of discomfort when making decisions, even when they can't account for it. However, in certain situations, this discomfort may not indicate that a decision is wrong, but that it is different. Recent research has shown that this discomfort, also called cognitive dissonance (details are explained in Chapter 6, "From Action Orientation to Change: How Brain Science Can Bring Managers and Leaders from Action Orientation to Action"), is essential to sticking to a new action. Brain imaging research has shown that to remain committed to a new decision, the left frontal cortex of the brain has to activate. This part of the brain will not activate without cognitive dissonance.
The application: When leaders are uncomfortable about a new decision, ask them to hold onto the discomfort while you take a look at the issue. To help them actually do this, you can tell them that brain imaging studies have shown that maximal discomfort is a necessary initial step to stimulate that part of the brain that will increase commitment to a new decision. Paying attention to variables such as "cognitive dissonance" has been recognized as fundamental to the field of behavioral finance.9
4. The leader is too anxious
The concept: Anxiety activates the amygdala—the fear and anxiety center in the brain.10 This part of the brain is connected to the thinking parts of the brain: in particular, the prefrontal cortex11 and ACC (see Figure 1.1).
Figure 1.1 DLPFC connections to anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), orbitofrontal (OFC) cortex, amygdala and hippocampus
There are two major subdivisions of the prefrontal cortex:
- The DLPFC (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex)—This is the short-term memory store.12, 13 New information coming into the brain is registered here and stored before it can be sent to long-term memory. Thus, excessive anxiety disrupts the integration of incoming information and short-term memory is compromised.
The mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex)14—The inner parts of the PFC (mPFC), shown in Figure 1.2, are responsible for various functions such as calculations of risks and rewards,15 motivation,16 memory retrieval,17 and other very important functions in decision-making.
Figure 1.2 The medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC)
Among its many other functions, the ACC is the error monitor in the human brain. It is useful to think of it as a flashlight that is constantly searching for conflicts in priorities. Aside from error detection, it is also involved in anticipation of tasks, motivation, and modulation of emotional responses. It shares rich connections with the amygdala, reward pathways, and the rest of the frontal cortex. When the amygdala is chaotic, the ACC also becomes chaotic, and attention to things both internal and external becomes chaotic.18 Figure 1.3 shows the amygdala connections to the anterior cingulate cortex.
Figure 1.3 The cingulate gyrus and amygdala connection
The application: When leaders are anxious, coaches can tell them that it is important to be aware that anxiety centers in the brain connect to thinking centers, including the PFC and ACC. The prefrontal cortex allows a person to differentiate among conflicting thoughts as well as determine good and bad,19 better and best, same and different, and future consequences of current activities, thus working toward a defined goal and prediction of outcomes.20–24 Therefore, when these functions are disrupted, thinking is disrupted. Effectively, by remembering that the amygdala is connected to the DLPFC, mPFC, and ACC, coaches can inform leaders that short-term memory, risk-benefit assessment, and attention are also disrupted by anxiety.
5. The leader has conflicts of interest
The concept: Leaders may not be willing to face the fact that their conflicts of interest are affecting their decision-making. When there is a conflict of interest, one issue may cloud another because these internal conflicts may generate too much anxiety for the leader.25 This may, for example, be very relevant in the merger and acquisition process. The ACC, being the conflict detector, overactivates when this occurs, and action is stopped when this information is fed to the brain's accountant (vmPFC). The accountant has to take its time dealing with conflicting information. An overt example of this (which is prohibited by the Securities and Exchange Commission) is when leaders have a personal investment in a company and their companies also have an investment in that same company. Thus, doing the best for the company may conflict with doing the best for that leader.
The application: When detecting conflicts of interest (one of the main reasons that good leaders make bad decisions), coaches may take a less judgmental road to alerting leaders to this by pointing out that the decision-making centers in the brain usually stop all action in dealing with conflicting information and that the leader would benefit from facing this conflict so that there is more conscious control of the outcome. Here, coaches can also integrate the science of "hot reasoning" when leaders insist that they can separate out these kinds of conflicts by pointing out that brain research shows that emotional input is commonplace, even in deductive logic, and that the brain cannot truly be as objective as we think it can be. Similarly, leaders or managers themselves may communicate with people who report to them using the same principles.
6. The leader is attached to people, places, and things that are affecting his or her decisions
The concept: When leaders become attached to people, places, or things, decision-making is affected.25 Humans are reluctant to let go of their attachments, but in businesses, leaders who cannot access this flexibility in thinking can make poor decisions. Being attached is a complex phenomenon that can impact the brain in various ways (see Chapter 3, "The Neuroscience of Social Intelligence: Guiding Leaders and Managers to Effective Relationships," for details). One important way is that attachment engages the reward system in the brain, and when people are rewarded, they may not be open to other rewards. As a result, they are stuck in the same old patterns. When leaders are attached to old ideas, they are being served by these ideas, and this activates the reward center in the brain. If a new plan involves giving up these attachments (old computer systems, organizational hierarchy), the reward center in the brain "complains" and stops activating. As a result, the leader may feel as though he or she is on the wrong path. In addition to leaders forming attachments, companies also have attachments and often strive for a state of congruence between the different parts through their attachments.26
The application: When coaches are coaching leaders, it may help to remind leaders that there are two reward centers that need to be acknowledged: the reward center in the leader's brain and the reward center in the organization's brain. When a leader questions a path because something "does not feel right," a coach may ask the leader whose reward system is talking: the leader's or the organization's?
7. The leader has misleading memories
The concept: When leaders' decisions are affected by misleading memories, this can have a powerful impact on a company.25 The way in which we remember things often feels certain, even when it is incorrect. Forgetting things that just happened is common when short-term memory is overloaded or when anxiety disrupts DLPFC functioning. Thus, vital memories of what just happened may be lost. An easy-to-relate-to idea here is dieting. People often forget about sticking to diets or an exercise regime when they are anxious or they receive too much information. Also, studies show that the right hemisphere of the brain is involved when we generate false memories that we may be convinced are actually true.27 Furthermore, when we are confident about our memories, these memories may either be true or false.28 When they are true, the medial temporal lobe is activated; when they are false, the fronto-parietal cortex is activated. The higher our confidence, the more these regions will activate based on whether we are truly remembering past events or falsely remembering them.
The application: Because misleading memories are one of the main reasons that good leaders make bad decisions, it is important to have language to describe that (1) false recollections are possible, even in highly intelligent people, and that (2) confidence does not always correlate with accuracy of memory. When coaches are looking to work with leaders who are high in confidence, they may let leaders know that confidence itself impacts the brain differently depending on whether the things that leaders are remembering are true or false. Even when memories are false, the brain can produce a sense of confidence, but for true and false memories, confidence impacts the brain in different brain regions. This will be helpful in alerting leaders to verify what they think they remember regardless of how confident they are.
8. The leader falls into a psychological trap
The concept: Leaders may fall into one of many psychological traps.29 For example, leaders may overemphasize recent events in a decision (anchoring trap), think that they are changing when they really are not because they lack sufficient flexibility in thinking and action (status quo trap), be overly cautious or prudent (prudence trap), or be trapped within a certain frame of thinking (framing trap). For each of these traps, there are biological correlates that relate: for the anchoring trap, short-term memory is involved but long-term memory is left out; for the status-quo trap, the brain region for flexibility in thinking needs to be exercised; for the prudence trap, the amygdala is overactivated; and for the framing trap, the ACC is stagnant and needs to be reengaged.
The application: Coaches can justify approaches in coaching by using these biological substrates in the language of describing the traps. For example, coaches may say, "We need to involve short- and long-term memory in this reflection," or "I would like to ask you some open-ended questions to encourage thinking flexibility," or "Your brain's fear detector may be applying the brakes on your strategy too much," or "Your brain's framing center is stuck, and we have coaching interventions that can help it become unstuck." Each of these language excerpts is just one of many examples of how the language of brain science can add to a coaching intervention.
This then outlines some of the assumptions that leaders may make about decisions and how brain science can help coaches undo these assumptions. Remember that although I am using the term "coaches" here, these principles apply equally to when the manager or leader has to act as a coach or communicator. Table 1.2 summarizes these assumptions and how coaches can use the difference that brain science can make in our understanding to dispel with these assumptions.
Table 1.2. The Brain Science Behind Common Leadership Errors
Brain Science Fact That Coaches Can Use to Dispel Assumption
It is better to make major decisions alone.
The brain makes decisions based on input from various centers. To maximize this input, getting opinions of various people is optimal.
Emotions should be removed from reasoning.
Studies show that even for purely deductive logic, it is important to connect with emotions because this will provide optimal activation of the brain's accountant, which is critical for decision making.
The leader feels that a new decision is wrong because he or she is not comfortable.
The left frontal cortex requires discomfort in certain situations to remain committed to new decisions.
The leader does not believe that his or her anxiety impacts his or her decision-making.
Anxiety centers in the brain are connected to short-term memory, risk-benefit analysis, and attention. When leaders are anxious, their decisions may be impacted.
The leader believes that he or she can discern conflicts of interest and still make good decisions.
Conflicts of interest create brain discomfort in regions critical for decision-making, including the brain's attention center and risk-benefit center. The brain may exclude important information in its calculations in order to decrease this discomfort without the leader knowing. Thus, conflicts of interest should be addressed overtly.
The leader believes that his or her attachments to old ways of thinking do not impact the new decisions.
Giving up old attachments may decrease activation in the brain's reward center. Leaders should distinguish between their reward centers and those of the company.
Leaders believe that their confidence is evidence that a decision is correct.
The brain can generate confidence about true and false memories. They are just in different brain regions.
Leaders fall into traps.
"The brain's braking system may need to be reexamined" or "Let's get your brain's framing center unstuck" is the type of language coaches can use in dealing with these traps.
A Map of Where the Book Is Going and What the Coach Will Take Away from It
Coaching involves establishing a reliable alliance with the client so as to create a context for change. Although the eventual goal is change, this change has to occur within the context of relationships. Brain science underlies both the relationships and actions necessary to create and maintain the change. The book is therefore broadly divided into the parts shown in Figure 1.4.
Figure 1.4 Structural outline of Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders
In the introduction, the executive or coach learns the broad principles of how brain science applies to coaching and communicating with specific examples for each principle. In the "Relationship" section, the coach will learn about how brain science justifies the approach of positive psychology in coaching and about how knowledge of the brain helps coaches develop effective relationships with their leaders. In addition, we will review how this knowledge can also help leaders develop effective relationships with their followers. Also in this section is a special chapter on the intangibles with insights from brain science. This chapter reviews concepts such as innovation, intuition, and resilience. With this background, the next section then describes the brain science behind the actual interventions. In the first chapter in this section, we will review how brain science can bring people to commitment to change as well as how to move from this commitment to action. In the last section, we will review the interventions described throughout the book. Here we will review the specific interventions that target different brain regions, and then specific interventions that target brain processes relevant to communicating in the executive environment. At the end of this book, the coach or executive will have a good idea of several concepts in brain science that can be applied to his or her own coaching relationships and interventions so as to add to the available tools for coaching.
Neuroscience is highly relevant to the language and process of coaching in the executive environment. This applies to executive coaches and to managers or leaders who act as coaches. Although it is important to avoid the use of jargon and alienating concepts in brain science, neuroscience can be used in practical and effective ways to enhance the execution of strategies. Furthermore, because the brain is universal, the language of brain science is also universal. I have taught these concepts in the U.S., Brazil, Greece, and Switzerland, for example. In teaching these concepts, I have confirmed that brain science is indeed a useful tool for cross-cultural coaching too. Thus, it allows the coach to use a more "neutral" language to facilitate the coaching process.
- Jacyna, S., "The most important of all the organs: Darwin on the brain." Brain, 2009. 132(Pt 12): p. 3481–7.
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