Opinion: The three brains of leadership

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While recently leading a Facilitating Change workshop with a team of executive managers, it quickly became apparent to me the team was not particularly convinced that the changes afoot were the best strategy.  However, the decision had been made and my group of executives was charged with the implementation of the change.
Despite their resistance to the change, my aim for the session was to assist them with some simple strategies to support themselves during this time – including resilience, mindfulness and their style of leadership.

Thankfully, my introduction about the importance of leadership during periods of change seemed to be well accepted with many of the group asking questions and nodding their heads in agreement.    However, 10 minutes into the workshop came the inevitable comment:  ‘‘this is not fairyland; this is not the perfect scenario you describe. This is the wrong change and we shouldn’t be doing it.”

 “Okay,” I say. “You are all leaders, so what are you going to do?’

Complete silence prevailed!  

Real leaders
How many people can really say that they are able to lead in times of conflict or when they don’t agree with the changes taking place? Have you ever really come across the ‘perfect change situation’?

Recent neuroscience findings support the concept that if you want to become a true leader, then you need to use all the intelligence available you – not just the brain inside your head.  

In fact, mBraining, which is a new field of human development (Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka), suggests that leaders need to access the resources in their heads and also in their hearts and guts, too. In doing this, they align their conscious and unconscious intuitive abilities, and are able to harness that priceless wisdom within them.

mBraining research and behavioral modelling has shown that each of these three brains offers a unique intelligence, each with specific areas of competence:
  • Creativity: The head intelligence ensures the decision has been thought through and analyzed.
  • Compassion: The heart intelligence provides value-driven emotional energy to care enough to act on or prioritize the decision against competing pressures.
  • Courage: The gut intelligence ensures there will be sufficient attention to managing risks and enough willpower to mobilize and execute the decision when challenges arise.
Think about a time when you may have tapped into these intelligences without even realizing it? Just think about when your ‘heart wasn’t in it’ or your ‘gut wrenched’ or perhaps ‘it made your heart feel good’ or you ‘had the guts’ to do something.

The first step in accessing these three brains is to bring balance to your autonomic nervous system, the system which manages your stress levels and flight/fright responses.  A simple way to do this is to practice balanced breathing using a balanced inhale/exhale breathing cycle.   It is really simple –just inhale for six seconds and then exhale for six seconds.   This method will assist you to get into a flow state – a state where you can tap into that innate wisdom.

Try using this technique before undertaking important activities like presentations, meetings and making key decisions. Just by practicing this, you becoming more connected to what is happening around you, your closest values, and this enhances your ability to make wiser decisions and take more courageous action.

If you were able to do this then when you were asked ‘So as a leader what will you do?” in a less than perfect situation….. you would have a compassionate, creative and courageous answer that you were fully aligned with and ready to put into action. That’s real leadership.

- Stacey Ashley, managing director of Ashley Coaching & Consulting
  • Dr. Marc Hurwitz on 2014-02-05 12:39:03 PM

    I'm in the rather fortunate position to be a professor of leadership with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.

    In fact there is something known as embodied cognition (or somatic marker theory) which suggests that our whole body gets involved in decision-making, emotional feedback loops, etc. It's also true that the gut has a reasonably sophisticated independent nervous system (the enteric nervous system of about a million neurons). The heart is not really independent the way the gut is. It's a stretch to ascribe too much to either of those neural systems, but the advice here is sound, if the reasons just a little to the south side of true.

    Overall, a good read.

  • Caitlin Nobes on 2014-02-05 1:58:02 PM

    Thanks for the input, Marc - it's great to hear the scientific argument for "trusting your gut".

  • Raphael Pascalis Claudius Lotinggi on 2014-02-24 9:57:43 AM

    Is this somehow connected to I.Q. and E.Q.?

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