The Leading Brain

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Introduction: Use Your Head

A quiet revolution is occurring in the art of successful leadership. Thanks to groundbreaking discoveries in the field of cognitive neuroscience, we now have an unprecedented understanding of how the brain behaves in a variety of workplace scenarios. The results have been both astounding and somewhat sobering as we learn which tried-and-true leadership methods are supported by cutting-edge data and which are demonstrably proven to be ineffective. At the same time, these cognitive insights provide exciting new possibilities for reaching our peak performance, for making better use of our brains, and for building the dream teams that will be essential for successful businesses in our bold new neuroscientific century. This book looks at the changing business world from a neuro-scientific perspective. It shows business leaders how to avoid expensive pitfalls and to excel using the new findings and corresponding hands-on strategies.


Most of us dream of being able to turn on and off our peak productivity as easily as flipping a light switch. Yet few of us come even close. Thanks to developments in brain science, we may finally have the power to do so. We can use neuroscientific insights to increase our chances of getting "in the zone," to better regulate our emotions, and to stay focused longer on the task at hand.


Few things are more productive or more pleasurable (at least in a workplace setting) than the feeling of being "in the zone." How do we get there? How do we attain this "sweet spot" of performance? And what happens in our brains when we do?


Stress is the single greatest obstacle to workplace productivity, workplace harmony, and to overall health and well-being. Although you can't entirely escape stress, you can take sensible steps to strengthen your resiliency and use cognitive jujitsu to make stress work in your favor instead of against you in situations when it is unavoidable.


Total concentration is alluring but elusive. In fact, the moment you notice that you're concentrating, you no longer are! Luckily, you can sharpen your focus by eliminating distractions that undermine attention, by avoiding multitasking, which is highly detrimental to attention, memory, and optimal performance, and by using mindfulness to gain extraordinary cognitive control.


Although there's no scientific proof for the popular notion that you use only 10 percent of your brain, you can definitely make better use of it by developing good habits and eliminating bad ones, by using the power of intuition for faster, more effective decision- making, and by taking advantage of the brain's lifelong capacity for change to make old information easier to remember and new information easier to acquire.


Habits are largely unconscious routines that are triggered by cues that prompt your brain to seek out rewards. Identifying and redirecting the cues that trigger your bad habits can help you to eliminate them. By the same token, consciously creating your own cues can turn desired goals and actions into "homemade habits" that enable these goals and actions to be more efficiently achieved.


Research increasingly indicates that the fastest and best decisions are often made intuitively by taking advantage of your brain's miraculous ability to unconsciously and efficiently weigh factors before arriving at a conscious conclusion. Paradoxically, this approach to decision-making seems counter-intuitive, but there is now abundant evidence that "gut feelings" are the way to go.


Despite the long-held belief that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," neuroscience now shows that the brain is capable of forming and strengthening neuronal connections throughout your entire life. The key to efficient, lifelong learning is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to make the information you're trying to acquire as emotionally relevant as possible.


With the best teams, the work can sometimes seem almost effortless. Although the members have different strengths and roles, the team becomes a cohesive force that not only meets its objectives with aplomb but leaves everyone feeling a deeply rewarding sense of empowerment and accomplishment. The secret to building a dream team is to thrive on the diversity of your members, to cultivate a strong environment of trust and common purpose, and to leave everyone feeling genuinely empowered.


Everyone is capable of achieving optimal performance. But how and where we reach that peak can vary widely from one person to the next. It depends not only on education and experience but also on a powerful quartet of neurochemicals that play a key role in defining personality types. Understanding the underlying chemistry of personality helps to aid the formation of harmonious, high-performing teams.


Humans are fundamentally social creatures. Although food and water are unquestionable necessities if we want to survive, a deep sense of trust is absolutely essential if we are going to thrive. Ground-breaking research in social cognitive neuroscience including the discovery of so-called mirror neurons underscores this conclusion. The FREACS model provides a concrete way of using insights about our social brains to cultivate cohesive, high-performing teams. The verdict is clear: Strong teams are built on a foundation of trust.


Like the perplexing sub-atomic objects that are simultaneously particles and waves, dream teams operate both as a cohesive whole and as discrete individuals at the same time. The leader's challenge is to use what psychologists call social intelligence to not only strengthen the bonds between members but also to help each individual feel a sense of true empowerment.


LEAD THROUGH INSPIRATION The tools and technologies that have led to the scientific insights that underlie many of the tips and techniques in this book are continually improving. Practically every month brings new advancements, refinements, and discoveries that provide us with an even greater understanding and appreciation of how the brain works. At the same time, as these neuroscientific theories are increasingly put into business practice we gain a stronger sense of the impact and the scope of these exciting advancements. As evidence mounts for how brain-based leadership can improve individual performance and learning and foster teams that work harmoniously and efficiently, it remains to be seen just how far The Leading Brain can extend in pursuit of a more productive and rewarding world!

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