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Leading From The Front of Your Brain

20th century leadership development had us believing that the only way to lead was from the front. Sword raised and pointed daringly towards the enemy, first in and last out. Expecting only from our loyal followers what we were willing to do ourselves out in front of them all.

Whilst many, including me, have changed their views on the relevance of this type of leadership in the 21st century VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, there is one thing for certain, learning to lead from the front (of our brain) has never been more vital.

Leaders in this imagination age have many ideas and feedback coming at them from every direction. They are called upon to make quick decisions and then mobilise their implementation before the landscape changes yet again. The need to remain on task has never been more apparent, yet being distracted is a more common problem than ever before.

Simply put; today's leaders need to be brain focused. We all need to understand how our brain is functioning and how to get the most out of it. Brain friendly leadership reduces stress and conflict to increase engagement and productivity.

Advancements in neuroscience provide us with all the knowledge we need about our brain and how it’s various structures function, both individually and collectively, to produce the resourceful and unresourceful behaviours we experience in everyday leadership situations. There needs to be a greater emphasis in leadership development on teaching this to the leaders of today, and tomorrow. Leadership skills are only the first step. Learning how to optimise their implementation is what brings them to life and makes them valuable.

Two key areas of the brain we need to consider are the Limbic System (the emotional brain) and the Prefrontal Cortex PFC (the thinking brain):

1. The Limbic System is a complex system of nerves and networks in the brain, involving several areas near the edge of the cortex concerned with instinct and mood. It controls the basic emotions (fear, pleasure, anger) and drives (hunger, sex, dominance, care of offspring). The primary structures within the limbic system include the amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus. The amygdala is the emotional response thermostat of the brain, while the hippocampus plays an essential role in the formation of new memories about past experiences. When a leader has little control over their thinking and behaviour it is usually in reaction to a perceived threat or because they have linked it to past emotional memory.

2. The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is located in the very front of the brain, just behind the forehead. In charge of abstract thinking and thought analysis, it is also responsible for regulating behaviour. This includes mediating conflicting thoughts, making choices between right and wrong, and predicting the probable outcomes of actions or events. This brain area also governs social control, such as suppressing emotional or sexual urges.

This vital region of the brain regulates thought in terms of both short-term and long-term decision making. It allows leaders to plan ahead and create strategies, and also to adjust actions or reactions in changing situations. Additionally, the PFC helps to focus thoughts, which enables you to pay attention, focus, and concentrate on goals. This area is also the part of the brain that allows leaders to consider several different yet related lines of thinking when learning or evaluating complex concepts or tasks. The prefrontal cortex also houses active, working memory.

The Prefrontal Leader™ is one who is able to make great decisions under pressure from conflicting deadlines. They are able to remain focused on what’s really happening rather than worry about things that may or may not be a threat. This increases output whilst conserving energy, the most valuable resource of the 21st century leader.

It’s time for leadership development programs to empower emerging and current leaders to lead from the front of their brain.

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