The leader’s brain: neuroscience at work

A worker arrives at his office in London’s Canary Wharf business district on February 26, 2014./File Photo

NEW YORK, July 21 (Reuters) – The brain rarely works at full capacity, even in the best of circumstances – what more could you ask for during a pandemic?

Understanding our operating systems can help us tackle challenges better and be more effective players. That’s the message from “The Leader’s Brain,” a book by Michael Platt, professor of marketing, neuroscience, and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Platt, who is also director of the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative, spoke to Reuters about how to optimize what’s going on in our heads, to understand ourselves better and understand others better.

Q: How is our brain reacting to this extraordinary time?

A: What we do know is that there has been a massive increase in things like anxiety disorders, mental health issues, suicides, and opioid use. People are under a lot of stress, with all the uncertainties and financial repercussions.

Unfortunately, social distancing robs us of one of the main mechanisms we have to adapt to stress, which has led to an increase in loneliness.

Q: How have leaders dealt with the pandemic?

A: It has been interesting to see the rises and falls of the rulers over the past year. Some showed strong leadership and then struggled at other times. It is difficult to keep up with all these economic and social troubles.

What is very important right now is to be a clear and effective communicator, who leads with the heart. Look at Joe Biden, who has made empathy the heart of his administration.

Q: Is it possible to lead teams effectively when so many people are working remotely?

A: This is the # 1 question for business leaders right now, and I feel it myself in my own lab. What we’ve seen is that people are just as productive, if not more, than they were in the office.

But innovation has declined dramatically, in large part because we no longer have “cooler” conversations – those spontaneous moments where you can whip up new ideas. It is difficult to make in a remote environment.

Q: Are people born leaders, or can this be learned?

A: Everyone’s dials are set a little differently, and those dials can be rotated. For example, a key component of being a leader is the ability to connect and build relationships with other people: you can increase this frequency by exercising these faculties and doing so intentionally. Communication skills are something that people can work on.

Q: Can neuroscience lessons be helpful in the hiring process?

A: Neuroscience can have a huge impact on businesses, helping leaders get a better idea of ​​who people are. Some of the standard methods of evaluating people are IQ or personality tests.

But neuroscience can help you change the questions you might be asking. For example, if you are trying to identify if a candidate is good at thinking outside the box, you can present different scenarios in a fun way. This way, you can avoid putting people in positions that are not suitable for them.

Q: How can the information from this brain research help us make better decisions?

A: There are certain rules our brains live by, and we can’t really change them, so we have to learn to live with them. For example, our brains don’t tend to make good decisions when there are too many options in front of us. Thus, simplifying choices and limiting options can be a useful strategy for making better decisions.

Also understand the tradeoff between speed and accuracy, and determine which is more important. There are situations that are urgent, where you have to make a quick decision. But otherwise, slowing down can be critical, as it will allow you to avoid many regrettable mistakes.

Q: Are you optimistic that our brains will be able to handle this stressful time?

A: I was writing this book last year as the pandemic was unfolding. For the most part, people have done quite well, and we should be happy to have made it this far.

It’s still difficult right now, and we can’t let our guard down. But optimism is the key to moving forward and having the motivation to succeed. People should know we’re going to lick this thing.

Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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