Boyden Executive Search

Boyden's Matthew Lewis explains the hidden dynamics of leadership and the key principles standing in the way.

By Matthew Lewis
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So much has been written on leadership in the past 20+ years, you could spend weeks running around in circles reading books and trying to determine the best leadership model for you and your organization. I propose taking a step back and looking at human behaviour. Leadership science posits that if you can understand the way the brain works and how humans behave and interact with one another, you can start to take an intelligent, scientific and informed approach to how people react to you and your leadership style.

Ever since Daniel Goldman’s research and work around Emotional Intelligence (EQ), practicing self-reflection and becoming a transparent, authentic and empathetic leader have proven to engage and inspire, empower and ignite teams, and yield better business results. But if developing EQ is the silver bullet, why have so few leaders managed to pull the trigger and become the leaders they want to be?

One reason leaders often don’t evolve or make an effort to change is not that they are unaware or not intelligent enough to do so, but more likely because they lack insight into behavioural economics. Numerous studies by the World Economic Forum, Harvard and McKinsey indicate that what happens at a molecular and chemical level within our brains and bodies has a profound influence on what and how we feel, think and act, including our ability to make decisions. This mind-body interplay in turn impacts those around you and your business. We see it in our work coaching CEOs and leading executives.

Simply put, if you cannot control yourself, what hope do you have of controlling others?

This is the focus of behavioural economics, the study of psychology as it relates to the economic decision-making processes of individuals and organizations. With the help of neuroscience, we can see how unconscious decision making shows up in the brain, behaviour, leadership and follow ship.

Consistent failure to adopt a certain behaviour, despite an avowed understanding of the importance of a particular outcome, stems from the automatic, heuristic decision-making that protects people from investing too much cognitive energy in routine choices. People tend to reserve conscious reasoning capacity for more complex decisions. Change is hard because we are hard-wired not to change or adapt.

There are several key principles that help explain what’s standing in the way:

So how can you use this to inform and influence your leadership style? Like all learning, first there is awareness. You are now aware of something you may not have been several minutes ago. That sparks curiosity to learn more and grow. For practical application, there needs to be a willingness and reason to change.

With all of the knowledge and energy available to us, you would think it would be easy to make the changes necessary to become a great leader – but the devil is in our habits. They stop us from doing what we “should” do because our brains want to take the path of least resistance. To be the leader you want to be, you need to get out of your comfort zone, and take control of your mind and body. Beyond our unconscious, often primitive behavioural patterns lies the path to deliberate, well-reasoned decision making.

This blog post was also published on LinkedIn:

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