8 Tips from the 2018 NeuroLeadership Summit

October 15, 2018 Lynne Levy

The NeuroLeadership Summit held in New York City last week was two days of focus on how brain science impacts leadership and culture. The theme of this years’ conference was inventing the future – giving leaders tools to have more effective conversations, creating smarter teams, and driving the right habits.

Some of the key takeaways include:

Clarity: When we make decisions, we need to ensure there is clarity, not certainty. Certainty arises out of involuntary brain mechanisms such as love and anger. It is also subject to bias. We need to use data and insight to increase clarity and reduce bias. We need to rely on clarity for decision-making, not certainty.

Stories and insight: Our brains are wired for stories. If we do not hear stories, we make them up. Hindsight is stories from the past. Foresight is stories from the future. Insight is the ‘aha’ moment when you put together patterns of connection in our brain to build a new story. This connection is based on data, experiences, and social learning. Once you have this insight, you cannot go back to the old way of thinking. For example, once you realize that it is not just about making sure managers and employees meet about performance, but that their conversation is meaningful, your lens for building your HR processes changes.

Managers: Managers are one of the main drivers of engagement. The data indicates that as much of 70% of the variance in employee engagement depends on how people are being managed. Managers need to be trained in technical as well as soft skills.

Growth mindset: A growth mindset culture is where all employees are seen as possessing potential; they are encouraged to develop and are awarded for improvement. Organizations can build a culture of growth mindset through priorities (getting people to care), habits (encouraging people), and systems. Building and maintaining habits require intent and effort, practice, recognition, and must be role-modeled through leadership in the organization.

Building a culture of growth mindset requires that it is embedded throughout HR processes.  For example, with check-ins, ask three key questions:

  1. What did you do well? 
  2. Where did you get stuck? 
  3. What will you do differently next time?

Power: There was extensive discussion on the impact of power on an individual. When an individual obtains power, it changes the brain and impacts behavior. It reduces conformance to rules and norms, increases attention to goals, and decreases perspective taking. Power decreases the chance that we'll engage in perspective-taking, which is critical in making good decisions. How can we improve perspective taking of leaders? Through engaging with those with less power and giving them a voice.  For example:

  • Leaders speaking last at meetings to ensure everyone’s input is heard
  • Enable individuals to provide feedback up the leadership chain
  • Exclude leaders from brainstorming sessions so that ideas can be freely generated
  • Quiet brainstorming to avoid one person influencing ideas

Capacity: The products and services that win in the market are those that ease cognitive capacity. As humans, we end up doing what is easy since it takes less cognitive capacity. At an organizational level, to get more done, we need to ease cognitive capacity of tasks by providing context and minimizing cognitive resources required. For example:

  • Provide clear context in meetings
  • Reference back to previous meeting
  • Block out time to organize thinking
  • Give cognitive breaks
  • Encourage people to work from home
  • Block out time to organize thinking at start/middle/end of the day.

Habits: The brain builds habits to free mental capacity. However, to change a habit, you need to feel it’s worth it. What is needed are positive habit-triggers such as recognition, leaders modeling behavior, and ensuring the employee understands the value of building the habit.

Performance development: Continuous performance is a journey. To measure success over the long term, organizations need to look at increased usage of tools, quality of conversations, and engagement metrics. To improve quality of conversations, they must be fair and transparent, continuous, and have an ongoing development focus. Managers are a critical factor in this evolution. We need to improve manager capabilities, including their willingness to have feedback conversations. However, this feedback must be within the framework of the growth mindset, versus compliance.

Overall, the conference gave attendees practical tips rooted in science to make the workplace and leadership more human.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our recap of last year’s summit: “If Neuroscientists Ruled the Workplace.”

About the Author

Lynne Levy

Lynne Levy is the director of product management at Globoforce.

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