The world of neuroscience has much to teach us about leadership.
Your brain functions like a complex symphony, with different regions playing unique melodies.
The neocortex, the cerebral powerhouse responsible for strategic thinking, planning, and risk-taking, is your leadership virtuoso.
The limbic system, or “old brain,” oversees emotions, safety, and survival.
When faced with challenging scenarios, such as the departure of a key employee, decreasing profits, or customer cancellations, survival instinct kicks in, clouding judgment and heightening reactivity.
This phenomenon is known as the “amygdala hijack,” an emotional takeover that occurs when the old brain perceives a threat.
Caught in the grip of an amygdala hijack, you may find yourself grappling with frustration, impulsivity, or a paralyzing freeze during critical decision-making moments.
While the old brain’s intent to protect you is admirable, its ancient survival mechanisms are not suited for the landscape of the modern world.
To navigate this delicate interplay between the old and new brain, resilient leaders embrace two key strategies:
1. Acknowledge and Redirect: When you experience an amygdala hijack, acknowledge how you feel by naming the emotion to yourself (“I am feeling intense frustration right now.”) This places the emotion outside of your body so it is separate from you. Instead of characterizing yourself as frustrated, you shift to acknowledging the temporary feeling of frustration.
2. Separate Facts from Stories: In a crisis, it’s easy to get caught up in a negativity spiral. It’s common to confuse our interpretation of what happened with the objective facts. Writing down the bare facts will help you think clearly and reach better conclusions. “Person said words,” instead of “Employee doesn’t respect me.” This neutralizes the situation, giving your rational brain time to respond thoughtfully.
Stories trigger the old brain into reactive mode, while facts remain neutral, awaiting interpretation and meaning.
Resilient leaders leverage this awareness to shape the narrative and take positive action in the face of adversity.
Integrate neuroscience with mindfulness to navigate the world of business with confidence and focus.
1. Acknowledge your emotions. This helps to engage your cognitive brain functions and reduce the effects of cortisol.
2. Breathe deeply and practice mindfulness. Deep breathing soothes your nervous system. Mindfulness dampens the amygdala response and enhances self-awareness in the present moment.
3. Use cognitive reappraisal. This involves challenging negative thoughts and reframing them in a more positive or realistic light.
Developing emotional regulation skills will enhance your resilience and effectiveness as a leader. Plus you’ll serve as a good role model for others.
Great leadership is a combination of science and soul.