Neuroleadership: Understanding and reworking our brain’s wiring to better embrace change

Did you know that reactions to hearing about a major change, for example a reorganization or the implementation of a new computer system, are similar to those associated with coming face to face with a tiger? Both situations stimulate the same areas of the brain.

These findings arise from research in a new field of study called neuroleadership. Neuroleadership is based on a broader understanding of the human brain. Its application to the business world aims to improve decision-making and problem-solving, self-regulation, cooperation, and bringing about change.

In the field of organizational change, there is a desire to make neuroleadership an exact science to help leaders and change agents become better motivators to help, influence, teach and empower others. I had the opportunity to see several presentations on the subject while attending the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) conferences held in London (October) and in Los Angeles (April) in 2013.

Does this science help us further develop approaches in change management? I would be tempted to say no. I rather believe that this vast field validates research already applied by intuition or experience to our current practice.

Here’s an example: neuroleadership shows how the introduction of change, just like coming face to face with a tiger, triggers fear that the brain perceives as a threat. This threat creates uncertainty, scepticism, and disengagement. And so, it’s the same when developing and sharing a vision associated with change. We must not only illustrate its positive impacts. We must also anticipate the threats that people may face because of it. We have to reduce the threats, identify their source, and how they operate, and then help people manage them. Can we not easily draw a parallel with the concern model developed by Céline Bareil?

Five key domains underpin neuroleadership, serving to improve positive perceptions and reduce negative ones:

Once the feeling of security is restored, people are then able to look to the future. It is then appropriate to create new brain connections to help people think differently to ultimately develop new wiring leading to the acquisition of new habits.

Research also shows that developing a new attitude first requires questioning and introspection.

How does one create room for introspection and foster a new attitude? Four key variables help maximize new learnings:

It must be true since our brain perceives it as such.

To find out more about neuroleadership, visit the Neuroleadership Institute, or read the following major articles on the subject:
•    Lead change with the brain in mind 
•    SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others:
•    The neuroscience of leadership
•    Learning that lasts through AGES