Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Biology and Neuroscience of Leadership Development

When most people speak about leadership development the discussion often evolves around building leadership competencies.  Competencies like market insight, strategic orientation, change leadership, cultivating organizational capabilities, influence and collaboration, customer and market impact, and embracing a results orientation.  In fact, these are the eight key leadership competencies that McKinsey & Co.© measured this past summer in their study, “Do You Have the Right Leaders for Your Growth Strategies?” by Katharina Herrman, Asmus Komm, and Sven Smit.  In the report, they identified only 1% of “C” level executives and “one-step down” executives scored excellent in these critical competencies.  Ninety percent scored below average.

Considering the amount of time and money companies invest in developing leaders, this is more than a bit unsettling.  When we take into consideration the results from the 2010 IBM Global CEO Survey it is even more disconcerting.  In the survey, more than 1,500 CEOs state the single most important leadership attribute they are seeking in future leaders is creativity and the ability to cultivate creativity throughout the organization.  I don’t know about you, but I struggle to find a correlation between the traditional leadership competencies measured by McKinsey, Egon Zehnder International and other leading consultancies and the ability to cultivate creativity.

Looking a little deeper beneath the surface, we can begin to discover the biological and neurological factors that are present in what we often refer to as charismatic, inspirational leaders.  The factors that contribute to transformational leadership capable of inspiring creative thinking can be found in our bodies as much as in our heads.  The underlying drivers of leadership are, in fact, biochemical and neurological in nature.

The emerging research from the neurosciences supports this perspective. Our intelligence emerges from more than our brains.  The neural networks in our hearts (more than 5 million neurons) and our enteric nervous system of the gut have been proven to be active neural networks, capable of triggering the same biochemical responses as the brain to emotional stimuli.

In addition, the electromagnetic field of the heart is 5,000 times stronger than that of the brain. These embodied neural networks are actively seeking environmental information as part of our primary survival mechanism. The states of biological coherence (a balance of blood pressure, heart rate, and brain wave activity), flow (the optimal balance of stress hormones called the HPA axis), and entrainment (a biological state of shared coherence) are all substantiated by peer-reviewed, published research.

What’s challenging for us contemporary humans is how these neural networks are trying to communicate information to us. They combine at the vagus nerve, which is connected to an ancient part of our brain, the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia (part of our reptilian brain) evolved long before the linguistic centers of our higher brain were developed. As such, the information coming into our brain through the basal ganglia emerges as feelings rather than words. Yet, we’re so enamored with language and live in such a technologically noisy world, we tend to dismiss, suppress, or misinterpret these messages of vital importance. In addition, we are culturally trained in business to leave our emotions at home.  Doing so actually may disengage us from our creative capabilities.

The research demonstrates that by cultivating strong neural networks in our pre-frontal cortex, a sort of executive center of the brain, we can engage all of our intelligence centers. The pre-frontal cortex was the last part of our brain to evolve, and in fact, it doesn’t fully develop until we are somewhere between 22 and 27 years of age (those of you with teenagers may already appreciate this fact). The pre-frontal cortex has remarkable connections to the entire brain, and it has plasticity! We can literally change the way we are by building the competencies of Emotional Intelligence put forward by the research of Dr. Daniel Goleman, Peter Solovay, and many others.

When we engage the embodied neural networks of those around us with authentic, positive intention and are congruent emotionally, we create presence. When this occurs, rapport emerges, the first step in establishing motivating and often inspiring relationships. What’s interesting is this happens primarily through non-verbal communication and often emerges unconsciously with those we are leading, doing business with, or even within our own families. What we perceive as “charismatic leaders” do this with natural ease.  It’s why we want to be near them and are passionate in support of their vision.

This is where our approach to Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning diverges from traditional leadership development paths.  This approach to professional development, framed within the scientific research, re-engages us with what can be considered our embodied wisdom. The neural networks that reside throughout our bodies. The ground-based exercises with the horses demonstrate to us firsthand how we connect, engage, and motivate those around us.  This approach also helps us cultivate empathy, mindfulness, and tap in to our inner source of creativity.  This isn’t about competency training or focusing on leadership behaviors.  It is about cultivated a higher level of consciousness and presence that resonates with those that we lead.  It is embodied learning that is immutable and kinesthetic.

When we consider the research from Applied Behavioral Economics, that upwards of 70% of our economic decision making is emotionally-driven, we’d be well served to incorporate a fresh, innovative approach to developing the subtle skills that drive authentic, meaningful business relationships.  It turns out how people feel about us and our leadership is as important, if not more important, than what they think.

The research into effective leadership and employee disengagement continues to pour in and it is all pointing to the fact that what we were doing in the 20th century is no longer working today.  If creativity is the new strategic imperative (and it truly is) the time for changing how we develop leaders is long overdue.

Image courtesy of Precision Photography of Honolulu.

© 2012, Terry Murray.

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The Critical Nature of Self-Awareness and Congruency in Leadership and Team Building

Key Concept ~ We all have blind spots.  Parts of our personalities that hide in the shadows of our subconscious mind.  Through our behaviors and interactions with others we often unknowingly create an impression of incongruity, even though this isn’t our intention.  Cultivating self-awareness can help us avoid this crucial misstep. It is the key to authentically engaging and inspiring your associates, clients, prospects, partners, and the community.  It is also the first step in creating cohesive teamwork.

How many times have we witnessed or been subjected to leaders that simply don’t walk their talk?  At times it can seem like this is more the norm than the exception.  It leaves one to wonder how exceptionally motivated, highly intelligent people that rise to positions of leadership can come across as utterly incongruent?  No one sets out to create this type of impression, so why does this disconnect occur?  The seeds of incongruent leadership can be found in a lack of authentic self-awareness.

Carl Jung, the revolutionary psychiatrist and father of analytical psychology, offered some remarkable insights on how the shadow of our unconscious mind reveals itself to our ego through our projections upon those around us. (Jung’s use of the term ego refers to our conscious mind’s perception of self).  This is often a blind spot, something we cannot readily see ourselves, but can be very obvious to those around us.  This lack of self-awareness can lead us to say one thing, yet behave in an entirely variant way.  When we do this from a position of leadership we undermine our ability to engage and motivate others.  They simple wont trust us and will begin to dismiss anything and everything we have to say.

The effects of this common disconnect are showing up consistently in surveys and research on the state of leadership today.  If you’re unfamiliar with the current research on this subject, you can read about it and find the references in two of my previous blogs; A Leadership Litmus Test and Ten Questions to Ask when Evaluating Leadership Development Programs.

Self-awareness is a fundamental competency of Emotional Intelligence.  Self-awareness leads to self management.  Social awareness helps us build relationship skills.  As we cultivate these competencies, Self Mastery emerges.  While it takes some practice, you’d be amazed at the positive affect it has on our success, in both our personal and professional lives.  The process is instantly sparked by becoming aware of the concept.  Yet this is only the first step.  Cultivating honest, self-awareness can be a bit uncomfortable at first.  It requires us to take a hard, cold look into the mirror (which is one of the reasons we work with horses in our development programs; they mirror human emotions and provide an experiential model of how we connect, engage, and motivate people).  While we might not like the blemishes we see, we cannot address our shortcomings and grow as authentic human beings and transformational leaders until we walk this path of authentic self-assessment.

Failing to do so can leave us vulnerable to being perceived as incongruent and untrustworthy.  Taken to the extreme, we can end up coming across like this:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

© 2012, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Comedy Central.

© 2012, Terry Murray.


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Leadership Lessons from the World of Entrepreneurship ~ Interview on AM Ocala

Key Concept ~ I was invited back to speak with Larry Whitler and Robin MacBlane on the radio program AM Ocala earlier this week.  Here’s a podcast of the interview.  

Larry and Robin are remarkably conscious and generous hosts.  They’ve been great advocates of my book and my philosophy towards creating a mindful approach for entrepreneurial success in the 21st century.

We explored the critical drivers of entrepreneurial success including:

~ Leading with positive intention.

~ Leading from a perspective of being of service; to your clients, prospects, and community.

~ The resonate value of embracing a mindful strategic planning process.

~ Value-based pricing strategies.

~ How one’s perspective towards their value proposition can redefine their entire market.

~  The critical nature of emotional and cognitive engagement in driving entrepreneurial success.

~ How we can define success on our own terms.

~ How the human spirit is the source of courage and resiliency with successful entrepreneurs.

~ The interplay between entrepreneurs and investors.

~ How we can all succeed in launching our own business…regardless of our age.

It’s a lively and fun discussion and I hope you’ll find some value in listening in!

You can listen to to interview by clicking the play button below:

© 2012, WOCA-AM Ocala.

© 2012, Terry Murray.


Filed under Leadership Development, Organizational Culture, Strategic Planning

Transition as Transformation

Key Concept ~ Our lives are often marked by key transitions, periods of time when both things around us and within us begin to shift.  By understanding that growth requires a certain amount of space to take root, we can fully engage in these transitional phases of our lives and transform ourselves in ways we may not have thought possible!

A wise man said to me not too long ago that life is a continuous flow of transitions marked by brief periods of stability. Providing us with just enough time to prepare us for our next transitional journey.  His words have been ringing around my head (and my heart) for some time now. I can’t help but feel optimistic when I reflect on his wisdom.  What a fantastic, empowering perspective!  I came to realize that by embracing this viewpoint life’s little fears evaporate.  Fear of change, fear of loss, fear of displacement.  Like a river, we exist, yet the waters that flow are continuously changing.  We can stand on the banks of the Mississippi River view it as a fixed feature of the landscape, yet every molecule of water that is flowing by us is always on the move, immediately replaced by the next molecule coming along behind it.  The river is ever-present and eternal, yet in a continuous state of change.  In many ways, so are we.

Motivated by this perspective, I set about to create a workshop that would hold the space for people to experience this concept firsthand.  Not simply to hear about it, but to feel that continuous flow of wondrous possibilities that are forever refreshing us from within.  As many of you know, a core part of our business centers around creating and conducting Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning workshops.  Workshops conducted in mindful partnership with horses.  It is a powerful, reflective approach to personal and professional development I learned during my apprenticeship at The Epona Center studying under one of the true pioneers of the approach, Linda Kohanov.  We’ve gone on to create more than ten different programs, ranging from our pro bono, award-winning Warriors in Transition workshop to programs designed to cultivated leadership competenciesenhance team work, and support the emotional resiliency of nurses during these trying times.  We’re very pleased to announce our new, open enrollment workshop, Transition as Transformation!

The workshop is scheduled for February 25th and 26th and will be conducted in partnership with Barrett Farm in Orlando, Florida.  Barrett Farm is a world-class equestrian learning center located on forty-five idyllic acres of live oaks, whispering with Spanish Moss, swaying palms, and quiet nature trails.  A perfect place to take a break from the technological noise and pause, reflect, and reintroduce ourselves to the inner waters that continuously flow within us.

To learn more about the workshop, we’d like to invite you to visit  Please know, we limit attendance due to the high level of experiential learning each participant will encounter with the horses.  We look forward to meeting you in Orlando!

© 2012, Terry Murray.

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Why Migrating from Traditional Classroom Learning Settings to eLearning is a Waste of Time and Money

Key Concept ~ The evidence is in.  Passive learning, which is traditionally delivered through classroom lectures, is simply ineffective.  Evidence gathered by professors at Arizona State, Harvard and the University of Maryland uncovers the pall of results from this engrained methodology.  Changing the delivery mechanism from a live lecture to computer based training may save money, but it still isn’t money well spent.

I came across a fascinating report by Emily Hanford earlier this week that reveals some startling findings regarding traditional educational methodologies.  Some twenty years ago, a professor at Arizona State University, Dr. David Hestenes, published a series of articles revealing that his first year physics students’ test scores were endemically stuck at an average of 40%, semester after semester.  When Professor Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard came across these articles, he saw a correlation to his own students.  It wasn’t his teaching style that was lacking, as he consistently scored very high in student feedback.  It was the traditional approach to learning, the classical classroom lecture, that was falling short.  What he realized was while his students may be memorizing formulas, they were not creating the active neural networks necessary to apply the concepts in the real world.

Fellow physicist Joe Reddish at the University of Maryland noticed the same low ability to apply the lectured information conceptually.  In Ms. Hanford’s article, Reddish pointed to a basic test question regarding Newtonian Physics that was consistently on his exams:

“Two balls are the same size but one weighs twice as much as the other. The balls are dropped from the top of a two-story building at the same instant of time. The time it takes the ball to reach the ground will be…”

a.) about half as long for the heavier ball

b.) about half as long for the lighter ball

c.) the same amount of time for both

Rather than simply tell them the answer, he took them out for a bit of experiential learning.  Going to the second story of the physics building, he dropped two balls of identical size, but with different weights, with his students watching from ground level.  The students observed that both balls hit the ground at the same time.  Why?  This phenomena is explained by Newton’s Second Law of Motion and his discovery of terminal velocity (due to the interplay of air resistance and gravity, objects in free fall on Earth accelerate to a constant rate of descent of 128 feet per second squared).  Take away the force of air friction, by placing the same two balls in a vacuum, and the one of greater mass will reach the ground first.

Now, nearly every physics student is familiar with Newton’s Second Law of Motion.  It is taught in High School.  In the article, Professor Mazur observes the test results of physics students at the end of a semester demonstrates their conceptual application and understanding of these fundamental concepts only improves by an average of 14%.  This has now been demonstrated through the testing of tens of thousands of students for conceptual application.

Hestenes also observed that the traditional classroom lecture approach is effective for about 10% of students; those that are capable of independent learning.  He is quoted as saying, “Students have to be active in developing their knowledge.  They can’t passively assimilate it.”

If you’re familiar with the research of Dr. David Kolb on adult learning styles, this comes as no surprise.  While conducting research at M.I.T., Dr. Kolb discovered and demonstrated the Learning Style Inventory. Adults learn using two or three of four fundamental learning modalities: Experiential Learning, Reflective Learning, Modeling & Correlation, and Trial & Error.  It’s not an accident that passive assimilation isn’t included in his work…because it doesn’t work.

I’ve been around long enough to have been an executive during the first wave of automating business processes with technology in order to cut costs.  We quickly learned that automating bad process doesn’t improve the process.  It only accelerates it, often accelerating poor performance outcomes as a result.  We’re witnessing a similar rush to automation in the professional development and corporate training sector today.  Anyone that attended the most recent national conference for the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) experienced this firsthand.  The technology prophets were everywhere, attempting to demonstrate how their software and their cloud were the cost-effective solution to every learning challenge companies are experiencing today.

Automating a failed approach to learning to computer-based platforms does cut costs.  But at what price?  In today’s economy, the commercialization of intellectual property, kindled by human creativity and cohesive team work, is the driver of value creation and competitive differentiation.  I’m willing to bet we’ll see the same results I lived through in the early 1990s.  Accelerating passive learning through automation will likely accelerate passive results.  Ironically, Newton’s Law of Inertia may metaphorically apply to the conventional wisdom in many organizations.  Inertia is defined as the tendency of objects to resist change in their state of motion.  This seems to apply to the long-held ideas surrounding corporate learning as well.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, the level of thinking that created a problem is not the level of thinking necessary to solve it.  When we examine the evidence, it becomes painfully clear the time is long overdue for a new level of thinking about corporate training and development.

© 2012, Terry Murray.

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Filed under Experiential Learning, Leadership Development, Sales Training, Team Building