Over the past two years, I’ve written extensively about the shortcomings of traditional approaches to leadership development. The relatively passive approaches of traditional coaching and mainstream focus on behaviorism has left us with endemic, employee disengagement, remarkably poor ROI on developmental investments, and stoic organizational thinking struggling to adapt to the rising complexity and rate of change that defines our economic era. We saw the disconnect more than five years ago, and set out to develop a highly innovative approach for developing the types of leaders today’s, and tomorrow’s, world demands.
A research study, conducted by the U.S. Army and Wake Forest University and recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology®, aligns seamlessly with our precepts and resulting approach. The study, entitled, “The Psychological and Neurological Bases of Leader Self-Complexity and Effects on Adaptive Decision-Making”, set out to explore and demonstrate the neurological complexity of highly adaptive leaders immersed in novel, chaotic, rapidly changing situations. A quick comment on the use of the term complexity here…While most people shun complexity (i.e., KISS…keep it simple, stupid), what the researchers are referring to is a complexity of neural networks that exist in the frontal lobe and pre-frontal cortex of leaders. In this regard, complexity is a good thing. A richer, more connected neural network enables novel adaptability to emerge. Of note, this is a fundamental objective of our approach to leadership development; to spur the neurogenesis of new neural pathways through the introduction of novel, stretch, scientific concepts delivered with a focus on real-world, stretch, experiential learning within the context of a specific, business objective.
The study’s authors define leader adaptability as “the capacity of leaders to adjust their thoughts and behaviors to enact appropriate responses to novel, ill-defined, changing, and evolving decision-making situations”. They go on to state, “Greater levels of complexity promote the leaders’ ability to both differentiate the various sources of inputs and stimuli in the environment and to integrate those inputs with existing cognitive and affective structures to enable adaptive responses.” (Thus the name of our approach…Affective Leadership Development…it’s not a typo on Effective).
The study established a baseline measurement related to neurological markers for leader neural complexity. As a practical step (we don’t run a fMRI to view brain activity) we employ research conducted (and published in 2013) by the Corporate Executive Board identifying the top ten shared competencies of today’s high performers. These are business professionals that are performing at distinct levels above their peers in today’s volatile, ambiguous, rapidly changing environment. Through our own R&D, we also discovered an antecedent, causal relationship between the Six Dimensions of Emotional Style, based upon the research of Affective Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, Ph.D., and these top ten competencies shared by today’s best and brightest. These Dimensions of Emotional Style are assessable, and just as importantly, fluid; meaning we can, thanks to the plasticity of the brain, alter where an individual resides along this continuum. Our proprietary, developmental approach is designed to do just that by cultivating neural complexity. The study supports this approach, stating, “We propose greater levels of complexity enhance a leader’s ability to comprehend and react adaptively to dynamic decision-making situations.”
Our initial approach to leadership development, Transformational Leadership Development, which we first released in 2010, was highly focused on cultivating competencies in Emotional Intelligence (Self-Awareness, Social Awareness, Self-Regualtion and Relationship Management skills). As we evolved and learned more through our practice, we adapted to incorporate the rapidly emerging research from Affective Neuroscience. Authentic awareness is still a core fundamental of the approach. In fact, the study goes on to reveal, “From this heightened state of awareness, leaders then employ existing knowledge to choose new actions and strategies that will reestablish fit and effectiveness in the changed context.”
As I stated earlier, we’re obviously not employing brain scans to measure our effectiveness. What we are doing, however, is incorporating a machine learning platform (Talent Sprocket™) and advanced algorithms capable of identifying subtle correlations between seemingly disparate data sets of identifiable leadership competencies, business performance objectives, and affective neuroscience-based assessments. This multi-dimensional approach enables predictive analytics to calculate over time, resulting in a revolutionary set of tools to emerge that we refer to as Human Analytics™ (Google and Apple are moving down a similar path to reinvent HR in the 21st Century). This approach also enables concise ROI to be calculated on every leadership development investment in clear terms of business performance impact.
The conclusions of the research study are clear. The authors close with, “Overall, our research represents a multidisciplinary and multi-method approach to the conceptualization and assessment of Leadership Self-Complexity, thus entailing a fusion of the leadership and neuroscience fields. We envision the possibility of such neuroscience research to revolutionize approaches to the assessment and development of the complexity of leaders as key factors in realizing their adaptive performance.”
This is what we’ve created, a multi-dimensional approach to developing Next Gen leaders employing the fundamentals of neuroscience research in a novel delivery system. Did we take a huge risk, stepping out on the forefront before the final research was in, correlating these insights from the neurosciences and leadership development? We sure did, but innovators take risks. Now that the research is in, our risks have been validated. In a very real way, we have demonstrated the creative thinking, adaptability and innovation companies are seeking and have developed an accelerated approach to bring leadership competencies into alignment with the 21st Century.
© 2012, Terry Murray. All Rights Reserved.