Tag Archives: Leadership Training

Research Refining the Vision of the Future of HR

CEO Perspectives Screen ShotA couple of weeks ago, I published a blog here discussing the revolutionary opportunities Human Resource professionals now have in reshaping their role in the organization.  As a follow up to that blog, I’d like to share a study that was recently published  by The Economist Intelligence Unit entitled, “CEO Perspectives ~ How HR Can Take On A Bigger Role In Driving Growth”.  The study, co-sponsored by Oracle and IBM, surveyed 235 “C” level executives, of which 57% were CEOs.

The study points out two driving trends that are intersecting to fundamentally change the opportunities HR professionals have to elevate their strategic input in organizational success.  First is the rise of knowledge workers, something I’ve been discussing since 2008 when I began writing my book, “The Transformational Entrepreneur”.  This reflects the fundamental shift regarding the inputs of value creation in companies.  Human beings, and their creativity, are now the raw material for the creation of commercially viable intellectual property and processes.  This changes everything.

The second relates to the outsourcing of the transactional, historical, administrative functions of HR.  Areas such as payroll, pensions and compliance have been and can be outsourced to third parties and two thirds of companies now outsource some portion of these administrative functions.  This frees up HR to truly reinvent itself to focus on driving the strategic value of talent and ascend to a new level of critical functionality within the organization.

To quote directly from the study, “Unburdened by some of their former responsibilities, HR specialists have a chance to transform their role, exploiting their image as experts in people to place themselves at the heart of the debate on a company’s strategic direction.”  This also has implications that cut both ways.  If HR doesn’t take the necessary steps to impact both the strategic and financial trajectory of the organization they may find themselves marginalized to the point of irrelevance.

CEOs are pulling for HR executives to step up and contribute at a higher level.  The study revealed 55% of CEOs report that HR is a key player in the strategic planning of the organization, yet 70% expressed their desire to see HR take a stronger leadership role in this process.  The door is open.

The study goes on to identify two factors that are holding HR back in capturing this opportunity.  The study states, “Perhaps heads of HR are not being included in strategic planning because doubts linger about whether they have the requisite breadth of business knowledge to participate productively”.  Of the CEOs surveyed, 41% believe their HR executives are “too focused on process and rules” and 37% say they don’t “understand the business well enough”.  This is a perception that I addressed in my previous blog regarding the opportunities to develop one’s own business acumen.

The second constraining factor relates to performance outside the traditional confines of the HR function.  While two thirds of CEOs believe HR performs well in their traditional role, approximately half or fewer think HR is making the grade in talent development, succession planning, or creating a high performance culture.  Another recent survey identified the fact that Board of Directors believe talent management is totally failing to make a positive impact on company performance.  Why is this?  There’s a misalignment in what many HR executives perceive to be the CEOs’ areas of primary concern.  I’ve seen this firsthand in discussion groups of senior HR executives at various conferences…they don’t always understand and appreciate what’s keeping the CEO awake at night.  They would be well served to understand this primary customer’s areas of concern.

What are these concerns?  According to the study, CEOs are worried about (in order of significance):

  1. Insufficient talent within the organization as a whole (56%).
  2. Insufficient leadership talent (43%).
  3. Lack of alignment of individual and business objectives (41%).
  4. Low employee satisfaction (38%).

CEOs have also expressed a need to capture a 20% increase in productivity from existing resources in order to meet current financial and performance obligations (Corporate Executive Board, 2013).  In fact, McKinsey & Co.® recently released a major study that indicates companies will need to achieve a 30% improvement in current productivity in order to maintain the same levels of growth and the standard of living we all enjoyed in the 1960s.

The study makes some suggestions as to how HR leaders can ascend to a more strategic role within the organization.  It comes down to cultivating stronger relationships with the CEO and functional heads by demonstrating insight and competency, ensuring cohesion amongst the leadership team, and taking the initiative and being accountable in this new level of authority and impact on the organization.  These recommendations are less specific than the recommendations I offered in my previous blog, but are very much in alignment.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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Experts Discuss the Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Business and Education on The Gail Shane Show

I recently had the privilege of co-hosting The Gail Shane Show on WSRQ – Sarasota with, of course, Gail Shane.  The subject of the program explored the critical role Emotional Intelligence competencies (Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Social Awareness, Relationship Management skills and Empathy) have on creating and sustaining competitive advantage in business, education, and in our own personal lives.  We were fortunate to have on our panel neurosurgeon Dr. Ravi Rao, the author of “Emotional Business: Inspiring Human Connectedness To Grow Earnings And The Economy, Becky Canesse, CEO of Just For Girls, and Dr. Jennifer Rosenboom, the Principal of the Just For Girls Academy.

I’ve edited the podcast replay into three segments, which you can listen to by clicking the audio players below:

Segment One ~ Dr. Ravi Rao and Terry Murray discuss the neurology of human emotions, leveraging neuroscience to develop engaging and inspirational leaders, and how organizational  mastery of our emotional landscape contributes to competitive advantage, engagement, productivity and business performance (13 minutes).

Segment Two ~ Becky Cannesse and Dr. Jennifer Rosenboom discuss how they’re educating the whole child by cultivating empathy, compassion, resiliency, and Emotional Intelligence skills in young girls and how Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning, conducted by Performance Transformation, LLC™, has contributed to the girls’ development (8 minutes).

Segment Three ~ Ravi, Terry, Gail, Becky and Jennifer discuss methods for teaching emotional awareness skills, how Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning accelerates and supports the emergence of Emotional Intelligence competencies, and strategies for cultivating a positive, emotional landscape in organizations, businesses, and families (13 minutes).

Thanks again to Gail Shane, WSRQ – Sarasota, Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy (SMART), our collaborator and host for Equine programs, and Neal Communities, the sponsor, for having us on the air!

© 2013, Terry Murray, The Gail Shane Show.

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Why The Mainstream Leadership Development Industry Has Failed and Will Continue to Fail

A colleague of mine referenced me to an article on the Harvard Business Review® Blog Network over the weekend that she knew I would find of interest.  The blog explored a recent study on the level of dissatisfaction corporate boards were expressing on the failure of Talent Management in the corporations they oversee.  According to the study, and to no surprise, Talent Management is failing miserably in most organizations.  I say to no surprise because Talent Management is the latest offshoot of the mainstream leadership development industry, which has perhaps the most dismal performance record of any professional service industry on the planet.  Over the past twenty years alone, corporations and institutions have invested upwards of $1 trillion (yes, trillion) on leadership development.  Yet, only 1% of executives score excellent in eight key competencies of leadership, 90% score below average (McKinsey & Co®), and employee disengagement has been mired at 70% for over a decade (Gallup®).

As I was reading the blog, and here’s the correlation to today’s subject, I came across another entry on the HBR Blog Network entitled, “Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail” by a gentleman named Peter Bregman.  In the blog, Mr. Bregman states, “Ever since I started teaching leadership on mountaineering expeditions in the  late 80s, the question of how to develop leaders has absorbed me.  I’ve designed and taught everything from one-day team buildings to 20-day wilderness trips, from business school classes to corporate trainings, from simulations to executive leadership courses.”  At the risk of sounding facetious, which is not my intention, I can’t help but wonder if this question that has absorbed him for 25 years might have been answered if he had ever actually been a leader rather than a career teacher of leadership?

It’s strange to me…no other professional discipline has followed such a misguided path.  Medical surgeons, with decades of experience practicing medicine, are called upon to develop and educate the next generation of surgeons.  Senior scientists educate up and coming scientists.  Pilots are trained by experienced pilots.   Yet, next generation business leaders have not, and are not, being educated and developed by experienced business leaders.  They are being trained by career consultants and organizational psychologists.

The irony that runs through Mr. Bregman’s blog would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.  An author of several best-selling books on leadership, he comments, “What makes leadership hard isn’t the theoretical, it’s the practical” and follows on by emphasizing the importance of not getting sidetracked, distracted or losing focus by stating, “And you can’t learn them from reading a book…”

Mr. Bregman’s main point in his blog is to share an apparent epiphany he’s recently had regarding emotional courage.  This, he believes, is the key to successful leadership.  It’s a fair point, and one that was eloquently written about eleven years ago by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky in their seminal book, “Leadership On The Line – Staying Alive Through The Dangers Of Leading“.  Another irony is that this book was published by the Harvard Business School press.  It’s also a lesson I learned personally in my first business managerial role leading a national sales team nearly 25 years ago.

Another supposition in which Mr. Bregman appears misguided is, “The goal of any leadership development program is to change behavior.”  Isn’t that the goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?  Behaviors in the workplace are manifestations of perceptions, orientations and conditioned, neurological responses to emotional stimuli.  This focus on behaviors is just what one would expect by psychologists.  It’s what they know, so it’s what they do.  Shouldn’t the goal of leadership development be to improve business performance by imparting leaders with the tools and adaptive thinking skills necessary to communicate, engage and inspire others to perform at their best?  Isn’t the goal to develop nascent leaders’ ability to lead in any circumstance?

The final kicker in Mr. Bregman’s blog is his mea culpa, “By that measure, most of what I’ve done – and what I’ve seen others do – has failed.”  He goes on to add, “Here’s why: We’re teaching the wrong things in the wrong ways.”  Wow, that’s an amazing statement to read on an HBR blog.  I cannot help but wonder how Mr. Bregman’s past clients feel about the fact that he’s admitting his work, of which I’m sure he’s charged handsomely for, has been a decades long experiment trying to figure out for himself how to develop leaders?  And this grand experiment in leadership development has proven one thing…both Mr. Bregman and the mainstream leadership development industry still has a lot to learn about leadership.

I didn’t write this to personally take Mr. Bregman to task.  This is, however, highly indicative of what’s wrong with the leadership development industry.  Leadership, as Mr. Bregman says himself, cannot be learned from a book.  It must be experienced, first hand, and evolve over time under the tutelage of a seasoned leader.  Unfortunately, there are very few seasoned leaders in the leadership development industry.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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U.S. Army Research Validates Neuroscience-Based Approach for Adaptive Leadership Development

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.

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Research Demonstrates Efficacy of Cultivating Emotional Intelligence with Nurses Through Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning

Back in 2009 we introduced, “The Emotionally Resilient Nurse”, a relationship-based, equine facilitated experiential learning program designed specifically to cultivate Emotional Intelligence(EI) competencies in nurses.  This program came right on the heels of our pro bono program, “Warriors in Transition”, designed to help combat veterans and their families wrestling with PTSD, and quite often PTSD/TBI.  For anyone participating in or monitoring our warriors program, the efficacy was remarkably apparent.  Sleep patterns improved, agitation levels diminished, and family relationships improved almost overnight.  The program, which we’ve helped to introduce in six states, was formally commended by General David Petraeus in 2010.

Having worked in the health care field for two decades, I had personally witnessed the challenges nurses face on a daily basis.  Their environment is emotionally toxic and they are constantly walking a tightrope, without a net, of expressing authentic empathy through healthy, professional boundaries.  It is not a task for the faint of heart.  Having witnessed the success of our approach with combat veterans, migrating this approach into acute care hospital settings, specifically designed for other front line professionals, seemed like a no-brainer.  Unfortunately, at the time, hospital administrators were still laying off nurses to cut costs.  In the very short term, this may have helped the bottom line, but over time, lowering staffing levels only exacerbated the costly problems of nurse burnout, high turnover rates (the Florida Nurses Association reports that it costs a hospital an average of $64,000 to backfill an open nursing position.  Extrapolated across the nation, this problem adds approximately $17 billion in hard dollar costs to the health care delivery system, adding absolutely no value whatsoever.) and perceptions of quality of care with patients and their families.

As we do with the development of all of our programs, we dove into the peer-reviewed, published research on the effects of cultivating emotional intelligence in nurses on the delivery system.  Here’s a snapshot of what we discovered:

    • Patient satisfaction is a widely recognized measure of medical care quality and a predictor of several positive consequences for organizations and patients (e.g. patient adherence to treatment regimens, fewer malpractice suits, hospital employees’ satisfaction, and financial performance).2
    • Compassionate behavior is threatened by technological concerns and economic constraints.3 “Continually, we experience situations where patients received excellent technical care but, when the emotional side of their care was not met, they believed that their care was inadequate”.4
    • By understanding the patients’ emotions, and being more empathetic, nurses are more able to understand the values, worries, and fears of patients. They are more apt to automatically connect with patients, appreciate the patients’ perspectives, understand the impact of their actions, understand and satisfy patients’ needs5 and respond appropriately.6
    • Nurses need to interpret and understand how patients feel, to ascertain their motives and concerns, and demonstrate empathy in their care. They also need to understand and manage their own emotions, not just for high quality care, but for their own self-protection and health as well.7
    • Nurses capable of a self-reflective process become aware of their own emotions.  When nurses recognize their own feelings they are more likely to manage them and communicate in appropriate ways.8
    • Non-verbal interactions play a vital role in nurse-patient perceptions.  The non-verbal interactions include patient-directed eye gaze, affirmative head nod, smiling, leaning forward, touch, and instrument touch.9
    • Emotional Intelligence in nursing leads to more positive attitudes, greater adaptability, improved relationships, and increased orientation towards positive values.10
    • Emotional Intelligence has a positive impact on nursing team cohesiveness and patient/client outcomes.11
    • Emotional Intelligence minimizes the negative stress consequences of nursing.12
    • Emotional Intelligence is important in managing stress and reducing nurse burnout.13
    • Emotional Intelligence is an important characteristic for building successful nursing leadership, enhancing nursing performance, and reducing nurse burnout.14
    • Emotional intelligence scores in clinical staff nurses correlate positively with both performance levels and retention variables. Clinical staff nurses with higher emotional intelligence scores demonstrate higher performance, have longer careers, and display greater job retention.15
    • Emotional Intelligence should be integrated into the nursing profession by a model of transformational learning for nurse education.16

It seemed as if we’d made a fairly strong case for how cultivating the soft skills in nursing could save hard dollars in health care.  Unfortunately, we were in hindsight, more that a bit ahead of our time.  With the coming of HCAHPS, and the effect these patient satisfaction surveys will have on 30% of a hospital system’s reimbursements from the Medicare, perhaps it is time to revisit the value this approach represents.  An approach that is capable of delivering an ROI that soars into the thousands of percent.

Adding to the evidence, a pilot study has just been conducted and released from the University of Kentucky that warrants attention.  The study, authored by Patricia Dyk, and Robyn Cheung, et al, entitled, “The Effectiveness of Equine Guided Leadership Education to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Expert Nurses“, demonstrates statistically signifiant improvements in Emotional Intelligence competencies with nurses employing this approach.  This comes as no surprise to us, as we’ve been traveling the United States for the past four years, conducting our evidence-based approach to Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning, seeing consistent, reproducible results in very challenging populations.

The fact is, we’ve crossed a threshold into a period of adaptive challenges.  Unprecedented challenges that require unprecedented solutions.  The complexity of the challenges institutions and enterprises face today will require the integration of seemingly disparate disciplines and methodologies in order to find sustainable solutions.  One thing’s for certain, investing in our nurses would be a major step forward in improving the health care delivery system in the United States.

Copyright 2013, Terry Murray.

 1.)  Daniel Goleman, (1995).  “Emotional Intelligence”, Bantam Books, New York, NY.

2.)  Gesell, S.B. & Wolosin, R.J., (2004).  Inpatients’ Rating of Care in 5 Common Clinical Conditions. Quality Management Health Care, 13(4), 222-227.

3.)  Godkin, J. & Godkin, L., (2004).  Caring Behaviors Among Nurses:  Fostering a Conversation of Gestures. Health Care Management Review, 29(3), 258-267.

4.)  Kerfoot, K., (1996).  The Emotional Side of Leadership:  The Nurse Manager’s Challenge.  Nursing Economics, 14(1), 59-62.

5.)  Ibid., 59-62.

6.)  Vitello-Ciccui, J.M., (2003).  Innovative Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence.  Nursing Management, 24(10), 28-34.

7.)  McQueen, A.C.H., (2004).  Emotional Intelligence in Nursing Work.  Journal of Advanced Nursing, 47(1), 101-108.

8.)  Ibid., 101-108.

9.)  W. Caris-Verhallen, (1999).  Effects of Video Interaction Analysis Training on Nurse-Patient Communication in the Care of the Elderly.  Patient Education and Counseling, Volume 39, Issue 1, 91-103.

10.)  Kristin Akerjordet & Elisabeth, (2007).  Emotional Intelligence: A Review of the Literature with Specific Focus on Empirical and Epistemological Perspectives. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 16(8); 1405-1416.

11.)  Quoidbach & Hansenne, (2009).  The impact of trait emotional intelligence on nursing team performance and cohesiveness.  Journal of Professional Nursing, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp. 23 – 29.

12.)  Montes-Berges & Augusto, (2007).  Exploring the Relationship Between Perceived Emotional Intelligence, Coping, Social Support and Mental Health in Nursing Students.  Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. 14 (2);163-171.

13.)  Linda Gerits, Jan J. L. Derksen, & Antoine B. Verbruggen, (2004).  Emotional Intelligence and Adaptive Success of Nurses Caring for People with Mental Retardation and Severe Behavior Problems.  Mental Retardation: 42, (2); 106-121.

14.)  Vitello-Ciccui, Joan M., (2002).  Exploring Emotional Intelligence:  Implications for Nursing Leaders.  Journal of Nursing Administration.  32(4):  203-210.

15.)  Codier, Estelle PhD, RN; Kamikawa, Cindy MSN, RN, NE-BC; Kooker, Barbara M. DrPH, APRN, NEA-BC; Shoultz, Jan DrPH, MPH, (2009).  Emotional Intelligence, Performance, and Retention in Clinical Staff Nurses.  Nursing Administration Quarterly:  October/December, Volume 33, Issue 4, 310-316.

16.)  Dawn Freshwater & Theodore Stickley, (2004).  The Heart of the Art:  Emotional Intelligence in Nurse Education.  Nursing Inquiry. 11(2); 91-98.

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Lead As If We’re All Connected….Because We Are

As the tools of social media migrate into the business community, we are all reading a lot about the power of connectivity in the workplace.  In a study published by the McKinsey Quarterly last November, their analysts identified the application of social platforms could unlock $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in untapped value in just four industrial sectors representing 20% of total global output.  Without a doubt, unprecedented opportunities are emerging that will transform the face of business in the years to come.  However, before a firm can unlock this potential through the application of technology, they must first address a cultural artifact that represents a very real impediment; employee disengagement.  Gallup has consistently reported that upwards of 73% of employees are disengaged or, at best, only partially engaged with their employer.  The question that immediately comes to mind is how much value can emerge through the virtual connectivity of a disengaged workforce?

In order to reverse the endemic, employee engagement crisis, leaders may wish to consider a single, scientifically substantiated concept;  we’re already, all of us, connected.  Not just to one another, but to everything throughout the universe.  Before you dismiss this concept as some sort of woo woo, new age precept, please allow me to share some eye-opening research, specifically, research demonstrating the non-locality of consciousness from the field of quantum physics.

In 2003, physicists J. Wackermann, C. Seiter and K. Holger published a research study entitled, “Correlation Between Brain Electrical Activities Of Two Spatially Separated Human Subjects”, in the scientific journal, Neuroscience Letters.  In this experiment two people began meditating together with the intention of being connected.  While sustaining their meditative states, they were separated  and placed in isolation chambers incapable of receiving any signal, electronic or otherwise.  Once isolated, the scientists attached electroencephalography devices (an EEG measures and maps electrical activity in the brain) onto the two subjects.  After a few moments, the scientists flashed a series of colored lights at one of the subjects.  The EEG recorded the subject’s brain’s response.  The second subject was not exposed to the lights, yet both subject’s brains responded instantaneously in nearly identical ways.  No signal existed between the subjects, yet their brain’s shared the experience.  They were still connected.  This experiment has been reproduced by other scientists around the world.

Another example of the non-locality of consciousness was recently revealed when the Chinese government conducted an experiment with spinning electrons.  The scientists isolated two electrons that shared the same orbital spin.  They then separated the electrons by a distance of approximately 400 miles.  When they changed the spin of one electron, the other reacted immediately and in the same direction.  This occurred instantaneously, faster than the speed of light.  The purpose of this experiment is the development of communications systems that cannot be decoded because there is no signal carrying the information.  No signal, no intercept.

Perhaps you saw the headlines a few weeks ago about a study from Australia that was published in the journal, BioMed Central.  “Our results show that plants are able to positively influence growth of seeds by some, as yet, unknown mechanism,” said study author Monica Gagliano of the University of Western Australia. “Bad neighbors, such as fennel, prevent chili seed germination in the same way. We believe that the answer may involve acoustic signals generated using nanomechanical oscillations from inside the cell which allow rapid communication between nearby plants.”  Plants may actually be communicating with one another better than people do in many organizations.

Moving from plant science to molecular biology, another study, “Quantum Correlations in Biomolecules”, authored by Vlatko Vedral of the University of Oxford in the U.K., explored quantum signally between biomolecules.  This correlates to things I’ve witnessed firsthand.  Back in 2004, I was the lead strategist in the commercial launch of the first human stem cell (multi-lineage progenitor cells, discovered by Dr. Dan Collins of BioE, Inc.) derived from human umbilical cord blood (this is not an embryonic stem cell, but a naturally occurring cell harvested from post-birth, medical waste).  Dr. Collins was able to differentiate these rare cells into many forms of human tissue and cells.  I had the privilege of standing in the laboratory with Dr. Collins, and looking through a microscope, witnessed a single, myocardial cell twitching in heart rhythm.  I witnessed oligodendrocytes (a type of brain cell), set apart on a slide, extending dendrites towards one another to create new, neural networks.  These single cells, native to the human body, exhibited a form of consciousness in and of themselves.  They knew what to do, even outside of their host organism.

In 2009, working on another strategic project, I had the remarkable opportunity of visiting the Horn Telescope at the old Bell Labs in New Jersey.  The telescope that provided the first proof of the Big Bang, back in the 1930s.  Everything in our observable, and unobservable universe, emerged from this event.  As Carl Sagan said back in the 1970s, we’re all made up of this star-stuff that emerged in a sudden burst of creation, billions and billions of years ago.  Every atom in our bodies, every element, is from that single source.

When leaders begin to shed their conditioned blinders and entertain a slight shift in perspective to include these insights, a remarkably different world begins to emerge.  One of authentic presence, insight and engagement that sheds the us versus them orientation.  If we choose to embrace these scientific findings, and view our world through this new lens of real connectivity, opportunities for growth, innovation and productivity breakthroughs appear all around us.  With a little bit of practice, we might even begin communicating as clearly as plants!

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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What Neurosurgeons and Horses Can Teach Us About Leadership

_PPH5798Sounds strange, doesn’t it?  I’ve grown accustomed to the quizzical looks over the years when I tell people we work with horses to help leaders develop the critical competencies necessary for today’s volatile workplace.  It isn’t a gimmick, an arcane game or ropes course.  It is a scientifically substantiated approach to experiential learning.  One that greatly accelerates development thanks to the fact that our carefully structured exercises ferry participants through all four modalities of Kolb’s Adult Learning Style Inventory.  Our approach also draws heavily from the neuroscience research of such luminaries as Dan Goleman, Rich Davidson, Jaak Panksepp and Ravi Rao.  Going beyond psychology, the brain research that is continuously emerging enables us, as leadership development experts, to address the causal, neurological pathways that result in demonstrated behaviors. Traditional leadership development methodologies, focused on behaviorism (i.e., mainstream psychology’s embrace of cognitive behavioral therapy), have had thirty years on the main stage, and left us with a dearth of effective, mindful leaders.  If anything, traditional approaches to development have added to the inertia in leadership we see all around us.

If you don’t believe me, ask Dr. Allen Hamilton, neurosurgeon at the University of Arizona Medical Center.  Dr. Hamilton is employing a form of relationship-based, Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning.  An approach very much in alignment with our own.  If you happened to have missed it, here’s a story about Dr. Hamilton employing horses to cultivate emotional intelligence competencies, heightened sensitivity to non-verbal communication, and empathy with medical school students:  http://www.today.com/health/open-say-neigh-horses-help-teach-med-students-6C9790792.

Need a second opinion?  If you have a few minutes, I’d like to invite you to listen to Dr. Ravi Rao, a Harvard trained neurosurgeon (who also holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins), who joined me on a radio interview, sharing his thoughts on our approach.  

So, why is this approach so effective?  The research demonstrates our brains have plasticity.  We can, through conscious effort, literally change the way we interpret and react to the work around us on a basic, neurological level.  

Neuroscience also provides insights into why human beings resist change.  The brain consumes 25% of the blood glucose in our bodies at any given time.  The majority of it is used to support our visual cortex and our near-term memory, the two parts of your brain you are using to read this blog.  After that, the brain is very conservative in its use of energy.  It takes far less energy to follow a well established neural pathway than it does to create new ones.  Think of our established neural pathways as dry river beds cut deep into the side of a mountain.  Every time it rains, the water follows the path of least resistance, cutting an even deeper rivulet down the mountain.  Trying to get the water to flow in another direction takes significant effort.

Neuroscience guides our approach to sparking neurogenesis, particularly in the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s executive center where the competencies of emotional intelligence emerge (self-awareness, social awareness, self regulation, and relationship management skills).  By introducing novelty, (having a professional enter into a round pen to co-create a shared goal with a horse without the use of language, touch, or dominating behaviors is pretty novel) we disrupt the established pathways associated with problem solving.  As the participant connects, engages and motivates the horse, fall-back behaviors emerge.  Interpersonal behaviors.  When we don’t know what to do we do what we know, and the leadership behaviors people demonstrate with their direct reports are revealed to the participant on their own accord.  These are powerful, breakthrough moments of self-awareness bursting to the surface of consciousness.  No one is telling the participant a thing…other than the horse.  The participant is seeing their own behaviors reflected back to them through the behaviors of the horse.  And horses don’t lie, shade or judge emotions.  Emotions are information to horses (this is also a neuroscience finding based upon the work of Dr. Jaak Panksepp), as they should be to us as well.

Research from the field also provides new assessment tools that enable us to hone in on specific areas of development.  Here’s a short, video white board describing this application:

As we move deeper into the 21st Century, adaptive challenges will continue to confront us.  Challenges in which we don’t know all the answers.  Challenges that will require collaborative efforts from a multi-cultural, multi-generational workforce to resolve.  And resolve at speed, in real time.  Working with horses from a neurologically substantiated perspective imparts learning agility in leaders.  Horses require us to park our ego at the barn door as well.  They aren’t impressed with titles, paychecks or artificial authority.  They are impressed with presence.  This approach enables leaders to learn how to dance in the moment, acting with mindful discernment even when confronted with highly novel challenges.  And to do so while maintaining congruency, transparency and authenticity.  Horses, and humans, demand no less.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

 

2 Comments

May 7, 2013 · 8:43 am