Advances in neural imaging are giving management researchers a window on how bosses influence their employees’ brain functions. Among the most important findings is that bosses’ own neural patterns can “infect” those of their workers, so it’s vital for leaders to project the emotions and beliefs they hope to inspire in their teams.
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NEUROSCIENCE AND LEADERSHIP: THE PROMISE OF INSIGHTS
Emerging findings in neuroscience research suggest why inspiring and supportive relationships are important — they help activate openness to new ideas and a more social orientation to others. Insights such as these, this author writes, may move the primacy of a leader’s actions away from the often proselytized “results-orientation” toward a relationship orientation. Readers will learn about this and other important findings in neuroscience that have the potential to tell us what we need to know to be good, even great leaders.
son why inspiring and supportive relationships are important — they help activate openness to new ideas and a more social orien
Leaders need to build relationships that inspire and motivate others to do their best, innovate and adapt. In our earlier work, Primal Leadership (Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, 2002) and Resonant Leadership (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005), we synthesized a great deal of research to support the idea that effective leaders build resonant relationships with those around them. At the same time, less effective leaders or those that are more one-sided seem to create dissonant relationships. We decided to explore this in one fMRI study.
The neuroscience findings emerging suggest a basic reason why inspiring and supportive relationships are important — they help activate openness to new ideas and a more social orientation to others.
Emotional Contagion and Empathy
ecent studies, although somewhat controversial, offer three possibilities regarding emotional contagion: (1) emotional contagion spreads in milliseconds, below conscious recognition (LeDoux, 2002); (2) emotional arousal may precede conceptualization of the event (Iacoboni, 2009); and (3) neural systems activate endocrine systems that, in turn, activate neural systems (Garcia-Segura, 2009).
The most likely implication of these results is that leaders bear the primary responsibility for knowing what they are feeling and therefore, managing the contagion that they infect in others. It requires a heightened emotional self-awareness.
Helping and inspiring others
Leaders should be coaches in helping to motivate and inspire those around them (Boyatzis, Smith & Blaize, 2006). But not any old form of coaching will help. Coaching others with compassion, that is, toward the Positive Emotional Attractor, appears to activate neural systems that help a person open themselves to new possibilities– to learn and adapt.
Positive Emotional Attractor. To arouse the PEA, these studies are suggesting that we need to: (1) be social; and (2) engage the person in positive, hopeful contemplation of a desired future.
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