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Leadership can be learned: new evidence from neuroscience clearly points to ways that leaders can significantly improve how they engage with and motivate others. This book provides leaders and managers with an accessible guide to practical, effective actions, based on neuroscience.



chapter 1. There is Chemistry and Then There is Chemistry

Wetware drives human behavior – the chemistry of the brain and body. It is popular these days to talk about the brain being hardwired. Immediately an image of circuits in the brain, fixed connections and messages being shunted around comes to mind – as if the brain were a complex railway network or road system; stimulus in, response out, and clever switchgear organizing it all. But not so; the whole process is much more fluid and complex than such a metaphor suggests.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

2. Brains, Bodies and Business: A Systems Approach

The idea for this systems approach to applied neuroscience was sparked when Tara and Dr Peter Hirst MBE, executive director of executive education at the MIT Sloan School of Management, went to a meeting with four researchers from the Brain and Cognitive Science Unit at MIT. It was discussed that what neuroscientists refer to as executive functions (see Box 2.1) and what business people think of as the functions of an executive are two quite different things. There is growing interest in applying neuroscience to leadership and many laboratories publishing fascinating neuroscience research but not enough people, forums or environments in which the crucial information can be simply and pragmatically translated for practical use in businesses. The impact of technology on neuroscience is also striking in that it has allowed tangible, physical data on what is going on in the brain to distinguish neuroscience from psychology, with the focus in this book being on using that data on applications to business and leadership. The tangible nature of that data makes the premise more compelling for some and strengthens the argument for others on the importance of both cognitive science and physiology and the interplay between them.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 3. The New Model Leader

Leadership training has become a huge industry, with an apparently insatiable market. Millions of books and articles, thousands of courses and training programs from hundreds of academic and other organizations all offer theories on what leadership is, what leaders do, as well as advice on becoming an effective leader. The demand for good leadership drives this market, but there is little hard evidence that any of the existing products work, or that we know why something works when it does. There is, on the other hand, plenty of evidence that complex organizations in global market economies do not have enough of the kind of leaders they need. There has not been enough in all this activity that has a robust base in science. Where can we start in order to begin to sift what really works, what might deliver sustainable, long-term results, from all the noise and fashionable fads?
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 4. Testosterone, Risk and Entrepreneurship

The “trouble with testosterone” starts in utero (in the womb) when the embryo with the XY gene gets its first flood of testosterone and starts the journey to becoming male. All embryos start out female and it is only after a few weeks that they start to differentiate in terms of gender. Female embryos carry the XX chromosomes and males the XY.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 5. Why is the Soft Stuff so Hard?

In the past decade or so it has often been said that for leaders, it is the soft stuff that is the real hard stuff – a quote that has even been attributed to Jack Welch. While it is generally agreed that the hard stuff is what can be measured, definitions of the soft stuff are legion, from brand design through emotional intelligence, to talent development, engagement, innovation and “people issues”. Sometimes the distinction is made as if between IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (a measure of Emotional Intelligence1). Most people agree however that the soft stuff, whatever it is, isn’t measurable and that for sustainable business success, leaders need both.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 6. The Challenge of Decisions

How much of your day is taken up by making decisions? If you include seeking and selecting the information you need, negotiating with others to ensure implementation, and all the decisions you make to monitor outcomes, you might say that is how most of your time is spent. And that is not even taking into account deciding not to have a snack between meetings, deciding not to take that call from a very well-networked ex-colleague, or not to stop off for a drink on the way home – again.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

7. Changing Yourself — Changing Others

A great deal of the work of a leader involves change – in their own and others’ performance, behaviors, skills and attitudes. As we have described already in Chapter 2 our brain is changing all the time: every new stimulus or thought creates some new connections, familiar stimuli and thinking reinforce existing connections and every mental and physical action is the result of activating new or existing networks of connections between neurons (Box 7.1).
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 8. Elite Performance, Brain Agility and Engagement

Businesses are more focused than ever on excellent performance and acquiring a competitive edge through interventions such as executive coaching and leadership development. What can we learn from the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics? As South African athlete Oscar Pistorius famously said, “every race is won or lost in the head.” Pistorius, a double amputee, ran in both the Paralympics and Olympics but fell from grace when he was put on trial after a tragic shooting of his then girlfriend, for which he was later found guilty of culpable homicide. Remember from Chapter 1 that surprise is the potentiator emotion that can flip you from survival to attachment or vice-versa.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 9. Stress, Resilience and Confidence

It is a familiar story. You have taken over as CEO of an international telecoms company that had dominated the market, but is now struggling to compete with innovative products and services from competitors who barely existed a few years ago. Chosen because of your track record in turning around technology-based businesses and your credibility with market analysts, you find that the change required is much more widespread than you expected.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 10. Creating the Spark,Lighting the Fire

We believe that the individual human brain has immense and as yet not fully discovered potential. “Perfectly ordinary” people have achieved remarkable, extraordinary, things in their everyday life, through improving their focused attention, exercising their self control, and strengthening their will through self awareness, reflection and repeated practice. A beautiful description of this in the sports arena is Alison Mowbray’s book on how she became an Olympic silver medalist rower, from a schoolgirl whose best sport was the three legged race.2 In our view, there is nothing ordinary about people or their potential or what so many people around the world achieve. The truly extraordinary capacity of the brain to change and adapt so as to take in and create new ideas, its relationship with the body and ability to affect its physical manifestations, such as blood pressure or hormone levels, (and indeed the body’s ability to change the brain, for example, enhancing mood through exercise or confidence though posture), are only just being experimentally explored.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 11. Difference, Diversity and Gender

A growing body of research links economic performance to diversity. There is now considerable evidence from the US and Europe that having a gender-diverse board is strongly correlated1 with bottom line success. A research report by Credit Suisse, after testing the performance of 2,360 companies globally, concluded that “it would on average have been better to have invested in corporates with women on their management boards than in those without”.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

chapter 12. Whole Person, Vibrant Organization

The final Chapter of most books pulls everything together and comes to conclusions. This one is different. In the spirit of the applied brain sciences this Chapter is designed to leave you with an opening up of new possibilities and beginning to see options that are the basis for new answers or, if not necessarily new, answers that feel more firmly grounded in fact.
Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown


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