Leadership and Neuroscience

I was at a very interesting talk at Squire Sanders through Birmingham Forward last night. The speaker was Amy Brann of Synaptic Potential.

The subject is huge, so obviously Amy was only able to provide an overview, but tying some scientific theory to the more traditional observational approach to leadership was useful.

One point she made was that micromanaging people tends to set off the threat response. This increases the use of both oxygen and glucose, decreasing mental functioning. At the same time, cortisol is released, slowing thinking and decreasing immunity.

Tied to this is the need for autonomy, or at least perceived autonomy. 3M allow researchers to spend 15% of their time on their own research, while Google allow 20%. This version of motivated autonomy has produced the PostIt Note and Gmail, among other products.

Again this is not new, but neuroscience is justifying (and sometimes challenging) the observational work.

The science also provides ways to manipulate clients and staff, again nothing new in itself. How far this is ethical is an interesting question. It strikes me that there are so many people trying to manipulate me (shops, charities, the media, spammers, sales people) that it triggers my own threat response!

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