Nuanced leadership

girl giving candyI often think managing people is not THAT hard. Then again, anytime you involve one more person in anything, it gets a little (or a lot) more complicated. Trust me. I’m one of seven siblings (not to mention that first wife).

But I really do believe managing people is not that hard. It’s just not that easy either. And therein lies the nuance.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines Nuance as:

1: a subtle distinction or variation
2: a subtle quality
3: sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value)

Those of you who know me know I work in the field of leadership and talent development, leveraging research from the field of neuroscience. (Some people think neuroscience–and neuroleadership–is a fad; I think the brain is here to stay.) As I’ve come to understand basic brain functioning, I’ve come to better understand and appreciate human behavior and performance.

To me, everything about the brain (and life) is about duality–with a nuance. While I would like to look at things in black and white terms, I can’t ignore the grey (just look at what is happening with the current state of race relations in the USA–so much polarity, so little connection).

What do I mean by duality in the brain?

  • Prefrontal cortex “versus” the Limbic System
  • Problem-focus or Future-focus
  • Negative or Positive
  • Conscious or Non-conscious
  • Serial or Parallel (processing)

And in life?

  • Good and Bad
  • Yin and Yang
  • Heaven and Hell
  • Winning and Losing
  • Chocolate and Broccoli

(My 5-year old son added that last one.)

I’m sure you can think of some, too.

So what’s the point?

The point is, in the brain (and it seems in life) negative has the much stronger team. Minimally, it’s stacked 5 to 1 in favor of threat.I call it a “losing battle.” And that makes sense when you realize the brain’s “primary organizing principle” is to minimize threat and maximize reward–with the dominant focus to minimize threat (Evian Gordon, 1-2-4 Integrate model). It’s our human survival mechanism. Stay away from danger.

As a leader (and human), if you’re not aware of this driving force, you can easily come at things from a negative vantage point, despite the alternative. And while it is natural and “feels” normal, it’s a limiting approach.

What’s the answer?

As mentioned in my post “Our own worst enemy,” it’s about strengthening your self-awareness muscles (you can also call it presence, mindfulness, interoception, social cognition) and improving your brain’s braking system (Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex).

What’s the link?

If you get better at noticing perceived threats/dangers and can “catch” the limbic system’s reaction, you can begin to “brake” against the brain’s choice and make a more informed (thoughtful) choice.

I often like to ask, “Who’s in charge? You or your brain?”

It’s amazing how often it’s your brain.

Take charge.

Tame your brain.