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Cheat Sheet

The Leadership Brain For Dummies

From The Leadership Brain For Dummies by Marilee B. Sprenger

Reviewing the way the brain works and what it needs can only help you develop your leadership skills and lead your team to greater success. Translating the recent abundance of brain science into leadership principles is a simple and effective way to keep your team operating at its best. The neuroscience-leadership connection offers big rewards for you and your business

Applying Brain Science to Leadership

When you lead with the brain in mind, you address the structures of the brain and its needs. One way that scientists commonly consider the brain is as structure that includes three separate “brains” that have their own specialized jobs. Understanding how these structures work and what they need enables you to better relate to and lead your employees — and better understand your own reactions, to boot! Here are a few tips for working with the brain’s structure:

  • The “survival brain” wants safety and security. In a nutshell, its job is to keep you alive, and so it’s always on the lookout for changes in the environment that might put you in jeopardy.

    You address this brain’s needs by providing a predictable and stable workplace. Provide predictability through the use of agendas, schedules, newsletters, and procedures.

  • The “emotional brain” that deals not just with emotion but memory. You help keep this part of the brain humming by being socially aware (note your feelings but don’t let them rule you), and you put it to work for you by giving employees an emotional connection to training.

    Any information that’s connected to an emotion has a better chance of becoming a long-term memory. Remember that emotions are contagious; whatever you’re feeling will spread to your employees and your customers. Be positive and optimistic!

  • The “thinking brain” handles the brain’s executive functions: decision-making, future planning, judgment, and emotional control. The brain learns through feedback.

  • Change your employees’ minds by providing immediate, constructive feedback. And maintain your integrity so that you give your employees and clients someone to believe in.

Leading Employees by Nourishing Their Brains

The same neuroscience that applies to your brain and leadership is critical for the way you lead your employees. You can feed employees’ brains and help them grow by

  • Training them offsite, onsite, and on the job. Education never stops, and the brain thrives on it.

  • Conducting personal meetings and letting employees know that you value their contributions. When employees know where they stand, they are secure and thereby more productive.

  • Keeping stress levels low by offering coaching or mentoring programs. High stress interferes with the brain’s functions.

  • Celebrating successes, no matter how small. Celebrations help teams bond, and humans are social animals.

  • Continually making connections between employee work and the company’s goals. Help their brains make pathways to work more efficiently.

  • Allowing them time for exercise, rest, and family time. Without breaks, the brain can’t work at its best.

Using Your Leadership Brain to Make Decisions

Making good decisions under a variety of conditions is a critical leadership skill. Your brain works differently to decide when you have little time than it does when you can mull over your options.

When you have the time to research the situation, do the following to make your best decision:

  • Clearly define the situation or problem that needs to be solved. Get a firm grip on the challenge you face, defining what exactly needs your attention.

  • Gather all of the data relating to the problem. Call on relevant team members to make sure that you get all the facts you need.

  • List all possible solutions. Start by casting a wide net; include solutions that seem outlandish — they may be more realistic than you realize at first or at least lead you to a creative solution that’s just right.

  • Consider the consequences of each solution. Given a little thought, a solution that seemed right might turn out to have minefields within it. Take care to look at the possible effects your solution presents.

When you’re making decisions with little time:

  • Consider previous situations and the effects of prior decisions. Have you faced similar situations? If so, examine the way you handled them and the consequences of those decisions.

  • Look to the future and the impact this decision could have. Even though you’re pressed for time, considering the ramifications of your choice is critical.

  • Gather as much information as you can in a short period of time.

  • Listen to your instincts as well as your logic.

Becoming more aware of your body’s responses to stress helps you control your emotions and take them into consideration along with your rational thoughts as you consider an issue.

Leading Your Team with Meetings that Work

Many employees (and leaders) have a bad feeling about meetings, but productive meetings serve many important purposes. You can lead your meetings more effectively when you follow a few guidelines:

  • Always start on time. Let your people know that you value their presence and their time.

  • Have an agenda. The perfect agenda would be one that the entire team put together, but that may be impossible. Important items may come up prior to the meeting. Let the team review the agenda and help prioritize the items.

  • Allow everyone the opportunity to contribute. If employees know they are encouraged to speak, they’re more likely to pay attention and become involved.

  • Include celebrations. Every meeting should include something to celebrate — high production, good performance, satisfying a client, completing a training or even a birthday. Celebrations add fun and motivate employees.

  • Follow-up with conversations or correspondence. Utilize e-mail, blogs, newsletters, and so on to keep your vision and the company’s goals in everyone’s minds.

  • Build relationships. Meetings are an opportunity for people to interact, which is particularly important if some of them work more at computers than face to face. Share personal and professional stories to build trust and bond.

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