When training your brain to work at its full potential, you should think of your brain as a gatekeeper for change. Give it what it wants, and it will help you evolve and grow into an effective leader. Don’t give it what it wants, and it might make you feel apathetic, dull, fearful of the unknown, and suspicious of new ideas.
According to David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz in “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” our brain rejects change when it’s overly tired or overly comfortable. Like overloading a circuit, the brain gets overwhelmed when given a lot of new information in a short amount of time. It’s advised, then, to take a break every 90 minutes from mentally taxing work. When the brain is overly comfortable, it is engaged in accepted beliefs and habits and uses a lot less energy. Remember your first day learning how to drive a car? Compare how much mental energy that took and how little it takes now. However, some – overly comfortable – habits need to be broken. Most meetings, communications, managing others are so well routinized that we pay about as much attention to them as we do driving home from work.
The brain is also like a two-year-old: it doesn’t like being told what to do. It wants to discover the answer on its own. When it does, it gives off an adrenaline-like rush at the moment of self-discovery. According to Rock and Schwartz, this rush of gamma rays creates links across many parts of the brain. These connections can enhance our mental resources and overcome the brain’s resistance to change.
As a leader, ask more, tell less, and bite your lip when you know the answer.
When it comes to motivating others to change, Daniel Pink in Drive says incentive/punishment attempts do more harm than good when applied to cognitive work. Focus on giving yourself and others more autonomy, opportunities for mastery, and a connection to a bigger purpose.
The brain delivers on what it expects. If it expects customers to be overly demanding it will deliver guarded, rude, or jaded behavior. Psychologist Martin Seligman was able to dramatically reduce the level of depression in 94% of chronic patients by having them focus each day on three things they’d done well. Instead of focusing on the shortcomings, gaps, problems, or issues with yourself or your team, identify, accentuate, and expand on strengths and solutions.
A deeply focused brain taps into a network of mental resources and helps turn change into desired behavior. Steve Jobs was famous for focus. His biographer, Walter Isaacson described how he would often lead brainstorming sessions by eliminating a list of ten great ideas down to 4. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” the biographer quoted Jobs as saying.
And finally, for the brain to master anything, it needs repetition. A 1997 study by Baruch College found that a training program alone increased productivity by 28 percent, but follow-up coaching after the training increased productivity by 88 percent.