Happy Companies Make Loyal Employees – Brain versus Brawn; Second in a Series

Posted: June 6, 2017 10:00 am  

To begin this discussion, I would like to quote from chapter three of What Happy Companies Know.

When modern humanity emerged from the mists of history a few thousand years ago, we were the nerds of the Paleolithic age. Gorillas could kick sand in our face and take our banana money. The major predators could see, hear, or smell their prey from a distance and could chase them down and kill them with a single snap of the jaw or swipe of the claw. Humans were puny and slow. Our vision, hearing, and smell were limited. Our teeth and claws were the laughing stock of the Predator’s Country Club. With all of our physiological limitations, we were far more likely to become dinner than to enjoy dinner.

The only thing we had to differentiate us was a new area in our brains – the frontal lobes. It coordinates all the other areas of the brain and gives us the ability to think. It directs, but does not control, the preexisting parts of the brain that kept us alive. For the longest time, the frontal lobes were considered the silent part of the brain as they didn’t seem to do anything. Over the last 40 years, we have moved to an understanding that the brain has at least a dozen major structures, all of which communicate. The right and left hemispheres seem to be somewhat duplicates but specialize. The left deals with routine situations while the right kicks in for new and unique situations. Memory seems to be strategically distributed throughout.

While there is a mass amount of detail about the structure and working of the entire brain, we are going to concentrate on the frontal lobes.  Only higher mammals have frontal lobes and only humans have one of any appreciable size. Neurologist Paul Maclean calls it the moral brain because it provides humanity with intellect, imagination, spiritual sensibilities, art, and the ability to feel. It is also considered, as Elkhonen Goldberg called it, the executive brain as it provides us with the ability to determine right from wrong and the capabilities of leadership and creativity, the essence of an executive position in a social or business organization.

While a leader can rely on his emotional brain by responding with a gut reaction to falling sales production with an emotional outburst; he can also use the executive brain to deliberate a complicated business plan to overcome the situation. Let’s think about it as the relationship of a child and a parent.  The child is the emotional brain and the executive brain is the parent. The parent cannot always obtain obedience from the child. While a leader may want to be unemotional about a decision or reaction, he  may not always obtain obedience from the emotional brain. Survival functions are automatic. Never is it more true than in business, where an emotionally charged workplace can create fear reactions that short-circuit higher and more effective business thought.

In fact, the emotional brain constitutes a far larger percentage of the brain than the executive brain, and the executive brain is intricately linked with all of the emotional centers which results in the brain processing more emotion that cognitive activity. It is neurologically impossible to be purely logical. 

We all know people that are scarily intelligent and yet have no social skills or make bizarre and seemingly illogical life choices. Their emotional brain is immature or malfunctioning. We also know charismatic individuals that are highly intuitive about others, are great seducers in both positive and negative ways and are prone to temper tantrums and selfish acts. Their executive brain is immature or malfunctioning. In both cases, the imbalance is ultimately self-sabotaging.

In order for a leader to obtain real success, he must make full use of his entire brain and the capabilities of all its functions. Think about it as calling upon intuition to make the most rational decisions. The key is to know which part of the brain is leading. If the emotional brain is leading, learn to change leads so that the emotional brain informs the executive brain rather than bullies it. Modern leadership is about “whole-brain function,” the appropriate use of all the brain’s abilities, facilitated by the executive.

Regardless of the chaos around you, you have to be accountable for your own emotions and intentionality in the workplace.

Three simple approaches:

1.  Establish personal mastery of your work environment – Take responsibility for your behavior, thoughts and emotions.

2.  Lead from your strengths so that you do not become frozen by fears about your weaknesses – augment your team with people that fill in for your weaknesses.

3.  Act upon projects according to priority rather than urgency – use conscious decision making instead of reacting. Stephen Covey identifies four quadrants: I important and urgent, II important but not urgent, III not important but urgent, and IV not important and not urgent. Quadrants I and II should come before III and IV.

 

Humanity’s frontal lobes provide us with the ability to imagine a future and foresee consequences. To function at the highest of our abilities, we cannot be rigidly logical any more than we can be uncontrollably emotional. We must combine intentionality with subtle, intuitive and insightful capabilities of the emotional brain. Without mediation of the executive brain, fear can lead to failure of personal responsibility or to attention to short-term firefighting instead of looking for long-term solutions. And, without the humanizing effect of the emotional brain, a failure to read emotional clues can impair your ability to work with others.  With the three approaches, you can achieve harmony between the executive and emotional centers to achieve whole-brain function…the path to business success.

 Additional Resources

https://www.beyondbooksmart.com/executive-functioning-strategies-blog/emotional-regulation-and-executive-function-skills-a-powerful-link

http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/2015/stephen-coveys-time-management-matrix-explained/