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Clive Hyland

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Thinking, feeling, and knowing you’re a leader


Clive Hyland takes a cerebral approach to analysing and understanding the traits of the successful leader.

Why is it that some people seem to be natural leaders whilst others struggle to impress? The elusive nature of effective leadership has prompted many a debate and there are as many leadership models as there are business schools. Now we have the opportunity to turn to neuroscience for a much more productive understanding of this crucial subject.

Simplistically, the thinking layer of the brain is the cortex and is where we process logic, data, structure, method and rules. The feeling layer, the limbic region, operates on totally different principles: here it is about energy, sensing, feeling, emotions, relationships and creativity. The knowing layer, the basal region, is the world of instincts, intuition and 'gut' responses. Of course, we use all three in our everyday behaviour but over time we will exhibit a tendency to favour one or two of the 'styles' over the others in certain situations. It is our own unique blending of the functionality of these regions of the brain which determines the way we 'show up' in life and in business, the way we process and give meaning to our experiences and the impact that we have on others.

When it comes to leadership, we have to create a level of connection with those we want to follow us and this connection has nothing to do with logic. Logic is the domain of the thinking cortex and is important when it comes to organising our activity, but leadership operates first and foremost at the knowing and feeling level. The basal and limbic layers of the brain work quicker than the cortex, which is cast largely in the role of making sense and rationalising after the event.

"When it comes to leadership, we have to create a level of connection with those we want to follow us and this connection has nothing to do with logic."

So the sequence that is relevant here is Know-Feel-Think. The crucial role of the leader is to create belief in the direction of travel. To do this we have to offer a vision and a sense of purpose that our following can connect with at the deepest basal layer of the brain. This connection is instinctive and immediate and opens the door to sharing the journey. At this stage, there is no analysis involved, just an initial spark of inspiration, attraction and belief.

The next stage is to encourage our following to step through the door and mobilise themselves for the journey. This involves creating an emerging sense of trust. At this point any potential followers will do their own very personal evaluation of who we are and what we stand for. If this resonates well they will be motivated to join us. And this runs much deeper than the words we use and the behaviour we adopt. To be effective it has to connect at a deep energetic level and will not be conned by empty gestures. Here we have to be authentic, transparent and offer all of our being.

Then comes the role of the cortex, which is crucial to channelling our energy by providing structure and rules of engagement. Without this thinking ability we are just highly motivated headless chickens. Here we seek clarity and method so that we can understand how to break the challenge down to manageable chunks and to bring our energy to a productive and relevant result.

In the final analysis, leadership is the ability to create and sustain a shared sense of belief in the chosen journey, a belief that the purpose of the journey is justified and that the outcome is worth pursuing. Those who seek to lead would do well to consider this carefully. The levers of leadership and engagement of a following sit well below the surface of observable behaviour. What really matters is what is going on beneath the surface, the rich tapestry of human thoughts, emotions, instincts and beliefs. It is here that we can access the human connections that matter. Without these connections we get only compliance. Commitment is a voluntary act unenforceable by soulless rules of purported behaviour.

Leadership without trust and belief is just management.

Clive Hyland is the CEO of Think Feel Know and author of ‘Connect Through Think Feel Know’


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