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How Neuroscience Can Make Better Leaders

written by Ray Williams April 22, 2019
How Neuroscience Can Make Better Leaders

Leaders today must understand and apply the knowledge of neuroscience to manage organizational change successfully. In the past, efforts at organizational change which have focused on the structural aspects of organizations have systematically failed because they have neglected the reality that change doesn’t happen without individual people changing their thinking, beliefs and behavior.

What Is Neuroscience?

Neuroscience is a discipline that studies the development, the physical structures, and the chemical functions of the nervous system. One important question that neuroscience seeks to answer is how the human brain responds chemically to certain thoughts or events. Research has been made possible by advances in technology, including the development of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. Using fMRI, scientists can actually see which parts of a subject’s brain have been activated or deactivated.

Questions and Issues That Neuroscience Raises in Relation to Leadership and Organizations
  • How does brain function affect leadership behavior?
  • What are some conventional and traditional leadership practices and behaviors that are not supported by neuroscience research?
  • How should neuroscience research evidence influence or change the recruitment, training and evaluation of leaders in organizations?

The Research

A challenge for the examination of neuroscience and leadership is how to technologically examine the topic. The technology associated with neurological assessment and research has advanced greatly in recent years. A number of techniques are now available to investigate brain activity that may be relevant to effective leadership behavior. For research purposes, two of the more popular ones are functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG). These techniques vary in terms of their precision and exact capabilities, but nevertheless represent a large improvement over past techniques in their ability to detect and quantify key aspects of brain activity. A key challenge for researchers is to attempt to make theoretical connections between brain activity and overt leadership behavior and qualities. Without such theory, research endeavors might simply involve searches for relationships between vaguely conceived neurological variables on the one hand and traditional, psychometrically based measures of leadership on the other.

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