Neuroplasticity: Your Brain and Leadership


Jay W. Politi

Original Article Posted at Hammer's Hemisphere 2-6-11

The human brain has fascinated scientists, philosophers, educators and most every human on the planet at one time or another. The best reason for this is, quite simply, we all have one. For the vast majority of time in the human history it was agreed upon that the human brain was born with its given genetic limitations. What that means to a layman is simply that “you’ve got what you’ve got so don’t try to become something you are not”. Fortunately for all of us, there were many people that did not believe in that sort of ideology and ventured outside of their circumstances, their surroundings and their family trees to become greater than their beginnings and their supposed genetic pre-dispositions.

In 2006 the NeuroLeadership Institute was founded: “The purpose of the NeuroLeadership Institute is to encourage, generate and share neuroscience research that transforms how people think, develop and perform.” The first NeuroLeadership Summit was held in May 2007. In the very few years since its inception and the coining of the phrase “NeuroLeadership” by the Institutes co-founder David Rock neuroscientists, leadership educators and business experts have been making important connections between how the brain reacts to external stimuli such as “encouraging” management methods and negative management tactics. And how “creativity and innovation are important to leadership and the management thinking process” (NeuroLeadership Journal 2009) and the list of attributes seem to grow as fast as the human mind can think.

Motivational speakers have been flirting with the idea, for decades, that positive reinforcement or Positive Mental Attitude (Napoleon Hill) can create a new habit or way of viewing the world around us so as to see opportunities instead of challenges. Whether it be reinforcement from our colleagues, supervisors, or, you yourself, positive reinforcement definitely has a superior potential for positive results as opposed to the short lived “Do it or else” mentality or management style. While, the underlying question may be “why does this have an effect on us?” I believe that the better question may be “how” does this have an effect on us? What is it that happens in the brain when negative stimuli are received as opposed to the positive stimuli? What is intriguing about The “NeuroLeadership” aspect is that we all have the ability to effect change and by learning about how the brain works (our own and others) we can command our responses and our methods in a way that can have far reaching positive effects.

The difference from the old way of thinking about the “static” brain, that it “is what it is” , and what we know today, is that the brain has been found to have the ability to actually change itself physically. This ability to change itself is called “neuroplasticity”. Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. in his book “The Mind and The Brain”, he states that “neuroplasticity refers to the ability of neurons to forge new connections, to blaze new paths through the cortex, even to assume new roles. In, shorthand, neuroplasticity means rewiring the brain”. We must now begin to educate ourselves and understand how information is processed and used by our brains so we can use it to become better Leaders. Changing how we process and then respond to what we receive is the key to how we react and since we now know that the brain “can change itself physically” then we now have the real keys to success as managers and leaders. We just need to learn how to use them to “turn people on” so as to get their brain to execute in ways that they have not in the past. We have known this to be true for decades and even Albert Einstein once said “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used to create those problems”. So, with new information in hand about the brain we now can set a new course in management, based in facts, that will help individuals, teams, educators and companies to realize far greater results when we “manage with the brain in mind” (Rock).

The reason that the interest is climbing to new levels in the NeuroLeadership field seems to be as much the result of ongoing scientific research as it does the need for managers to find a way to move their companies from Point A to Point B. The “Execution” of programs and systems or strategies has been limited to using certain methods to increase the “likelihood” of Execution of those systems. However, the manner in which people or Teams, in a corporate setting, view the information (in their mind’s eye for instance) varies as much as the different strategies that companies try to implement. The “Missing Link” in Execution is how the brain reacts to stimuli, and in particularly, how the NeuroLeadership categories of decision making, problem solving, emotional regulation, collaboration with others and facilitating change perfectly complement each other. Without the controlled understanding of what is happening inside of the brain and how the stimulus, whether positive or negative, will impact an individual or Teams ability to “Execute”, companies will forever be in the quandary of trying to use their “next great plan”. NeuroLeadership is a stable footing on which to build success.

As more brain research comes to the surface we will come to fully understand where we are today and what the possibilities are for the future in Management and Leadership. Moving from “Thought to Execution” (Hammer’s Hemisphere 2010) by using the NeuroLeadership techniques as a guide we will help managers today, Teams today and companies today to move forward with permanent results not just spikes in the quarterly report. So, I recommend that we begin the educational process today.

Jay W. Politi

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Author's Bio: 

Jay Politi has over 20 years experience in management with a focus in sales, marketing and finance in supply chain, retail and financial services organizations. He is, also, an active member in the Neuro Leadership Institute which is breaking new ground in our ability to transform human and workplace performance.

For the last 6 years he has worked for Torchmark Corp subsidiaries working his way up from Agent, Unit Manager, Branch Manager to Senior Vice President. As the Senior Field Vice President for Liberty National Life and United American Insurance companies, he supervised 5 Field Vice Presidents, 16 Regional Vice Presidents and oversaw daily operation of the field force which grew to nearly 10,000 agents and over 500 managers in more than 200 offices nationwide. He created the sales activity models used by agents nationwide as well as a structured promotion program that induces employees to reach for the next level which by their attaining their individual goals allows the company to achieve its goals. He was instrumental in the development of a structured high volume recruiting program and managed the branch expansion program which helped to drive the company to a record level of producing agents. The hard work and dedication of the agents and managers to use the accountability and management strategy systems that were installed gave the company one of the largest sales increases in it's 110 year history.
The training of individuals using these systems was and continues to be conducted in small and large group settings from 10 to 500 participants. He has done over 2,000 public presentations.
Currently, he is the Senior Vice President of Liberty National and has a high profile role reporting directly to President/CEO in day to day operations including but not limited too - overall company profitabilty, growth, sales and marketing, training program development and product development from the Torchmark home office in McKinnney, Tx.

Completing Masters of Science in Neuroscience of Leadership, Neuro Leadership Institute Member , Sales, Marketing, System Analysis, Accountability System Implementation, high volume recruiting, training systems, change management. Franklin Covey 4 Disciplines of Execution Certified, Leadership Development to Results Based Activity, linking Thought to Execution