The Platform: NeuroLeadership Summit 2008, Day 2, afternoon proceedings
The Twitter: Changing brains, changing culture, one thought leader at a time!
The Big Idea: Brain-Based Coaching facing its own new frontier!
When the functional anatomy of the brain and the central nervous system was first studied by Dr. Thomas Willis (a student of the empiricist John Locke), the intellectual mindset of 18th century British society was hardly ready to think in terms of broad evolutionary and developmental change when it comes to brain/mind relations. After all, the radical ideas of Darwinian genetics and Freudian psychoanalysis wouldn’t surface until a century later and the modern models of cognition, emotional intelligence and creative problem solving would have to wait for the information age to come about.
With history as a backdrop, the afternoon of the NeuroLeadership Summit (Day 2) focused broadly and deeply on the frontier of neuroleadership. Like any pioneer in applied science, brain-based coaches and thought leaders must face the big question:
What are the implications of bringing neuroscience to bear on the culture of leadership practiced around the globe?
Lunchtime keynote speaker Dr. Karen Stephenson penetrated the issue by zeroing in on the subtle and insidious problems that plague executive communication practices: “What can neuroscience study tell us about the brain-dynamics of “trust”?, Stephenson asks. As an anthropologist and noted “pioneer” in social network approaches to advancing corporate culture, Stephenson illustrated the large gap in understanding how “trust” figures into executive communication patterns by comparatively looking at other social networks flowing underneath the radar of top-down corporate speak.
Stephenson, in other words, did not offer a neuro-anthropological view but rather brought the topic of social systems analysis to bear on the discussion of applied neuroscience. And Stephenson was not alone. Culturally sensitive systems thinking pervaded Dr. Brent Oberholtzer’s commentary on international consulting, especially in cases where U.S. companies set up shop in cultures with remarkably different epistemic values in problem-solving. Given the decades of culture wars and post-colonial critique leveled against Western Civ., and in light of the burgeoning of the Asian market, one really starts to wonder if the brains of American business leaders are just stuck in the neurochemical default mode: FEAR.
Rethinking the paradigm and strategies of “executive talent management” thus requires time and money and in the world of coaching, scalable, verifiable, cost-effective strategies can easily guarantee a coaching account. R. Scott Ridley at American Express and Christine Williams at NASA offered choice commentary on the positive effects of “brain-based” coaching in their respective leadership development programs: Each cited the cost efficiency of coaching with neuroscience fully in mind. As Williams noted, simply educating NASA scientists in the basics of neuroscience gives them a verifiable template for reframing pleasure, pain, and fear. By bringing in one hard science to bear on another, it maximizes the potential for self-awareness and “insight” in a non-threatening manner, and in the end. teaches leaders to lead by coaching!
The Take Home Message for Day 2: In Brain-Based Coaching, there are specific means to specific ends.
David Rock, reflecting upon his brand of brain-based coaching (there are others as this blog itself suggests), closed the session with a manifesto for establishing the scientific ground and rhetorical logic of a brain-based coaching practice. As one who clearly and passionately walks his talk, Rock, the visionary thought leader recognizes the pitfalls of developing a new field. His buzz words? “Remove Redundancy!” “Maximize Efficiency and Interactivity!” “Create Sustainability!” As the two day conference revealed, the semantics of quantum physics, systems analysis, information processing and most of all the neuroscience insights into cultivating emotional intelligence by means of mindfulness practice pervade Rock’s paradigmatic thinking about coaching a new generation of leaders.
As the founding director of the GGI, an institute ground on remarkably similar values, I am moved to have discovered a kindred spirit who brilliantly and generously lights the way for others.
A Rock caveat: Teaching the skill of “reappraisal,” and helping people cultivate “insight” speaks to the core logic of the neuroleadership coaching narrative. And yet the two neuro-ed-psych motifs may be the only piece of leadership training that can stick in corporate culture at this time. “Self-awareness,” after all, is “unbelievably hard to improve” amongst corporate leaders.
Well, as the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And as it was noted in passing during the summit proceedings, the story of the neuroscience is ironically implicated in the fall of the Roman Empire. The culprit? Environmental lead poisoning in the brain.
Ah…. the interdependency of all things.
Synaptically and Mindfully yours,