Understanding our Brains to Generate Extraordinary Performance

The brain is essentially a machine for finding connections, associations and links to previous experiences, and knowledge gained. What is commonly referred to, as memories are actually neural pathways or circuits. Neuro-scientists also refer to these circuits as “maps”. These maps are pictures of our experiences that are stored deep in the brain and can be accessed on demand. Mapping a new idea map on our existing maps is constantly creating new maps. When we hear a new idea or a new way of approaching a problem the brain compares this new map to all of the existing maps in a fraction of a second. If they new map is consistent with our existing ones the new one is created and stored and becomes part of who we are. If not it is dismissed as not making sense or not useful to store (more on this later and its important link to change initiatives and leadership). The brain likes to create order out of chaos as it makes a million new connections every second as it likes everything to be orderly and fit together so that it can serve its purpose of predicting outcomes. This unique predictive ability of our brains is an important aspect in separating us from the remainder of the animal kingdom. So why is this important in leadership? As leaders, our primary purpose is to empower others to be as great as they can be. As such, knowing this about our brains is critical in finding ways of allowing people to create new maps which impact their performance, as research shows that advice, even good advice is rarely taken. Think of giving advice to someone on for example how to lose weight. How often is it taken and used? So how do people create new maps? New maps are created when we have an insight. An insight is a rare moment when something goes “clunk” or when we have what is sometimes referred to as an “aha moment”. These aha moments exist when various ideas become linked in our brains to form a new mental map or neural pathway. Recent studies indicate that creating new maps chews up the brains resources, as it requires comparing, associating and matching maps that we currently have. An aha moment can be recognized in another by observing physical reactions such as they will stop talking, facial expressions change and they will usually look up and to the left, left speechless as the adage goes. When people have an insight they are thinking for themselves, which is required for people to take committed action as it generates inertia due to the energy required to do the thinking. So our job as leaders is to find ways of having others have these aha moments as having them generates the energy in the brain to be motivated and willing to take action. Leaders are people who are capable in helping others make their own connections by helping them think instead of doing the thinking for them. This is an important aspect of having performance show up and in creating a performance culture. So how do leaders use the latest research on how our brains work and in helping people do their own thinking? The place to look is in language. More on this next week. In the meantime, think about how you would talk to a sales person for example around performance, lets say missing his required numbers. What would you say in a conversation to impact performance?

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Integral Performance