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The neuroscience of leadership

Doctor David Rock wants to build a common platform for human development computations

A project to improve leadership by understanding human brain functions is underway at the NeuroLeadership Institute in Sydney.

Speaking at Oracle’s CloudWorld conference in Melbourne, Doctor David Rock said that he wants to build a common platform for all types of human development brain computations.

“What we’re looking at is building a more accurate language for leadership and teaching that language to managers,” he told delegates.

“We have a real challenge in leadership development right now in terms of how we teach people to be better managers. For example, you go to a [leadership] class and you learn that you should have conversations with people one way while other people might get taught something different in another class.”

According to Rock, management leadership is “just a mess”. For example, companies use one model for conflict and another model for growing people.

The Institute has conducted research on how to increase innovation amongst C-level executives and managers. For example, Rock said that approximately 35 per cent of people have their best creative moments in the early morning. “The minute they get to work that plummets to 8 per cent and doesn’t go back up,” he said.

In addition, the workplace has a factor on people’s creativity and leadership thinking.

The Institute conducted a survey in 2013 with 6000 Australians. They were asked where they did their best work and only 10 per cent of respondents said this took place in the office.

“If you are thinking about going open plan, there are financial benefits with this, but you can pretty much bet on a 15 per cent drop in productivity and 32 per cent drop in well-being,” said Rock. “If you let people work from home more, you get about a day a week more of productivity out of them.”

He suggested that enterprises let managers who have to think about or write their company’s business strategy work at home early in the week. According to Rock, this is because creative people work best on Monday or Tuesday after resting over the weekend.

Social media and the brain

Turning to social media in the workplace, Rock said that it is a “double edged sword” for companies. This is because social issues are deeply important to the brain, leading to the potential for social media addiction.

“When your reputation is attacked online you are getting a similar reaction in the brain as physical pain. When someone says something nice about you, the pleasure centre of the brain lights up,” he said.

“It’s a pure drug in a sense because it’s rewarding to the brain.”

However, the popularity of social media is also leading to what Rock referred to as “empty neural calories”, literally junk food for the brain.

In a blog post called Are our minds going the way of our waists?, he wrote that people are digesting neural calories – such as entertainment/gossip news – that causes a dopamine burst in the brain.

While the dopamine burst makes people feel happy or rewarded, it can also distract people from their work, he said.

“Telling people they can’t work on social media is going to be challenging but you can develop road rules for using it. If you’re in sales, think about spending 30 to 60 minutes a day on social media. If you’re in accounting, don’t go there at all,” he joked.

Hamish Barwick attended the CloudWorld conference as a guest of Oracle

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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