Leaders today experience a disconnect between classic leadership skills and the speed and pace of a volatile, connected world. What does it mean to be authentic today? To be as close as you can be to who you really are, while at the same time delivering what followers need in a global, networked world? My intent is to provoke debate on this critical topic.

How Best Practice Learning Methods Work in the Brain

Have you ever sat in a classroom as an adult, wondering why you were being asked certain questions, or invited to participate in certain activities?  As an educator, have you ever been asked the reasoning behind your exercises and been stumped for an answer?  Listening to Harvard’s Dr Srini Pillay (author of Life Unlocked) speak in London in March helped me to make direct links between a whole series of best practice executive education techniques and what happens in the brain.  All this is captured in short form in the table below.  I hope it answers some questions for you!

Adult Learning Activity Why It Works in the Brain
Action Learning and Business Projects

Experimenting using serial hypotheses allows the brain to operate without being frozen by fear. Encourages divergent thinking and thus creativity

Experiential learning and physical activities Forces the brain to close the learning loop itself, encouraging the positive cycle of engaging the pre-frontal cortex in thinking; attaching an emotion to the event through the amygdala; and laying down memory in the hippocampus, available to be retrieved later
Mindfulness and reflection Quietens the amygdala, stops the individual becoming paralysed by fear. Allows meaningful space to encourage true self-insight and thus enables improved self-management and creativity
Instructor asking questions Learner prompts ownership and greater recall of the learning, allowing for brain regions to integrate learning and remember it rather than offload it
Activities to encourage self-confidence and personal resilience Fear is the emotion most easily experienced, confidence and resilience reduce the temptation for the individual to cling to the status quo

Create a safe environment where learners can acknowledge and combat stress. Support individuals in learning how to learn as well as how to unlearn

Too much stress prevents learning entirely
Focus on the positive, for example, build on your strengths If asked to suppress a thought such as the name of an animal (for example, ‘do not think of a white bear’), it takes time for an individual to stop focusing on the forbidden thought. Focusing on the negative interrupts learning and change
Johari Window Imagining how our brain is physically changing can improve learning – so bringing the unconscious box into conscious conversation can help us learn and change
Be goal aware, not goal driven – expect goals to change over time Goals by themselves do not motivate inasmuch as we are motivated by conscious and unconscious impressions of ourselves. Brain science offers very specific scaffolding for managing goals, with specific interventions for brain targets in order to manage these goals effectively
Alignment and collaboration among leaders to lead ‘one company’ together and support culture change Once embedded, fear becomes a systemic issue and has to be tackled at the organizational, as well as the individual, level
Teach the fundamentals of psychology and brain science—we are all brain specialists of a certain kind Enable individuals to recognize and avoid psychological traps that keep them in negative emotional learning loops
360 feedback in a feedback rich environment where learning through failure is permitted Allows the individual to acknowledge flaws without fear and to achieve deep personal change