Leaders: How Fit Is Your Brain?

We’ve known for some time that leaders require higher levels of emotional intelligence as they pursue career advancement. There’s now accumulating evidence that cognitive fitness is becoming a focal area for high-achieving leaders.
Until recently, busy executives could find few guidelines for increasing mental fitness on the job. There are thousands of books about the brain’s function, but only a handful focus on how leaders can harness its powers in a business world that’s increasingly complex.
I think that’s the real challenge. At least that’s what I hear from the busy executives I coach. We now know a lot more about how the brain functions, and that we can keep it healthy and even strengthen it in the face of stress and crises. But how exactly do leaders become more mentally fit on-the-job?

Neuroscientists began to understand the brain’s intricacies after conducting imaging techniques in the 1990’s. But how can the concept of “brain fitness” be applied in real time, to real people, in real organizations? What types of brain exercises or mental push-ups can we do to stave off the loss of memory and analytic acuity that accompany stress and normal aging?
Socrates, Copernicus and Galileo continued to stretch their intellectual muscles well into their 60’s and 70’s. So have modern thought leaders like Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffet, and Sumner Redstone.
As more of us remain in the labor force past age 65, either by choice or necessity, what can we do to boost our brain power?

By the close of the 20th century, the brain had come to be envisaged as mutable across the whole of life, open to environmental influences, damaged by insults, and nourished and even reshaped by stimulation – in a word, plastic.
~ Sociologist Nikolas Rose and graduate student Joelle M. Abi-Rached, Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind (Princeton University Press, 2013)

It turns out that a lot of what we previously thought about the brain isn’t true. We’ve discovered, for example, that the brain continues to grow well into our later years through a process called “neuroplasticity.” It accommodates learning by producing new neurons, the cells that help transfer information.
With physical training, your body responds to demands by strengthening muscle groups. Similarly, the brain will expand (or not) depending on the challenges you tackle. That’s the good news.
The bad news? If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Unless, of course, you take measures to strength your brain fitness. And that’s what this series of posts is about: how leaders can improve their brain fitness.
Does this idea of brain fitness for leaders resonate with you? I’d love to hear from you.

Working for a Genius-Maker

Henry Kissinger, who served as Secretary of State under President Richard M. Nixon, was a master at extracting people’s best work.
When his chief of staff once handed in a foreign-policy report, Kissinger asked, “Is this your best work?”
His chief became worried and said he thought he could do better. Two weeks later, he turned in the report again. Kissinger repeated, “Are you sure this is your best work?”
Realizing something must have been missing, the chief rewrote the report yet again. When he handed it in, he said, “Mr. Kissinger, this is my best work.”
Upon hearing this, Kissinger replied, “Then this time I will read your report.”
Requiring people’s best work is different from insisting on desired outcomes. People become stressed when they’re expected to produce results beyond their control. They do, however, respond well to positive pressure to do their best work.
Becoming a Genius-Maker
In the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (HarperBusiness, 2010), authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown identify five principles leaders can use to bring out the best in people. Each allows workers to stretch so they can contribute greater effort and productivity.
You needn’t excel in all five disciplines to be considered a multiplier who brings out the best in your people. You must, however, master two or three disciplines and be “good enough” in the remaining ones.
Instead of trying to perfect all five disciplines, create a development plan with your executive coach [link to your coaching services page]. Pick one key area of strength and develop it to a higher level.
Next, choose an area of weakness and strive to make improvements. View your leadership effectiveness on a continuum so it can be realistically achieved.
This is straight-forward but not necessarily easy to do. Most people aren’t really good at seeing their own strengths and weaknesses. We become masters of self-deception. That’s why I highly recommend working with a trusted mentor or executive coach.

5 Ways Leaders Diminish Others

In the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (Harper Business, 2010), authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown identify some typically ineffective bosses, as well as those who manage well.
The authors divide leaders into two camps, based on the results they achieve: multipliers or diminishers. I talked about the differences in a previous post.
Diminishers, who hog the spotlight and focus on ways to boost their own careers, fall into five categories:

  1. Empire Builders who hoard resources and under-utilize talent
  2. Tyrants who create a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capabilities
  3. Know-It-All’s who issue directives that showcase how much they know
  4. Decision Makers who make centralized, abrupt decisions that confuse the organization
  5. Micro-managers who drive results through their personal involvement

The 5 Disciplines of Genius-Makers
Multipliers follow five principles to bring out the best in people. Each allows workers to stretch so they can contribute greater effort and productivity.

  1. Attract and Optimize Talent: Be a Talent Manager
        a. You attract the best people when you take full advantage of their strengths.
        b. They subsequently let other talented people know about the benefits of working on your team.
        c. Talented people seek opportunities to grow and appreciate your efforts.
  2. Create Intensity that Requires Best Thinking: Be a Liberator
        a. You create an intense environment that demands people’s best thinking and work.
        b. People flourish under the right amount of pressure and support to perform their best work.
        c. You are empathetic, yet firm about expectations for high-quality work.
  3. Extend Challenges: Be a Challenger
        a. You define an opportunity that causes people to stretch.
        b. You give them freedom to make mistakes, learn from them and be creative.
        c. Instead of giving people answers, you ask the right questions and then stay out of their way.
  4. Debate Decisions: Be a Debate Maker
        a. You drive sound decisions through rigorous debate.
        b. People own outcomes and participate in course corrections without blaming.
        c. You challenge your people to ask the right questions and debate the true issues.
  5. Instill Ownership and Accountability: Be an Investor
        a. You give other people ownership for results and invest in their success.
        b. You hold high expectations across the organization, which leads people to hold themselves and each other accountable.
        c. You provide the necessary resources for success.

Do you recognize any of these disciplines in yourself? In which areas do you excel? Where could you use some improvement? The best way to develop effective leadership skills is working with a coach who will stretch you to grow.
Questions? You can reach me here, or leave me a comment here on the blog.

The Mindset of Effective Leaders

In the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (HarperBusiness, 2010), authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown interviewed and assessed more than 150 leaders on their managerial practices.
The authors divide leaders into two camps, based on the results they achieve: multipliers or diminishers.
Leadership effectiveness can be judged on a continuum. The following table outlines the differences in these leaders’ approaches:

Challenge Diminisher’s Mindset Multiplier’s Mindset
How would you manage talent? I must closely supervise people if I want them to complete assigned tasks. If I can identify people’s genius, I can watch them succeed on their own.
 
How would you motivate for outcomes?
 
Pressure increases performance. People’s best ideas must be given, not taken.
 
How would you solve problems? I need to have all the answers. People get smarter by being challenged.
 
How would you run debates? There are only a few people worth listening to. With enough minds, we can figure it out.
 
How would you develop your people? People will never be able to figure things out without me. People are smart and will figure things out independently.

(Source: Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown)
Leading like a multiplier requires more than mimicking the approaches described above. You must believe in your people’s capabilities and trust them to use their intelligence and creativity to develop their own solutions. Act as a guide instead of an expert to achieve buy-in and self-sufficiency.
It requires that leaders truly believe that people are smart, motivated, and respond well to coaching. In the work I do leadership coaching, some are naturally supportive of others. They bring out the best in their team.
Others are concerned (unnecessarily so) that without micromanaging, things will go wrong and it will reflect poorly on them as leaders. This diminishes confidence and trust, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What’s been your experience with leaders like this, who tend to diminish rather than multiply capabilities? I’d love to hear from you; leave a comment.

Genius-Makers: How to Produce More with Less

In the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (HarperBusiness, 2010), authors Liz Wiseman and
Greg McKeown interviewed and assessed more than 150 leaders on their managerial practices. Their research sheds light on the important differences between the geniuses and the genius-makers:
o It isn’t how much you know that matters, but the access you have to what other people know.
o Team members should be smart, but success depends on how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use.
These fundamental differences in mindset separate the geniuses from the genius-makers.
People who work for genius-makers say they give more than 100 percent of their energy and abilities (often citing 120 percent). Genius-makers encourage people to stretch their capabilities and “get smarter”. Conversely, those who work for non-genius-makers report giving only 20 to 50 percent on the job.
Many leaders tackle productivity challenges by hiring more people and achieving linear growth. Genius-makers have a more efficient and cost-effective approach: They extract the capabilities of the people already employed, achieving more with the same headcount. Genius-makers know that most workers are underutilized and their aptitude can be leveraged with the right kind of leadership.
Wiseman and McKeown divide leaders into two camps, based on the results they achieve: multipliers or diminishers.
Leadership effectiveness can be judged on a continuum. Some leaders, for example, are unintentionally diminishing, but they can switch directions when armed with the right mindset and communication tools.
Leaders are likely to act on one of two extreme beliefs:
1. Diminishing leaders believe their people will never be able to figure things out without explanation from a leader who provides all the answers.
2. Multiplying leaders believe their people are smart and can come up with solutions on their own.
In the work I do corporate coaching, some are naturally supportive of others. They bring out the best in their team. Consider this concept in your own work group. Is your leader typically trying to multiply your abilities? Or diminish them? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Genius or Genius-Maker? How Smart Leaders Bring Out the Best in People

Do you work for a genius? Are your organization’s leaders really smart, and do they focus on bringing out the best in other people?

Some corporations have made hiring the most intelligent individuals a core strategy on the basis that smarter people can solve problems more quickly than the competition. But that only works if the organizations can access that intelligence. ~ Stephen R. Covey

According to surveys on engagement, most workers have greater capabilities, creativity, talent, initiative and resourcefulness than their jobs allow – or even require – them to use.
Other surveys reveal that most workers feel pressured to produce more with less.
These results are paradoxical: People are underutilized and overworked at the same time.
Fortunately, some leaders understand how to create genius within their teams: They bring out the best in people. They’re “genius-makers”.
Many bosses, however, seem to excel at draining people of their intelligence and abilities.
Management guru Peter Drucker predicted the challenge of managing knowledge workers in the 21st century:

The most valuable assets of the 20th-century company were its production equipment. The most valuable asset of a 21st -century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.

For the most part, leaders are highly intelligent and capable professionals’ traits that facilitate their promotion to management. Some, however, experience a bumpy climb up the leadership ladder. So, how does one successfully make the shift from genius to genius-maker?
Leadership consultants Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown explore this question in Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (HarperBusiness, 2010).
Some bosses make us better and smarter by eliciting and revitalizing our intelligence. Others seem to stifle intelligence and capability, always wanting to be seen as the smartest person in the room. They suck the energy out of the team, whose members end up looking or feeling dumb. IQs seem to drop, and meeting times double.
Have you ever worked for a boss like this? In the work I do coaching executives, I hear some pretty horrific stories. I’d love to hear your experiences, leave a comment!