Effective leadership is about art and science

Effective Leadership is a Mix of Art and Science

“The only thing that is constant is change.”


When it comes to leadership, truer words were never spoken. Effective leadership is about so much more than a set of skills we can memorize to get people on board with our ideas.

Being an Effective Leader is a Life-Long Pursuit

In my experience, it’s a life-long pursuit to enhance the value for the entire organization and to understand how the human brain is wired to handle the one given in every company: change.

In that light, here are two questions you as a leader might consider asking yourself:

  1. Am I effectively guiding my team to achieve all it’s capable of?
  2. How well do I influence change when necessary?

Part of being an effective leader is the ability to continually adapt to our ever-changing environment and to guide those we lead to do the same.

Enter: The Neuroscience of Leadership

In The Neuroscience of Leadership, authors Rock and Schwartz explain a key link between neuroscience and effectively leading organizational transformation. How on earth can imaging technologies like fMRI’s, PET’s, and QEEG’s aid your ability to effectively lead change?

As leaders, we may believe human behavior works in a certain way. In reality, science tells a different story and helps to shed light on why many change initiatives often fall short of expected outcomes.

The authors are quick to point out that none of this suggests that leadership is solely a science – they fully recognize there is a definite art and skill to effective leadership. Instead, they assert that those who grasp a bit of cognitive science can lead change most successfully.

Effective Leadership is a Mix of Art and Science

In essence, it’s that blend of “art” with “scienceEffective leadership is about art and science” that may offer the greatest opportunity for advancements at your organization. To be sure, many of the world’s most successful organizations have been doing this for years.

Once thought of as contrary to everyday leadership or even flat out incorrect, the authors highlight the following points relating to organizational change, summarized below. I strongly recommend you read through the entire article to deepen your understanding:

Five Interesting Conclusions on Leadership

1- Change is…difficult…challenging…demanding. However you want to describe it, organizational change can be uncomfortable. And there is never a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

2- Behaviorism may not be the best approach. According to the authors, “the carrot and the stick” approach based on traditional incentives and threats just doesn’t work.

3- Humanism? The benefits might be exaggerated. Though it can work at times, connection and persuasion may not be all that’s needed to sufficiently engage people enough to accept change.

4- Your power lies in your ability to focus. Professionals in different functions (i.e. finance versus marketing) “have physiological differences that prevent them from seeing the world the same way.”

5- Expectation molds reality. Akin to the placebo effect, our expectations really can influence our experiences. Think of the impact this has in leadership.

Neuroscience Can Help Us Think About Leadership Differently

When I’ve written about leadership before, I’ve suggested how studies and articles such as these clearly demonstrate how challenging it can be to change the ways of an entire organization.

In a sense, the ability to effectively lead truly is a union between skill and science. As David Rock explains in his Psychology Today article, neuroscience is helping us to fill gaps in our understanding of leadership, allowing us to examine the components of what leaders do.

Research, he says, has often been chockful of surprises that are making us rethink many things. For instance Rock suggests, “Rethinking our understanding of how we solve complex problems could save thousands of hours wasted in dead-end meetings.”

How can you take this knowledge and apply it in a way that enhances your leadership abilities?

Effective leadership solutionsHere are five takeaway tips for you today:  

  1. Stay current with emerging research. Effective leadership is a life-long pursuit to enhance value for the entire organization. Staying current with new breakthroughs in research can help you guide your organization most effectively through life’s one constant: change.
  2. Use neuroscience to your advantage. For successful organizational change, you may not need to understand the intricacies of it all. But it is crucial to understand that one person’s brain will be pre-wired to resist change, while another’s will be wired to accept it.
  3. Remember that expectation shapes reality. Our preconceptions have a significant impact on what we perceive to be true. Knowing the issues ahead of time can help you reshape those expectations so that change is more easily accepted.
  4. Keep checking in with yourself. Is your leadership helping your team to achieve all it’s capable of? Do you really understand how to effectively influence change when necessary? What might you rethink so you can improve outcomes?
  5. Practice guiding versus dictating. The human brain wants to meet the challenge of change by focusing on solutions rather than problems, coming to its own answers, and discovering its own insights. Gently guiding rather than boldly dictating can assist in effective problem-solving.

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