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Rising Importance of Neuroscience in HR Leadership



Ever since I was a teenager, I have always wanted to understand why? Why do we do the things we do? What shapes and defines our behavior? Can we change this? Essentially, what does it mean to be human. Now I can’t tell you why a 14-18-year-old was thinking these thoughts but I can tell you the deep intrinsic motivation to learn more and how the answers to these questions have helped me become a tremendous leader.

Over the last two decades, in parallel, I have become deeply curious about business, technology, leadership and how fundamentally changing the behavior through understanding neuroscience can impact all three. I believe that technology, in many ways, is a reflection of humanity, and is helping us to understand ourselves better. I believe in business its our responsibility to care for others, support others to help us create new products and services. And I slowly came to realize that leadership was one big game of psychology – in a good way and understanding the minds of those you are leading can benefit you. This life-long curiosity, grounded in human psychology and philosophy takes my understanding only so far. So when I discovered neuroscience and its relationship to leadership, it opened up a completely different perspective of human exploration and a greater depth of learning. Taking my awareness to a whole new level!

Expectations from HR leadership

As a leader, I understand and appreciate the importance of curiosity, self-awareness, collaboration, performance, agility, and innovation. It’s our job as HR leaders to understand why diving into curiosity is a good thing but knowing when to and when not to is key. I understand that having high levels of self-awareness helps me see around corners as it pertains to human decisions thus learning more about neuroscience and my own personal self-awareness for that matter; has helped me teach employees that I lead how to find more of themselves. I realized that if my employees know and understand more of who they are when the time comes to develop IDP plans or engage in L&D conversations or any other growth metrics their inputs will be thoughtful and supportive. I also understand that collaboration, performance agility and innovation are all keys as it pertains to work performance and neuroscience helps tremendously with learning how to understand emotions when combating. Or knowing how to judge performance when its review time or better yet, understanding how to drive performance but knowing their core “threat and reward response (upset, scared, sad, annoyed, confused / things that make them happy, motived, excited). All in all, what I need and expect from HR leadership is entirely different now based on my understanding of neuroscience. 

What does this mean for organizations/businesses? And how have the changes in the last decade evolved the way we now need to lead our businesses?

Organizations and those that lead organizations — we need to get ready today, for tomorrow!

Our businesses need us and our teams to consistently deliver our best performance, quarter after quarter, year on year in a fast-moving world of increasing uncertainty. To satisfy changing customer demands, businesses must be continuously innovating to stay ahead, developing new products and services, and innovating new and better internal ways of working.

In order to do this, we cannot do it alone. In this era, we must collaborate together. Internally with our peers, our teams and externally with new partnerships (start-ups) and new technologies. For some organizations, this way of thinking and looking at organizational development is a radical shift. With this in mind, let’s understand the impact on our brain circuitry when we receive old-style organizational leadership behaviors, the need for command and control don’t work anymore.

These old-style behaviors induce fear, anxiety, and stress, which activates the hormone cortisol in the brain. Cortisol closes down the effective functioning of the prefrontal cortex; our big thinking, ideas and concepts, connecting the dots part of the brain. Fear also encourages us to have negative thought processes. To combat this requires focus, mental agility, and self-awareness to train yourself to avoid these negative emotions. Which is essential for our creative thought process and insight. With the Facebooks of the world, the Amazon’s of the world taking over so many market places we don’t have time and surely can’t afford to have the brain shutting down and closing off the ability to think big, innovative and out of the box concepts. If this happens you will for sure lose talent and losing talent correlates to falling behind! 

The exact opposite of this is needed, a modern amazing workplace! Through a deep level of understanding of neuroscience and HR & Organizational leadership, we can now deploy new strategies for the enablement of our brain, and our whole self, to function at its very best, more consistently. Function at higher levels that will help us lead more people and build bigger and faster organizations effectively.

Anthony Vaughan from Baltimore, Volunteer Staff at Impact Hub Baltimore. A serial entrepreneur and start up consultant, is an avid speaker and podcast host. Anthony has a keen interest with helping brands and organizations in implementing thoughtful HR.

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