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October 2011


Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders


by Srinivasan S. Pillay (Pearson Education, 2011).


What are the big take-aways?


This book explores various relationships between brain science and leadership functions. As the author promises in the first chapter, on page 3:


You will come to see what a substantial role an understanding of the brain can play in how you work with people; and why now, more than any other time in the history of building leaders, knowing how to apply knowledge of the brain in the corporate environment is an important and fundamental part of creating a context for change. This – the ability to create a context for change – is what coaching, management, and leadership are all about, and neuroscience is a critical part of this context development. [Author’s emphases.]


Why did I like it?


Partly, I just have a geeky fascination for the latest findings in neuroscience research. A great deal of new information about how our brains work is becoming available through the use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and other technologies. I have always had a lot of curiosity about the human brain; the brain’s processes are so mysterious to us, even though we all have one! As it has now been well established that our brains are “plastic” and we can change our “wiring” with practice, I am especially interested in techniques for capitalizing on this for personal and professional effectiveness.


But what I find the most interesting is how the hard scientific data is validating much of what we strengths-based leadership and organizational development adherents already know through experience and observation: leaders who are emotionally intelligent and optimistic decrease fear and anxiety in their organizations, and increase security, trust and productivity. The research presented in Your Brain and Business proves it over and over again.


The book explores – in as much or as little scientific detail as the reader wants – how different structures and functions of the brain relate to various leadership competencies and objectives. Arguing that most leaders and managers also operate as “coaches,” the author provides specific questions and tactics that a leader can use with teams and followers to get desired results (e.g., buy-in, flexibility, openness to change, innovation, and outcomes). Many of the author’s suggestions are closely aligned with appreciative inquiry and other strengths-based approaches that promote leveraging past successes, cultivating present-oriented states of mind, and motivating with future rewards. (Some of the author’s proposed “coaching” questions are unwieldy and use – what would be for many leaders and managers – an unnaturally scientific vocabulary, but the reader certainly gets the point.)


In what situations would this be useful?


This book would be most useful to leaders or managers who are already quite self-aware, and who already believe that an important function of their job is fostering the development of others. It would be particularly useful to them in fast-paced change situations. I would also recommend it to any experienced leader or manager who is interested in learning more sophisticated strategies for fine-tuning his or her communication style (especially if they have a scientific, analytical or clinical expertise). Your Brain and Business is not a blunt instrument.


The book would also be useful to leaders and managers of any level of self-awareness who just want to understand more about “what makes people tick,” and who are open to the possibility of making adjustments to their perspective on what leadership is and does.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


If you like this book – or even just think you might – for the neuroscience then I also recommend you take a look at Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library). If you are interested in a less hard-scientific but equally compelling and well-researched argument for using similar leadership strategies, I recommend Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion (also previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).


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