05: How Brain Science Can Change Your Life & Make You A Better Leader

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Unlocking Your Leadership Potential Through Brain Science
In this episode, Dr Srini Pillay introduces his work in the area of brain science, offering powerful concepts and techniques that are not only life-changing, but can also strengthen leadership skills. Dr. Srini Pillay is CEO of NeuroBusiness Group (NBG), voted one of the "Top 20 Movers and Shakers" in leadership development in the world by Training Industry in 2013. Srini is also Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and award-winning author of "Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear" as well as "Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders" and "The Science Behind The Law of Attraction".

Key Learnings From This Episode

  • What is Neuroscience? A broad construct that refers to the science of the nervous system. Srini specifically teaches how to change blood flow to improve personal and business outcomes. Understanding our own brains and how we impact the brains of other people is critical today for the field of leadership development.
  • Brain science can be taught on its own, but it can also be used to explain other concepts like soft skills and making an abstract idea more concrete. It can also expand on, and extend prior findings.
  • Brain science basic constructs:
    • We have a feeling (emotional) brain and thinking brain. When we understand the interactions between the two, it can help to advance leadership development.  When you have anxiety that impacts the emotional brain, the metaphorical earthquakes can result in “aftershocks” in the thinking brain. Leaders can benefit by understanding the thinking and emotional brain connections, learning how to redirect blood flow back from the anxiety center to the thinking brain.
    • Conscious and unconscious phenomena. If you recognize it, talk about and feel it, you know it’s conscious. However, more than 90% of the work done by the brain is occurring outside of consciousness – in the unconscious. Brain science can help leaders understand the unconscious things that stand in the way of them being their greatest selves. By integrating what we know about psychology with human science, we can develop targeted methods that can help us improve/reach our goals.
  • On leadership: Srini’s favorite definition of leadership comes from Warren Bennis who studied leaders for many decades. “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.” No matter what you are doing, no matter what you are changing in the brain, if you are authentic and can fully express yourself, you will be more likely to recover from errors, to stick with a program and not get distracted. The big challenge in self-expression is that you have to juggle your own needs as a leader with those of the organization. Brain science can tell us a lot about how to do this to align the two.
  • Technique of self-talk (speaking out loud to yourself). Your brain can change (it’s called neuroplasticity). It allows you to do things to change the neuro connections that are underlying your feeling and thinking. Self-talk is a method that involves talking out loud to yourself so you can send a different or clearer message to your brain at strategic moments. Leaders can encourage themselves and their teams by using self-talk to change the brain.
  • Ironic process theory. Under stress, your brain does not hear the word “not” and will do the opposite of what you want. Studies show that people act in the opposing way when behavior is expressed in terms of what they don’t want to do versus what they want to do.
    • Roger Federer or Serena Williams talking to themselves “Come on, you can do this!” It is effective. It can lower stress and it is better when you do it in the second person. “Serena, come on, you can do this.”
    • Use the pronoun “you” and tell yourself positive things – what you want to do versus what you don’t want to happen.
  • Managing stress and anxiety using CIRCA to protect your anxious brain. "You often can't change what life is offering you, but you can change the way in which you are receiving it." Anxiety can disrupt your thinking brain and your ability to work (make decisions, innovate, assess risks). Srini recommends the pneumonic CIRCA to calm the brain down – to shift blood from the anxiety center to the thinking brain:
    • C – Chunking tasks through self-talk to calm an overloaded/overwhelmed brain.
    • I – Ignoring mental chatter by practicing mindfulness techniques daily. Takes the attention off racing thoughts and narratives.
    • R – Reality check (is short for this too will soon pass). How long will this last? How will I manage?
    • C - Control check is like the serenity prayer. Identify what things you can and cannot control and let go of those you cannot.
    • A - Attention shift. Taking your brain’s flashlight away from the problem and shifting it to solution. How can I get to the solution? Who else can help me?
  • Amygdala and unconscious anxiety. Stress can be helpful in getting things done, but after a while, you get diminishing returns. Anxiety can activate the amygdala (the guard dog of the human brain), causing it to overreact and generate narratives (chatter). Rather than engaging it, use CIRCA to quieten those narratives. Unconscious anxiety – anxiety can attack you under the radar, even when you are not aware of it. Demonstrated this principle through the cortical blindness study, which revealed that the unconscious brain can pick up fear and anxiety, activating the amygdala of people who cannot see. If you find yourself slowing down, hitting a wall, easily fatigued, even though you can’t feel anxiety you may be experiencing unconscious anxiety and it can be addressed by using CIRCA.  
  • Leadership development & leadership synchrony: Srini has applied concepts of emotional intelligence and empathy with diverse business groups including engineers who grasped these concepts because they aren’t ‘fuffy’ but instead, are based on brain science. He has worked in a variety of functions, organization levels, and industries, including consulting, defense, insurance, non-profits. Can be used to identify future leaders and to identify psychological biases.

    Leadership synchrony. You can identify who a leader is by looking at their brainwaves because they can synchronize their brains with their followers. Has offered techniques to achieve synchrony.

"You often can't change what life is offering you, but you can change the way in which you are receiving it."

“Brain science can tell us a lot about how we can juggle our own needs with the needs of the organization, so we come into synchrony or alignment with that organization."

Dr Srini Pillay HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Dr Srini Pillay HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 8:00am
Kyle O'Connor
Dr Srini Pillay
HR Studio Podcast