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The ‘brained’ approach to leadership

Doing more with less has been a successful strategy in the past — at least in the short-term. It is not an effective strategy for today’s market. Most organisations have reached the point at which no additional “more” can be squeezed out of “less”. Instead, organisations that are winning in today’s marketplace are achieving constant gains in productivity and innovation.

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Traditionally, organisations could succeed by improving productivity (eg reducing supply chain cycle time) or by delivering innovation (eg, launching new products). No longer. In a global market characterised by increasingly specialised skills, cost pressures, rising customer expectations and ever more scarce resources, survival and success require delivering a more relevant product every day and doing so more creatively and more productively.

Transforming your organisation into one that is more productive and more innovative is admittedly ambitious. It is also possible. Effecting this change depends heavily on leaders’ behaviour, especially their willingness to think differently, learn continually and change habits that keep their organisations limited by past accomplishments.

Productive, innovative organisation

Organisations that operate most successfully in today’s market reflect the characteristics of high-performing teams.

These organisations are consistently forward-looking. They seize external and internal opportunities to achieve better outcomes, which they constantly identify and refine through ongoing, proactive dialogue with customers and partners (suppliers, regulators, employees and others).

Successful organisations are strategic in how they target customers, form partnerships and create and deploy teams. Their pursuit of relevant innovation is broad and deep, and is combined with rigorous testing to ensure that solutions can be delivered more efficiently.

A new culture

Improving an organisation’s innovation and productivity requires a culture that is attuned to and continually shaping the future. For example, budgets based on past experience are superseded by budgets based on forecasting.

Strategic plans are reviewed and adjusted more frequently — some as often as quarterly — to address emerging opportunities and challenges. Products are always “under construction.” There is no room for unnecessary steps, wasted time or marginally relevant services. Teams are fluid, agile and diverse and include customers, suppliers, partners and others whose collaboration can contribute fresh perspective.

Team members work closely with the organisation’s best customers to discover better solutions that anticipate customers’ emerging needs and identify the most efficient ways to deliver them. Individuals are judged by their ability to improve relevant customer outcomes, generate innovative solutions and sustain positive, productive relationships with colleagues, customers, suppliers and partners.

Using the right and left brain

Improving productivity typically requires analytical “left” brain thinking; enhancing innovation typically relies on creative “right” brain thinking. Most leaders naturally use one or the other — an inclination their organisations often mirror. Helping your organisation improve productivity and innovation will require right and left brain thinking. The more you seek, encourage and reward your opposite style, the more effectively you will help your organisation build its ability to improve productivity and innovation.

Try nourishing your intuitive vision — and supporting innovation — by strengthening your external orientation and openness to learning from wide-ranging sources. Try driving greater productivity with sound analytics, a strong team orientation and straight-talk. To do this you need to examine your thought process and raise your self-awareness. An understanding of how to tap into that right brain capacity will greatly increase your creative ability.

A great deal of research has been conducted for decades on what has become to be called brain dominance theory. The findings basically indicate that each hemisphere of the brain — left and right — tends to specialise in and preside over different functions, process different kinds of information, and deal with different kinds of problems.

Essentially, the left hemisphere is the more logical/verbal one and the right hemisphere, the more intuitive, creative one. The left deals with words, the right with pictures; the left with parts and specifics, the right with wholes and the relationship between the parts. The left deals with analysis, which means to break apart; the right with synthesis, which means to put together. The left deals with sequential thinking; the right with simultaneous and holistic thinking. The left is time bound; the right is time free.

Although people use both sides of the brain, one side or the other generally tends to be dominant in each individual. From the analysis of both hemispheres given above, which one side is dominant in you? In some training we do we normally train participants to develop the ability to have good crossover between both sides of the brain so that a person could first sense what the situation called for and then use the appropriate tool to deal with.

Leaders today need to be adept and responsive, hence the need to practice use of whole brain to cope with the ever-changing business landscape today. But people tend to stay in the “comfort zone” of their dominant hemisphere and process every situation according to either a right or left brain preference. From the studies, right brain and left brain people tend to look at things in different ways, hence leaders today need to adopt a collaborative approach of leadership.

We live in a primarily left brain-dominant world, where words and measurement and logic are enthroned, and the more creative, sensing, artistic aspect of our nature is often subordinated. Many of us find it more difficult to tap into our right brain capacity.

Mandeya is a senior executive training consultant and communication in management advisor, a personal coach in leadership and professional development at the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on lead.inst.dev@gmail.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com

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