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Royal Bank of Canada

 

 


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IN THE NEWS

Neuroleadership - The Key to Greater Career and Life Success

 

Falll 2015/Winter 2016
Corporate Meetings and Events Magazine
By: Carey-Ann Oestreicher

Three years ago, I experienced a freak accident which led to a brain injury. I didn't know it at the time, but this injury would change my life. Not just because of the severity of it, but because of the valuable lessons I would learn through my recovery and brain rehab that have taught me a lot about how I want to work and lead my life.

Recently, I was featured in the Business Section of The Globe and Mail newspaper in an article about neuroleadership.  As the CEO of my leadership and career development firm, Potential Unlimited, I work with individuals and groups of leaders who are all wanting to do more with less. They are working at a face pace with technology having them turned on 24/7, and of course, we can't forget all of our personal commitments. The reality is, we just have so many to do's in our lives that it may feel at times we are losing ourselves.

What is neuroleadership and how can you use it to help you?

Neuroleadership is knowing how to leverage your brain, and the way it works to its maximum efficiency in each moment to be a stronger leader.  Understanding the power of the brain is really fascinating, and I don't think the 'normal' person knows how to leverage their brain for success. I sure know that I had no idea before the brain injury and all the lessons that came along with it. 

In many ways, it seems our workplaces are designed to work against the brain. Fast paced is rewarded, open concept work environments with lots of stimulation are becoming the norm, and easily accessible technology has left us with little time for true brain breaks to unplug. The work I focus on with my clients is around producing results and doing it in a way that feels right for them and their brains. As such, my executive coaching takes a much more holistic approach. I really believe that we, from an organizational standpoint, have a great opportunity as we are on the forefront of neuroleadership.

Aligning our workplaces in a way that is more conducive to the principles of neuroleadership as well as teaching individual leaders how to work in this manner, therefore shifting the culture as well as their own executive capabilities is massive to preparing organizations to lead the way in the future. There is a wealth of brain info that hasn't been tapped the workplace. But, I do see a shift. Individuals I work with who are committed to rewiring their brains through the exercises I teach them and tools we use together, state it's like magic happening inside of them.  But it's not magic. We just can't see our brains re-wiring differently, but using neuroscience in the workplace is a very real competitive advantage.

Exercise is not a nice to do when it comes to neuroleadership. It is as important as anything that you do during one of your big meetings.  Regular cardiovascular exercise several times a week, not only keeps you in shape and decreases stress, but also helps flush toxins from the brain and wires neurons more efficiently. When I work with a client, we talk about exercise as part of their leadership development plan.

A study in the journal Ergonomics concluded that "Mental performance  was significantly better in the physical fit than in the un-fit. Fit workers committed 27 per cent fewer errors on tasks involving concentration and shirt-term memory as compared to un-fit workers."

There is seems to be a movement toward "hacking" our brains to improve our performance. The best way to 'hack' your brain in this regard is to pick a few healthy work habits that feel right for you, and then keep practicing them. For instance, it is best for your brain not to multitask from a leadership efficiency standpoint. The once highly desired trait of multitasking is found to be counterproductive to the brain. It will take you 25 per cent longer to complete each individual task if you try to combine tasks versus making the time to work on one single task (preferably in a closed door environment to minimize interruptions) and then take a true brain break away from the email, and then start on your new task.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. It is  all about creating healthy work habits for your brain and then continue to practice them to enforce the rewiring of your brain until it becomes second nature.

Mindfulness has been a game changer for me in the way that I lead. This has been the number one tool in helping change my brain to set me up for greater success in work, and in life. Before the brain injury, I dabbled in meditation a bit to help me clear my mind and reduce stress. But after the injury, I was involved in an in-depth mindfulness program that really is about training the brain to be in the present moment and live with full focus as you carry through your day.  It changes everything. The way you listen to people is really about hearing them and also the messages they aren't verbalizing so you can have more authentic conversations. And, there is less judgement and stress because you aren't in your head trying to assess everything.


Because of the success I was experiencing with mindfulness, I created a program, Mindfulness Leading and Living, for individuals and groups around how to learn how to rewire your brain through mindfulness to feel less stress, more focus and to cultivate stronger leadership capabilities. The added bonus is that these programs help leaders in all areas of their lives feel more fulfilled and working in a way that feels right for them versus just focusing on the to do's and checking things off the list. Totally different perspective to leading.

Research from the Yale Stress Center shows that when we are stressed, which most people jumping from one work activity to the next and not making time for mindfulness, daily exercise, play are, something interesting happens to our prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain  controls executive functioning. It actually shrinks! We have the ability to also help this area of our brains grow through wiring our brains by practicing healthy work and life choices.

My advice to people who are feeling overwhelmed or 'stuck' is to stop ramming so much 'stuff' into our days. I know this seems impossible to cut back when you already feel stretched, but I have never worked with a leader that I couldn't help them find areas to pull back on and give themselves more space. As leaders, you need to step back and think about the key areas you need to focus on, build in true brain breaks multiple times in your day, find spaces you can work with no distractions, definitely  learn mindfulness, exercise regularly, and learn to set boundaries for yourself if you feel you are constantly pushing your brain. High performance brains are like high performance race cars, if you don't stop for a pit stop, you won't be able to win the race.

Interested in working and living in a more mindful way to reduce your stress levels? Here are some exercises to try to begin to rewire your brain for more focus, peace and effectiveness.

1. Slow down. For 10 minutes each day, pick an exercise you’d normally do on autopilot such as driving or typing out emails, and slow it down to half time. Really focus on the physical sensations of touching the keyboard and the thoughts that go through your mind.

2. Deep breathing. For 3 minutes, 3 times a day, close your eyes and practice deep breathing. Breathing in through your nose and out through your nose is the best way to calm down your nervous system. This is a great way to recharge your batteries at intervals throughout the day.

3. Connect with others. Reach out to one person each day in a completely selfless way. This might be an email to check in with someone on a personal level. Or, it could be dropping off a takeout dinner gift certificate for a busy friend.  When you give away love, you receive more back.

4. Nurture your body. Several times a week focus on taking care of your body. This could be a yoga class, spa appointment or even just lying out on a lounge chair to relax.  Put down the book for a while and just feel your body.