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Monday Morning Manager

In a complex world, leaders need a broader mindset Add to ...

Management experts who focus on the increasingly complex world in which decisions must be made are fascinated by new learning from the field of neuroscience that may help with such decision-making.

Suzanne Lahl and Terri Egan bring the ideas together in an interesting formulation they use in their consulting work, and which they shared in a recent issue of Graziado Business Review.

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The two are partners in a leadership consulting firm, even though Ms. Lahl lives in Maui, Hawaii, and Dr. Egan is in California, where she is an associate professor of applied behavioural science and director of the master of science in organizational development program at Pepperdine University.

They observe that most people now find themselves living in a volatile, complex, uncertain and ambiguous world.

“The pace of the world has outstripped where we are as human beings,” Dr. Egan explained in an interview. “Any leadership development has to help people develop bigger minds that can match the world we’re in.”

This bigger mindset, the consultants say, includes not only the traditional analytical approach as well as the soft stuff – such as navigating workplace relationships. It involves tapping into five elements of ourselves, which they group under the acronym SPINE:

Spiritual: Developing a sense of meaning, purpose, and community at work.

Physical: Understanding how to manage well-being and energy, and using your body as signalling system.

Intellectual: This is the mind component, being comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, and thinking systemically.

Intuitive: Our ability to see patterns in unrelated data, which serves as a source of creativity and insight.

Emotion: We want to control emotions in the workplace, but we need to learn to value emotions as information – to be able to regulate emotions and be attuned to ourself and others.

The consultants have developed a short assessmentthat asks questions about whether you are comfortable with ambiguity, find that your emotions have an impact on your energy, and have the courage to act on your values.

“We see many leaders who are intellectually quite evolved but their emotional self is not fully evolved,” Ms. Lahl noted in an interview. To help this emotional self evolve, to develop your SPINE, they urge you to:

– Take the opportunity each day to look for inspiration and meaning in your work.

– Develop a map of your physical signalling system. Note what gives you energy and what depletes you. Pay attention to what your body is telling you about the decisions that you are making.

– Expand your problem-solving circle to include perspectives that are different from your own.

– Take time every day to develop your intuition by spending time in nature, with no focus and no agenda.

– Spend a week paying attention to what kind of impact your emotions have on your thinking and performance.

If you struggle with some areas of SPINE, neuroscience offers heartening advice. It is possible to change, to reprogram your behaviour – if you have the will and desire. “It calls for the passion that allows us to go beyond our comfort zones,” Ms Lahl said.

Beyond the SPINE approach, they highlight three other capabilities that can help you handle complex situations.

The first is “dynamic attention,” which refers to deliberately breaking the multitasking habit. Create a distraction-free workplace, and in a trial week, set aside 20 minutes every day where your attention is focused on one item, noting what changes within you or in your productivity. Over the next two weeks, build up to an hour-long distraction-free zone. Research about awareness, they note, shows that we can only change ourselves if we create periods of dynamic attention.

The second is “strategic clarity.” This refers to our ability to step back and assess a situation, challenge our current understanding, seek additional information, incorporate new insights, and take action. This will involve understanding your past, because unprocessed memories can drive our choices. Ms. Lahl talks about the part of herself that gets antsy in meetings and starts daydreaming, and another part that wants everything to be neat and orderly, with all tasks checked off. “If my wise self is not in control of that, I can burn out,” she said.

The third capability is “authentic collaboration.” This means creating communities in the workplace so that you’re not alone in dealing with the complex, volatile world and are able to react in an agile way.

“The world is becoming increasingly complex and that won’t change soon,” Dr. Egan summed up. “We each have a choice and obligation to work with ourselves and others so we can have the impact we want.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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