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The Neuroscience Behind Leadership

In just a matter of weeks I’ll be taking to the sky, travelling from Cambridge UK to the other side of the world, visiting Australia for my first time. I’m incredibly excited about my trip hosted by the prestigious Institute of Managers and Leaders. I’ll be visiting the East Coast cities: Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra. There I will be unlocking the mysteries of the mind to discuss how neuroscience findings can help better inform leaders and managers for business.

How do our minds operate? How does our unique perception of the world shape our decision-making? How do fear and stress affect our behaviour? How can neuroscience knowledge help promote creativity and problem solving? What can we do to refine our focus and attention? We’ll be answering these questions and more during the sessions.

Knowledge is power, I strongly believe! And so, as we understand more about the brain, how it shapes our behaviour, we can be empowered and flourish, as both individuals and as companies. During my visit I’m also hoping to literally dive into the minds of leadership professionals, reading their brainwaves live on stage using an EEG machine, to help unravel the thinking behind our decision-making.

So, why now? We currently live in the era of the brain: a recent revolution in technology allows us to peer into the mind as never before. We can visualise the architecture and operation of the brain, in fine detail, as the world is navigated and our sense of self formed. As a result, we are discovering that certain complex behaviours are ingrained, whilst others are skills that can be built on and improved. Neuroscience is also helping us to understand more precisely the nature of what it means to be conscious, and to live with the ability to form a subjective view. We’ll explore the ramifications of this, how it can sometimes lead to conflict, and how to help prevent it. We’ll also discuss the emerging fields studying the science of altruism and compassion and the relevance for business environments. Through neuroscience, we are learning how to open minds to more productive collaborations. These findings build on research from the disciplines of theology, psychology, sociology and philosophy and provide the lens through which we can have a mechanistic understanding of the very nuts and bolts that makes us, well, us! The results and have vast implications at the level of both the individual and society.

I’m really looking forward to my trip. I’m hoping to also discover new ways of thinking about the brain from you, the business leaders, learning from your perspective.

On that note I would love for you to take part in little experiment! Listen to the below audio track.

It’s tricky to understand, right? In fact, it’s complete gobbledegook! Now listen to this second track. Poor camel! Now play back the first track again. Suddenly it makes sense, right?

First Track:

Second Track: 

The cadence of both sentences is the same. This happens because our brains are both awe inspiringly sophisticated and mesmerising in their action, but also inherently lazy, always trying to take short cuts in their processing in order to make assumptions about the world. As a result the brain superimposes your previous experience of making sense from the sentence with the similar cadence onto the first gobbledegook track. This simple audio illusion helps us to understand how our perception of the world is built from a culmination of our highly individual life experiences. It also helps us to appreciate how we can each hold such wildly conflicting views of the world and why consensus building can be so tricky. Such consensus building, taking onboard other people’s perspectives, is vital for leadership and management and we’ll be exploring how neuroscience can also help us achieve that. I’m really looking forwards to discussing this and more, meeting you shortly in Australia!

Dr Hannah Critchlow is an internationally-acclaimed neuroscientist with a background in neuropsychiatry. She is best known as the presenter of BBC’s Tomorrow’s World Live as well as for her work demystifying the human brain on regular radio, TV and festival platforms. Hannah’s work in science communication saw her named as a Top 100 UK scientist by the Science Council and one of Cambridge University’s most ‘inspirational and successful women in science’. During her PhD she was awarded a Cambridge University Fellowship and as an undergraduate received three University Prizes as Best Biologist.


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