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5 Brain Based Learning Strategies for Leadership Effectiveness

By Christina Haxton (1457 words)
Posted in Management on April 4, 2013

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By Christina Haxton, Speaker, Author & Executive Coach, Sustainable Leadership, Inc.

The way we communicate determines our ablity to engage, motivate and inspire creativity in our team.  Unfortanately, the skills needed to communicate effectively are sometimes lost because what we see and hear in ourselves as a leader is not always the same as what our employees experience during conversations and meetings.  By using Brain Based Learning Strategies we can develop a new understanding of our approach and the impact it has on results.  Coming to terms with how we lead is the first step to improving our effectiveness and ability to develop into a Sustainable Leader, one that can face challenges and drive his or her team to success over the long haul.

Here is an example of Brain Based Learning, self evaluation and creating a new mindset for improved leadership effectiveness:

It was Jeff's third team meeting this week, and after this particularly long meeting he was beyond frustrated. "Why can't they just get it right? How many times do I have to tell them what I want? Why don't they get it? Are they that stupid? Or do they just not give a damn?"


I let him finish his rant. Then in a quiet and calm voice, I said "Jeff, when you're ready, I'd like to ask you a question." Jeff is a newly promoted Senior Manager for a Fortune 500 IT company and we were in the second month of his executive coaching engagement.  He appreciated a direct, no B.S. approach and I was grateful he trusted me (and he didn’t let his ego get in the way) so I could be honest with him right out of the gate.


"I'm sorry I for yelling, I'm just frustrated." This wasn’t the first time he’d lost his temper in the past couple of months, which was why I was called in to work with Jeff.  I’d seen how this goes many times before:  If he wasn’t willing to change his style of communication, he would be headed back down the corporate ladder – a painful slide. If he was open to a few brain-based learning strategies, Jeff could become a Sustainable Leader instead of a has-been.


"I can see how you could feel frustrated, Jeff.  How about we look at the meeting from the team's perspective?  Maybe that'll show us a solution." Jeff was calmer now and he was breathing (he was holding his breath when he was ranting at the beginning of our coaching session), which was an important physical sign that his brain was able and ready to process a better question and hear what I had to say ...


I then asked Jeff, "What would be a sign that one or two team members 'got it right' and you knew they understood the importance of this Project?" "Well, first of all, someone would speak up when I asked a question. Another thing is I would hear their excitement about the Project. Most importantly, they would get me the information I need when I ask and meet my deadlines!"


Repeating Jeff''s signs of success, I said “You would hear them speak up when you asked a question.  You would see and hear the excitement about their progress and the Project.  Most importantly, you would notice they are meeting their deadlines and be able to say ‘thank you.’ " Jeff nods.  I continue.


“Besides being ‘stupid, uncaring, lazy’, because while those are all possibilities, I don't believe you hired stupid lazy people. I will guess that you were pretty angry, maybe even yelling, in that meeting, right?” Jeff nods. “So what could be another reason for their silence?” Jeff says, quietly now and a bit sheepishly, "I suppose they were quiet because they were afraid to talk -- I was pretty fired up."


"So, you could say they were being cautious, maybe even polite or respectful, or just downright scared?" There was long silence which I let happen because Jeff was thinking - hard.  Jeff was a "kinesthetic" processor, “digesting” all of the information as he was also recalling the meeting in his mind.  I knew he needed to "go inward" and not have to talk so he could reconfigure his beliefs about his team members from "they were stupid" to "they were being respectful and maybe even a bit scared." 


It was a shift, but most importantly it was his shift or “Aha!” moment.  I didn’t tell Jeff my opinion or lecture to him about what he “should do instead …” Using the science of brain based learning, I facilitated change that helped him change at the level of thinking.


"If you could have a redo, what would be the first thing you might do differently to get the outcome you want?"


Jeff said it perfectly, "I'd start by shutting up."

"Say more ..." I said.


"I asked a question and did not give anyone a chance to respond to it before I immediately fired off another question.  I guess I never let anyone respond and quite frankly I wouldn't have heard the answer anyhow, I was too angry … scared I guess.  This is an important project for this client and the CEO is really breathing down my neck about it." (To be continued …)

5 Brain Based Learning Strategies for Leadership Effectiveness

 #1 - Keep it Short  

Schedule meetings for no longer than 45 minutes so you can work more efficiently and maintain your team’s attention


#2 - Stop Lecturing & Ranting

It makes people feel stupid, childlike and robs them of the opportunity to learn.


#3 - Shut Up and Listen

The brain needs and likes time for reflection


#4 - Ask “What or How?” Questions

Asking good clear questions one at a time creates insights rather than lecture (or rant).  People learn when they feel engaged and interested. 


#5 - Allow for Aha!

When people make new connections on their own and are given the opportunity to deepen their own understanding, they are more self-motivated, can have creative ideas and take inspired action


Whether you call it "communication talent" or "communication skills" if you successfully apply just one or two simple brain based learning strategies that come from the principles of neuroscience—the study of the brain—to your conversations and meetings, you will quickly get significantly better results. 


Brain based learning applied to your leadership and communication style will not only improve the way you motivate and communicate with your team, you will also build trust and create a “psychologically safe” environment.


As you begin to understand the "how and why" of effective communication that builds trust, inspires creativity and motivates people —on a neurological and biological level—you will not only better understand yourself and your reactions, you will also be able to better understand your team members' reactions, so you can adjust your communication accordingly.


Can you identify the brain-based learning strategies in Jeff’s coaching session?  What will you try?  If you are willing to take action to become a Sustainable Leader, feel free to post your comment, question or goal in our Senior Manager Community where we can continue the conversation.


{#/pub/images/Christina_Haxton.jpg}Written by Christina Haxton, MA LMFT
Speaker, Author & Executive Coach, Sustainable Leadership, Inc.
Co-author, The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a leadership revolution one person at a time.  Christina assists entrepreneurs, managers and executives how to quickly build trust with their team and feel happier, highly successful and satisfied in their leadership role. Her clients learn how to use  neuroscience of emotional intelligence to make powerful team connections to become successful leaders, to achieve extraordinary peace of mind, begin to really love what they do again and have fun in the process!


Do you have a question for Christina?  Please visit our Senior Manager Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert 


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:

How to Manage Team Conflict

Complacency in the Workplace

Work Efficiency Equation For Managers And High Performers

3 Communication Techniques To Lead Effective Conversations

Curiosity: Asking the Right Questions to Motivate, Manage & Lead


ManagingAmericans.com is a community of Business Professionals & Expert Consultants sharing knowledge, success tips and solutions to common job issues.  Our objective is to mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors. Ultimately, helping people succeed in their careers.  

Comments (1)

Robert posted on: April 5, 2013

It seems that Jeff's interactions with the team were based on impulse...he was frustrated and lashed out. Is his improvement in this area going to come from repetition and practice? Because his behavior is driven more by impulse, is it harder to overcome? I would assume that learning a new technical skill is certainly easier than changing a behavior. I really enjoyed your article. Thank you!

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