Jeff K. is the chief executive of a growing financial services company. So when Warren, a key investor, stopped returning Jeff’s phone calls and emails, Jeff came to me looking for insight.
Jeff, a long-term client of mine at the organizational development firm I founded in 1991 to connect brain research to leadership styles, had worked with me on building his leadership strengths using his unique brain profile for years. I already knew he is very personable and gregarious—and quite successful. He has developed work habits that have served him well for more than 30 years as a business owner.
So I was pretty shocked when Jeff told me he felt he wasn’t effectively communicating his expertise and Warren’s trust was eroding.
We sat down and went over how Jeff’s engrained brain attributes play into his work.
Research tells us that there are seven brain attributes—thinking and behavioral tendencies—every leader naturally takes advantage of to a greater or lesser extent, and finds they’re effective to a greater or lesser extent depending on the traits of the individuals they interact with. These neural pathways are etched in the brain over many years:
1. Analytical thinking happens in the left hemisphere of the brain and is essential to making more objective, less biased decisions. As a leader, this is the function that helps you look at existing research and data, examine options, and question what will or will not work.
2. Structural thinking also takes place in the left part of the brain and ensures that you come up with a plan that is doable. It is the methodical, sequential process that helps maximize results, and minimize pitfalls.
3. Social thinking is a right-brain tendency that allows a leader to listen, build successful teams, relate to people, and develop and inspire others.
4. Conceptual thinking is right-brain, visionary thinking that jumpstarts innovation. Ideas that connect the dots and come out of left field can invigorate your organization.
5. Expressiveness is a behavior style you use to communicate your ideas. It affects how you relate to people and sets the course for the way you speak with others.
6. Assertiveness is a behavior style you use to put your ideas to work. An effective leader is assertive enough to make things happen, but not so assertive that others are stymied.
7. Flexibility is a behavior style you bring to the way you get things done. It determines not only your openness to other points of view, but also your ability to thrive in undefined (or very defined) situations.
We sat down and went over how Jeff’s unique engrained brain attributes and leadership make-up in these seven areas play into his work.
As it turns out, Jeff was lacking in certain attributes Warren required more, or had a lot of strengths in ways Warren didn’t benefit.
As I mentioned, Jeff is a people-oriented and gregarious leader, which are traits indicated by powerful right-brain social (#3) thinking and he was good at connecting with Warren with genuine empathy and care.
But Jeff was crossing signals with Warren in a few other key areas. Jeff did not have a strong proclivity for analytical thinking (#1), and Warren needs more to inform business decisions. To work better with Warren, Jeff realized he could more clearly pinpoint the metrics that supported his financial decision-making and reinforce his recommendations with concrete projections.
Jeff was also on overdrive when it came to assertiveness (#6), which didn’t jive with Warren’s predisposition. So Jeff considered how to play the middle ground more, and be careful to not just make decisions, but allow Warren to offer ideas.
Though Jeff had a lot of panache when it comes to expressiveness (#5), he was overwhelming Warren’s natural temperament, which was quiet and reserved. I encouraged Jeff to make a concerted effort to speak softly and tone down his intensity. This proved helpful, too.
Retraining the brain (especially with years of neurons firing against you) isn’t easy and like Jeff, you may need to pay more attention to what doesn’t come naturally.
If you really look inside your head though, effective leadership is in you…and the results speak for themselves.
Warren is still Jeff’s client and gave good feedback. “I was losing confidence that you understood my needs,” Warren says. “But I love the new approach because it’s clear to me and I can offer my input.”