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LEAD

Inside the Brain of a Leader

Can neurological rewiring boost leadership skills?

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Do great leaders have distinctive brains? Yes, says David A. Waldman, a management professor at Arizona State University. Since 2005, Waldman and his colleagues have been studying the neurological patterns of successful entrepreneurs and senior managers in an attempt to learn what they have in common.

The test they administer is fairly simple. Nineteen electrodes are placed on each participant's scalp. Participants are then asked a few questions, mostly about their vision for their companies. Their brain activity is also monitored when they are at rest. With help from a neuroscientist and a qEEG machine, Waldman maps out the brain's electrical activity in both speaking and resting states.

It turns out that the brains of effective leaders exhibit similar electrical patterns. Subjects rated "inspirational" by their employees generate high levels of coherence in the right frontal part of the brain, which is responsible for interpersonal communication and social relationships.

It may even be possible to teach this part of your brain to operate more effectively. Waldman says neurofeedback training--essentially a rewiring of the brain--can hone your leadership chops. He and his colleagues are developing neurofeedback protocols for leadership development.

Waldman suggests that neurofeedback-based leadership training might have commercial potential. "We're going right for the jugular when it comes to effective leadership," he says. "And to my knowledge, we're the only ones doing it."

What Brain Science Says About Leadership

The "aha" spot: At moments of insight, the brain experiences 40Hz oscillations (gamma waves) over the right anterior temporal lobe and just above the right ear.

What does a transformational leader's brain look like? Inspiring leaders use less metabolic energy in the right temporal lobe and cingulate gyrus, which are associated with creativity and speech, among other functions. This may give them moreresources to allocate to specific tasks. 

Is leadership hormonal? Individuals high in testosterone and low in cortisol are more likely to be seen as dominant and confident. Low testosterone and cortisol levels are linked with nervousness and hesistancy. 

IMAGE: Darren Braun
From the June 2013 issue of Inc. magazine




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