Almost all theories of leadership boil down to a single question: "How can I get people to willingly follow me?" The question is almost always answered: "Use this combination of carrots and sticks."
But what if this basic reward/threat formula is wrong? What if the motivation to follow a leader comes from someplace else entirely? Well, it turns out that neuroscience proves that the core of issue of leadership is not about carrots and sticks. It's about certainty.
A sense of certainty releases chemicals in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine, that create positive feelings of security and anticipation. Uncertainty, on the other hand, releases norepinephrine and cortisol, leading to a threat response.
In other words, it's not the carrot or the stick that causes people to follow a leader; it's whether they feel certain they will achieve what the leader says they'll achieve.
Therefore, to lead effectively, the correct question to ask yourself is: "How do I create a sense of certainty in other people?"
Once again, neuroscience has an answer. Humans have what are called "mirror neurons" in nearly every part of the brain: the premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex.
Mirror neurons cause people to imitate the behaviors they see in others. Therefore, to create certainty in others you must first create certainty in yourself.
This is why great leaders always seem so self-confident. Self-confidence is the outward manifestation of the sense of certainty that they've created within themselves, a certainty that infects everyone around them.
The best example of this phenomenon is the "reality distortion field" that Steve Jobs generated every time he presented a new Apple product. Jobs expressed and obviously felt such absolute certainty about his products that everyone around him also believed that they were "insanely great."
So, then, the true challenge of leadership isn't about other people at all. It's about something more basic: "How do I create that compelling sense of certainty within myself?"
Neuroscience to the rescue. Using a set of relatively simple techniques, you can "rewire" your brain so that when you make an important decision, you create an overwhelming and infectious sense of certainty that your outcome is inevitable.
Here's how it's done:
1. Use your uncertainty wisely
It may seem strange, in an article about certainty, to point out that uncertainty has value. However, before you make any important decision, there is always a natural period of uncertainty while you gather advice and weigh alternatives. Use this time wisely and well, because once you've made the decision, those alternatives will literally not exist. To avoid "analysis paralysis" commit to making a decision by an unmovable deadline.
2. Make your decision final
Decisions aren't like buying clothes--you can't try one outfit, check it out in the mirror, and then try on another. For a decision to create certainty in yourself and in others, the decision (when made) must be singular and final. The Latin root for decide means "to cut off." To decide is to cut off uncertainty, debate, regrets, and alternative outcomes. The more completely that you cut away this useless excess, the more powerful your certainty will become.
3. Imagine a vivid outcome
Here's where you "rewire" your brain. Close your eyes and picture the outcome that your decision will create. Use your imagination like a 3-D Omni theatre. Full color, surround sound. Imagine how the success sounds. Imagine how the success feels. Heck, imagine how it tastes and smells. Make it so real that you feel throughout your entire body and soul that the success you seek has arrived, and that it's better than you previously imagined.
4. Put your outcome in the past
As you experience the emotional fullness of the successful outcome, imagine as strongly as you are able that everything you've just experienced--the victory of true success--has already happened. You and your team have already won. The successful outcome is a done deal. Repeat steps 3 and 4 daily until your mind automatically treats the outcome you seek as a foregone conclusion.
This rewiring method works because of something called "neuroplasticity." While the rational part of your brain can differentiate between what you imagine and what's in the physical world, the deeper parts of your brain cannot. Therefore, when you consciously create a vivid memory of an event that hasn't happened, you create throughout the majority of your brain the same sense of certainty you have about past events that you've actually experienced.
How do I know this method works? Simple. I've used it to make every important decision for the past two decades. Now, I'm no great leader; far from it. However, I do have the knack of creating utter certainty within myself that I can accomplish what I set out to do, even when that outcome (objectively) seems highly unlikely.
This blog, for instance. When I started this blog (with an audience of exactly zero) I was certain it would become popular, even though the chances of any particular blog becoming this well-read were probably about 10,000 to 1. Same thing with my latest book. I was certain it would get glowing reviews and sell in big numbers. By creating that certainty in myself, I was able to convince others (like editors) to feel certain that I could deliver.
Now, if this rewiring process works for somebody as minimally talented as myself, imagine how it could work for you, if you're drawn to be a leader who starts new companies and leads teams do the extraordinary?
Rewiring your brain for certainty will not only propel you personally towards success but, more important, will also inspire your team to believe that through your leadership they can "certainly" accomplish what otherwise might seem impossible.