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The Seesaw of Social and Non-Social Thinking in Leadership

According to Dr. Matthew Lieberman, our social and non-social brains have a see saw rather than a facilitative relationship with each other.

According to Dr. Matthew Lieberman, our social and non-social brains have a see saw rather than a facilitative relationship with each other.

You have a see saw in your brain. Thinking socially and thinking non-socially seems to use 2 different areas of the brain in a back and forth relationship, rather than one that acts in concert with each other. Dr. Matthew Lieberman discusses this concept in his new book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect which I give a 5 out of 5 star recommendation.  This is a must read for anyone interested in applied (and accessible) brain science.

While reading the section on the neural see saw, I was struck by the notion that in Jungian psychological theory, made popular by the MBTI,  two different ways to make decisions are identified: thinking versus feeling. Moreover, it has been said that although we can use both thinking and feeling in our decision making, we tend to evaluate first with our preferred style, switch to the opposite style, then return to our preferred mode for the final rendering.  You can almost sense the shift when you use one style versus another when making a decision.  You can also sense that you can’t do them both at once.

In a recent TED Talk, Dr. Lieberman quoted John Zenger's research on effective leadership.

In a recent TED Talk, Dr. Lieberman quoted John Zenger’s research on effective leadership.

Dr. Lieberman also talks about the typical leadership culture in which non-social thinking seems to be valued over social thinking.- a results focus. Yet leadership researcher John Zenger has found that employees who consider their boss to be among the top 10%  of great leaders generally do not identify the results focused leader to be among that 10%.  In fact, only 14% of leaders with a results only focus were seen as great leaders. When leaders combined top-notch social skills with results oriented thinking, the percent of these individuals seen as great leaders skyrocketed to 72%!

So what does this mean for leadership?  Well,  it appears that we have one end of the see saw covered, given our cultural bias toward results.  However we can’t ignore the data that social skills matter.   John Zenger also found that 2/3 of employees would take a lesser salary in order to work for a great boss.  If leaders want to go from good to great, there has to be some emphasis on developing another part of the brain and learning to shift between the social and the non-social brain effectively.   There is some growing awareness around this reality however we will be going against the prevailing tide.   Focused attention and clear goals in this area is a must.

1.  Lieberman, Matthew D., Social:  Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, Crown Publishing, 2013

2. Zenger, John H., The Extraordinary Leader:  Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders, America Media International, 2002

 

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Excellent point about socially developing as a leader Ann, and great review of Dr. Lieberman’s article. Keep up the wonderful work!

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