Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

NeuroLeadership: Sustaining Research Relevance into the 21st Century

Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

NeuroLeadership: Sustaining Research Relevance into the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Moving beyond the voluminous research on manage merit leadership that focuses on psychology and behaviorism, the newest field of investigation, NeuroLeadership, looks inside the brain to analyze what might affect leadership abilities. MRI technology has provided the breakthrough, because it maps brain functions in real time reacting to real stimuli. This paper discusses how neuroscience may affect four domains of leadership: decision-making and problem-solving, emotion regulation, collaboration and influence, and facilitating change. Of particular interest is the role of stress and its influence on change, collaboration, and memory.


A Hard Edge for Soft Science

"Snake oil! You're all selling snake oil!" Elliott Jacques to students of The George Washington University Executive Leadership Program, 1998

It's tough to be a social scientist in a hard-science world. Ours is the domain of inference: correlations and structural equation modeling on the quantitative side, interviews and observations on the qualitative. Practitioners in the field of leadership and management have been called everything from ingenuous to charlatan. Indeed, hard evidence, the criterion for acceptance as fact, is hard to come by. Such has been the plight of organizational theorists from Burns to Bennis, from Schein to Sashkin, because there was no way to know what exactly was happening inside the heads of leaders, managers, and followers. The mind, the source of behavior, decision, and choice, remained a black box we could know only by interpreting input and output.

Now, however, advances in the field of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are reducing the box's opacity. By revealing how the brain functions, neuroscientists are enabling a new understanding of how the mind works, and, by extension--partnering with psychologists, behavioral scientists, and organizational/ management theorists--how leaders and followers think. NeuroLeadership, a term coined by author David Rock, is a new field of study that merges neuroscientific knowledge with leadership, management, organization education, and development.

The basic premise of NeuroLeadership--holding much promise for future research and insights--is that science has progressed to the point that neuroscientific knowledge can be used to inform and influence theory and practice regarding a wide spectrum of leadership disciplines. This paper examines recent findings in four core domains of this neuroscience-based organization and behavioral science: decision making, emotion regulation, collaboration and influence, and change. The discussion addresses the implications for the future of management study; the potential for sustaining and strengthening the viability of organizational and leadership theory; and concludes with how practitioners and theorists can leverage the new science to enhance credibility and sustain relevance in the 21st century.

Inside the Black Box

"The human brain: one of the last great frontiers. We've learned more about it in the last five years than in the last five thousand years." 2008 History Channel Broadcast, The Brain

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the shift occurred. Certainly as early as 1890, scientists knew that brain activity was closely linked to blood flow and blood oxygenation (Roy and Sherrington, 1890). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology appeared in the early 1970s (Lauterbur, 1973), enabling scientists to view a single plane of any body tissue at a given point in time and offering a peek into the black box we call the human brain. Yet it was only recently, starting in the last decade of the 20th century (Okagawa, Nyak, and Glynn, 1990), that the science of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has enabled us to watch what is happening in the brain exactly as it happens by depicting brain activity over a span of time from seconds to minutes. …

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