ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Neuroscience has revealed that leaders who can adapt best to complex and rapidly evolving situations have distinctive brain networks, according to a study published in the next Journal of Applied Psychology.
Dr. Pierre Balthazard, dean of St. Bonaventure University’s School of Business, is one of the paper’s co-authors.
Balthazard and colleagues from Wake Forest, Arizona State and the U.S. Army developed and tested the new model of leader complexity.
Findings showed that leaders who are more complex demonstrated greater adaptability when facing novel, ill-defined and changing leadership situations. Leader complexity was found to be enabled by both the mind — the complexity of leaders’ self-concepts — and the brain — the neuroscientific basis for complex leadership.
“Neuroscience can take us into the heretofore neglected ‘black box’ of leadership,” Balthazard said.
Neuroimaging based on quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG) showed that the brain networks in the frontal and prefrontal lobes of more complex leaders — areas of the brain associated with the self, executive and memory functions, and complex cognitive processes — are more differentiated in more complex leaders, the research discovered.
Further, individuals who have developed richer and more elaborate self-concepts as leaders were found to be more complex and adaptable. These findings have important implications for identifying and developing leaders who can lead effectively in today’s changing, dynamic, and often volatile organizational contexts.
“This study represents a fusion of the leadership and neuroscience fields, and this fusion can revolutionize approaches to assessing and developing leaders,” said Professor Sean Hannah, the Wilson Chair at the School of Business at Wake Forest and the paper’s lead author.
Professor David Waldman of Arizona State suggests that “once we have validated neurological profiles or norms for effective leadership, it may be possible to use neuro-feedback techniques, such as those that have already been used successfully with elite athletes, concert musicians and financial traders, to help develop better leaders.”
This paper is the latest in this research team’s collaboration to employ neuroscience to study effective leadership. The team previously published a 2012 paper in the Leadership Quarterly that identified unique brain functioning in leaders who are seen by their followers as being highly transformational, that is, leaders who are inspirational and charismatic.
The study will be the lead article in volume 98, no. 3 of the next issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, available May 10.
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