Don’t you just love it when someone tells you something that you just know is right but you hadn’t actually put it into words before?
A few years ago a breakthrough book by Daniel Goleman entitled Emotional Intelligence was published. It contained detailed physiological information about what happens when we engage, or don’t engage with each other. It went a long way to explain to me why some of the people you met in school who blitzed the tests didn’t necessarily go on to be amazingly successful in their professional life, and vice-versa. Reading David Klaasen’s guest blog at HR Daily on the effect of analytical thinking and social thinking on brain activity and how this relates to leadership in business advanced this discussion significantly for me.
Essentially the research shows that you use different parts of your brain when you are thinking analytically than when you are thinking socially and, when you have activated one, the other is correspondingly restrained. Klaasen is director of a niche HR consultancy, Inspired Working Ltd, so his focus is on how this impacts leadership, productivity and business performance.
He cited a leadership study which showed a towering imbalance in the analytical and social skills of business leaders, with the percentage of leaders scoring highly on both analytical and social skills a trivial 0.77%, indicating that social skills are not being valued in leadership selection and development.
Here’s the trick. According to Professor Matt Lieberman, neuroscientist at UCLA, social skills are a multiplier. This explains why organisations with great team work and intelligent, highly competent staff consistently outperform those with high human capital but low social capital. Social skills are the key to engaging staff and unlocking their contribution to the work.
Lieberman then revisited some classic experiments with some of the new insights in neuroscience to show that when you learn information and your goal is to share it with others, you use the social thinking mechanisms located on the midline of the brain where the two hemispheres meet and therefore do not only rely on your analytical thinking. Apparently the more active this area of the brain is during a learning experience, the better we remember what we learn and the more inclined we will be to share it with others.
Sounds like a win – win – win. We learn (and enjoy) more, we share information, and we become more productive to boot! No longer is the work-live balance a zero-sum game. It just requires a subtle shift in our thinking from the outset to harness this powerhouse of productivity and innovation.