Management - and leadership in general - is a skill whose traits are hard to pin down. The variety of high-level characteristics an effective leader must embody is wide and diverse. But, it's not just the skills that matter - a truly effective leader must also maintain the trust of their teams, as well as work effectively with other leaders. Therefore, a world-class leader isn't just a lump sum of skills and traits. Instead, such individuals have a very particular kind of personality which affords them the ability to succeed universally while confronting many kinds of demands.
Modern scientific inquiry allows us to gain a deeper level of understanding of the personalities of individuals (2). From athletes to musicians, the relevance of higher states of consciousness is becoming increasingly clear across domains. Recent studies confirm this trend by continuing the line of inquiry into different professions - such as management.
Harold S. Harung and Fred Travis recently published a study (1) reviewing the physiological and psychological traits which distinguish mid-level managers from those in the highest realms of the profession. After discovering that the difference between top-level athletes and mid-level athletes (4), and top-level classical musicians from mid-level classical musicians (3) lies in efficient brain functioning, the scientist extended the line of inquiry into the profession of management.
Obviously, an effective manager must have a sufficient understanding of the field they work within. Although a manager may not be required to do the work itself, they need to understand how the work is done in order to organize plans and gain the trust of their team. Personally, all of the most effective leaders I've worked with were once skilled workers in the domain they now manage. However, no matter how good you are at a skill, you may not be good at leading others to work effectively in that field. Many students recognize the impossible professor who has a deep level of knowledge, but does not have the ability to teach. Likewise, managers must embody skills outside their respective domains in order to be effective.
Harung and Travis have affirmed that the distinguishing factor between mid-level managers and top-level managers is efficient brain functioning.
What is Efficient Brain Functioning?
In the paper (1), the scientists describe their methods and critera for evaluating efficient brain functioning. Some of the traits of an efficient brain include:
- Lower sugar usage and more reliable information transfer during work tasks. (5)
- Less grey matter in the brain. (6)
- High broadband coherence in the prefrontal cortex. (1)
- Higher alpha relative power - or the ability to remain calm and alert simultaneously. (1)
- Only the necessary components of the brain required to complete a task effectively are activated during that task. (1)
Why is it Important for Managers to have Efficient Brains?
As proven through the scientific method (1, 7), the presence of an efficient brain is the distinguishing factor between mid-level and top-level managers and executives. This is true for a number of reasons. Individuals who score high on the brain integration scale consistently display the following traits:
- Higher levels of moral reasoning.
- The ability to maintain calm clarity under stressful situations.
- Enhanced ability to make decisions.
- A transition from win/lose mentality to the ability to create win/win solutions.
- Higher emotional stability.
- More openness to experience.
- Lower anxiety.
- Higher value congruence - the alignment between an individual's goals and the goals of an organization.
In the words of the authors:
"With psychological development, there is an enhancement of a person’s capacity to make meaning of experience, to perform consciously, and to handle complexity. This growing ability can be illustrated by contrasting the personal characteristics of conventional development (about 80% of today’s adult population) with the more mature post-conventional development (about 10%): from narrow craft perspective to more holistic comprehension, from short-term to long-term, from reactive to proactive and preventive, from resistance to innovation, from mistrust to trust, from moral based on following others norms to internalizing what is right and wrong, from win–lose to win–win interpersonal strategies, and from extrinsic motivation (winning, money, power, fame) to intrinsic motivation (self-improvement and searching for meaning or peak experiences(.)" (1)
(1) Harung H, Travis F (in press) Higher mind-brain development in successful leaders: testing
a uniﬁed theory of performance. Cognitive Processing
(2) Travis F, Arenander A, DuBois D (2004) Psychological and physiological characteristics of a proposed object-referral/selfreferral continuum of self-awareness. Conscious Cogn 13(2): 401–420
(3) Travis, F, Harung, H and Lagrosen, Y. (2011). Moral Development, Peak Experiences and Brain Patterns in Professional and Amateur Classical Musicians: Support for a Unified Theory of Performance, Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 1256-1264
(4) Harung, H., Travis, F. et al. (2011). High Levels of Brain Integration in World-class Norwegian Athletes: Towards a Brain Measure of Mental Fitness. Scandanavian Journal of Exercise and Sport, 1, 32-41.
(5) Smith JM, Smith P (2005) Testing people at work: competencies in psychometric testing. Blackwell, Malden
(6) Colom R, Jung R, Haier RJ (2006) Distributed brain sites for the g-factor of intelligence. NeuroImage 31:1359–1365
(7) Harung, H.F., Travis, F., Blank, W., Heaton, D. (2009) Higher development, brain integration, and excellence in leadership, Management Decision, 47(6), 872 - 894.