Your ‘inner CEO’: Neuroleadership at work

Michael E. Bernard, PhD
Emeritus Professor, California State University, Long Beach
Founder, You Can Do It! Education

Your inner CEO

Based on findings from neuroleadership, we now know that your brain’s pre-frontal cortex carries out essential duties for high workplace performance.Consider the question, what is the main influence of leadership behaviour? While organisational culture, incentive schemes and relationships certainly matter, there is now substantial agreement that the main driver of high performance leadership is your ‘inner CEO,’ which is located in an area of your brain called the pre-frontal cortex.

The ‘inner CEO’ of top executives plays a massive role in integration, planning and regulating leadership behaviour.

In high performing leaders, the pre-frontal cortex – which monitors all aspects of how we perform at work – is highly developed and constantly activated.

As you read through the following list – which outlines some of the most important duties of your pre-frontal cortex performs – ask yourself how well your ‘inner CEO’ manages each duty, including opportunities for growth. If your ‘inner CEO’ doesn’t function as efficiently as you’d like, fear not – there are a variety of ways to activate your pre-frontal cortex, a few of which I have included.

Sets vision
How clear are your dreams for yourself and your organisation? Your dreams are the magnets that pull you upwards.

Activator: Write down two or three dreams and share them with someone.

Focuses attention
How distracted are you by competing demands, interruptions and internal work performance blockers such as anxiety, anger and procrastination? Do you give sufficient time to the essentials?

Activator: Establish clear boundaries with yourself and others regarding when you need time for yourself, and when you are available to support others.

Monitors work performance
There are four areas of your automatic mindset operating system that require regular vigilance by your ‘inner CEO’:

  1. Work performance (indicators, goals and plans)
  2. Performance blockers (external and internal)
  3. Skillset (technical, leadership and teamwork)
  4. Mindset (self-talk and behaviour).

Activator: Set up a reminder schedule to regularly monitor each area, and work on self-improvement where needed.

Solves problems
When faced with obstacles, how successful are you at applying problem-solving strategies – defining problems, generating alternatives, considering consequences, planning action, and evaluating?

Activator: Apply problem-solving strategies to a problem you are currently faced with by following these steps:

What’s the problem?

  • What are different ways I can deal with the problem?
  • What are the positive and negative short- and long-term consequences of each solution?
  • Select the solution with the greatest likelihood of success and least likelihood of negative consequences.
  • Formulate a plan and implement the solution.
  • Evaluate and, if necessary, revise.

Stimulates creativity
Do you spend the right balance of time harnessing your creativity and engaging in logical thought?

Activator: Be authentic in expressing your ideas without fear of negativity from others. Do not censor yourself when generating novel ideas.

Regulates negative emotions
When you notice that you’re experiencing negative emotions – for instance anger, anxiety or sadness – can your ‘inner CEO’ restore self-management and emotional control though rational thinking and coping skills?

Activator: Try to increase your awareness and notice specific things that trigger your negative emotions. When they arise, take some time to concentrate on your breathing, and when you feel in control, focus your attention back to the situation at hand.

Generates positive emotions
When you’re having a bad day or know you have a hard task ahead of you, are you capable of converting negative energy into positive energy?

Activator: Surround yourself with positive and uplifting people.

Maintains a positive self-image
How vulnerable is your self-image to knockbacks, setbacks and lows in work performance?

Activator: Practice positive self-affirmations, for example, “I appreciate and accept myself no matter what.”

It’s sometimes the case that average performing, high potential leaders possess under-developed pre-frontal cortices. By increasing self-awareness and strengthening the way their ‘inner CEO’ operates, impressive, immediate and sustainable enhancement of work performance occurs.

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