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The importance of Neuroscience in learning and leading within your business

Mirror neurons were first discovered by scientists in 1992 accidentally whilst conducting experiments on monkeys.  Scientists were mapping sensorimotor areas of the brain with laser-thin electrodes placed on individual brain cells.

One afternoon a scientist returned to the labs with an ice cream. They were astonished to see that whenever the scientist consumed the ice cream, the distinct set of cells within the monkey’s brain activated upon merely witnessing the scientist or fellow monkey consume ice cream.

This revealed the discovery of mirror neurons located in the premotor cortex adjacent to motor neurons. The same mirror neurons are activated when we mentally rehearse a golf swing or witness someone wiping a tear away. These mirror neurons map the identical information from what we observe onto our own motor neurons, allowing us to mimic actions, read intentions and emotions and understand the social implications of ones actions and even develop mentors or idols. The same happens when we are expectant of a pin prick for example. Our mirror neurons anticipate an action or feeling.

Mirror neurons are said to be the bridge of human connectedness. Humans are social animals and an understanding of mirror neurons and social intelligence could bring about the relationships we need within our personal or work lives.

We have witnessed how effective a leader can be when there is an understanding of his employees and the organisation’s needs. Giving employees a meaningful belonging in turn creates successful relationships. The same is applicable for students and teachers. A teacher can learn to make a student feel accepted within a group and help him adapt to different learning conditions.

Emotional intelligence is a key component for developing successful relationships. Where teams can work effectively together there are less setbacks and a higher level of motivation. Neuroscience researchers have discovered remarkable attributes present in our brains and with the correct guidance we can channel our emotional intelligence skills in order to grow personally and therefore grow a business.

It is widely accepted that it is possible to develop emotional and social intelligence competencies however one-day workshops do not work. The EQ consortium has provided guidelines for the training of EQ competencies.

Emotional incompetence often results from habits learned early in life.  These automatic habits are set in place as a normal part of living, as experience shapes the brain.  As people acquire their habitual repertoire of thought, feeling and action, the neural connections that support these are strengthened, becoming dominant pathways for nerve impulses.  Connections that are unused become weakened.  Emotional capacities like empathy or flexibility differ from cognitive abilities because they draw on different brain areas.  Purely cognitive abilities are based in the neocortex.  But with emotional and social competencies, additional brain areas are involved mainly the circuitry that runs from the emotional centres – particularly the amygdala – deep in the centre of the brain up to the prefrontal lobes, the brain’s executive centre.  Effective learning for emotional competence has to re-tune these circuits.  Motivational factors also make social and emotional learning more difficult and complex than purely cognitive learning.  What this means for social and emotional learning is that one must first unlearn old habits and then develop new ones.  For the learner, this usually means a long and sometimes difficult process involving much practice.  Therefore one-day seminars just won’t do it.

There are four phases that one has to go through to ensure a change within emotional intelligence.

These are:

Phase 1 Preparation for change.

Phase 2 Coaching.

In social and emotional learning, the relationship between the coach and learner is critical.  Therefore coaches who are empathetic, warm and authentic, which are, of course EQ competencies are more likely to develop positive relationships with participants in behavior change programmes.

Phase 3 Transfer and maintenance

Reinforcement and encouragement are critical in ensuring effective emotional intelligence training. Many environmental cues trigger old undesired behaviours however with proper guidance this can be prevented

Phase 4 Evaluating change

The IE Groups coaching staff have years of experience in developing social intelligence amongst South Africa’s top leaders and ensuring their effectiveness in a personal or work related capacity. Contact us today to learn how to perfect your own personal brand.

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Resonant Leadership

Resonant Leadership

 (Research May 2002 Consortium for Research in Emotional Intelligence)

Primal leadership means the first and most important act of leadership – and is a critical component of modern leadership to drive the collected emotions in a positive direction.  If people’s emotions are pushed towards the range of positive emotions such as enthusiasm, performance can soar, if drawn downward towards rancor and anxiety will produce sub-standard results.  When leaders drive emotions positively and bring out the best it is called resonant leadership –when negative is called dissonant leadership. Empirical evidence suggests that whether an organisation thrives or dives is dependent to a large extent on leaders’ effectiveness in this primal emotional dimension.

Recent studies of the brain reveal the neurological mechanism of primacy leadership and why EI is so crucial.

Open loop Mechanism

The human brain is also referred to as the “open loop “design as it is susceptible to external influences as opposed to a closed loop system such the circulatory system that is self regulating.


IQ mainly predicts what profession an individual can hold a job in – for instance, it takes a certain mental acumen to pass the bar exam.  Estimates are that in order to pass the requisite cognitive hurdles such as exams or required coursework or mastery of technical subjects and enter a profession like law, engineering or senior management, individuals need an IQ in the 110 to 120 range.  That means that once one is in the pool of people in a profession, one competes with people who are also at the high end of the bell curve for IQ.  This is why, even though IQ is a strong predictor of success among the general population, its predictive power for outstanding performance weakens greatly once the individuals being compared narrow to a pool of people in a given job in an organisation, particularly at higher levels.


Emotional intelligence will determine potential for learning the practical skills that underlie the four EQ clusters, our emotional competence shows how much of that potential we have realised by learning and mastering skills and translating intelligence into on-the-job capabilities.


In order for leaders to define meanings for others, it is vital to understand meanings for themselves. Knowing ones emotions (self awareness), managing those emotions, driving oneself, recognising emotions and appropriately handling relationships, are indicative of a leader who understands the nature of the forces within themselves.


They can direct energy to promote a shared sense of high quality performance and openness of communication between the top and the bottom of the corporate structure.  It is believed that only through self-understanding can a leader inculcate a positive philosophy into the organisation.


The reality of change makes EQ even more important where employees are more visible.  New competencies such as teamwork, and being able to control ones emotions count more than ever.  New challenges demand new talents.


“Technical proficiency or academic brilliance is a baseline competence”, says Ruth Jacobs a senior consultant at Hay/McBer.  “You need it to get the job and get it done, but how you do the jobdetermines your performance – if you are not able to translate your expertise into something useful that stands out – it makes little difference”


For more information, contact us on 011 781 1444.


Why Women Still Fill Less Than 15% Of Executive Leadership Positions

The glass ceiling, it appears, has not been broken.  Women still fill less than 15% of executive leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies and make up just 3.6% of CEO’s.


According to Robin Ely, Prof of Business Administration at Harvard, they have identified second-generation forms of subtle gender bias that have impeded women’s progress.  And to make it worse, much of it is unintentional practices and patterns that favour men and create structural career blocks for women.  Prof. Ely’s paper is the first to understand these biases and propose a new approach to developing women leaders.

Business leader

As most traditional leadership development for women is “add women and stir” basically delivering women what is delivered to men or “fix that woman – to be as good as a man” it ignores the basic systemic gender bias in organizations that are often deeply ingrained in workplace culture and society at large.  For example, women are ascribed to be friendly, emotional and unselfish, attributes that clash with larger societal beliefs about what a leader must be such as assertive, self confident and entrepreneurial – often seen as traditional masculine traits.  Women who do display those behaviours can be seen as abrasive instead of assertive, arrogant instead of self confident and self promoting instead of entrepreneurial.  These perceptions hold women back.  And the lack of role models to succeed also presents an additional stumbling block.  Additional biases include failure to consider women’s lives, hinderance to their ability to develop powerful networks and creating excessive performance pressure.

So what can women do to overcome this?

1. Create a strong women leadership identity – see yourself as a leader and be seen as a leader. The best process is through a series of action and feedback that affirms action and elevates confidence.

2. Develop an elevated sense of purpose – Leaders are most effective when their personal values align with the work they are doing and connect to something that is larger than themselves.  Re-direct participants away from a single minded focus on career advancement and managing other people’s perceptions of them as leaders and toward identifying larger leadership purposes and actions they need to undertake.

3. Create a workplace environment to support women’s identity.  Create a safe environment and peer networks that support participants in understanding and shaping who they are and who they can become.

4. Organisations must take responsibility for giving equal opportunities to their employees. Examine their assumptions they make about who is an “ideal worker” how they judge commitment and what they look for in leaders.  “If work cultures enabled both men and women to have full work and personal lives, it might help to level the playing field” Deborah Kolb Simmons School of Management.

By Gail Cameron