FACES: Emotional Intelligence, Part 2, OR Leadership in the 21st Century

Cross-posted from WinWinWorkplace.com.

This is the second part of my article (December 2011) based on a piece by Daniel Siegel, M.D., entitled “Interpersonal Neurobiology” (Psychiatric Annals 36:4, April 2006). In his article Dr. Siegel describes a healthy brain-mind using the acronym FACES:

  • Flexible — able to bend without breaking.
  • Adaptive — able to adjust to different conditions.
  • Coherent — clear, logical, and forming a whole.
  • Energized — having vitality and enthusiasm.
  • Stable — firmly established, not easily upset, not likely to give way.

Moreover, I suggested in my previous article that FACES describes a dynamic, emotionally intelligent leader; in other words, an effective leader has a high-functioning brain-mind. As I wrote at the end of the article:

Can we retrain the brain? Fortunately the answer is YES, however it is a qualified yes. Retraining the brain is not easy and not everyone is willing or capable of doing it. Siegel and other neurobiologists agree that the brain is “elastic.” What they mean is that we can indeed recondition the brain — albeit with difficulty — to build new and better brain-mind integration. So how do we do this?

The better question might be, Where do we do this? Anatomically, we retrain the brain in the “middle prefrontal cortex.” At the “crossroads” between the limbic system, expressing our emotions, and the cortex, performing our thinking, the middle prefrontal cortex is involved with things like emotional balance, empathy, insight, fear extinction, intuition, and morality. And one key way to affect and eventually develop this part of the brain-mind is through awareness. When we raise people’s awareness we increase the proper functioning of this important region of the brain.

There are different ways to raise awareness in a business environment … which I will discuss in the second part of this article.

As promised, let’s now consider how to raise awareness in leaders, in order to “retrain the brain” (change their middle prefrontal cortex) and thus generate real learning and development, to drive real business results. Here are four prominent methods:

Experiential Training. I start with the most common, though least effective way to retrain the brain. Don’t get me wrong; I believe in training. One of my favorite things to do as a consultant is to facilitate training sessions with business and executive teams. But just as I almost always try to make training experiential, I STRONGLY encourage follow-up — and the more personal and experiential the follow-up, the better. We retrain the brain primarily through experience, not through taking notes or watching colorful slides. The more experience, the more new neural pathways we form.

Targeted Personal Assessments. This can take many forms. The most common form is the routine (say, annual or bi-annual) review. Human beings thrive on accurate, digestible feedback. When the feedback is about us, we generally listen with a higher level of attention. It is particularly helpful if the feedback suggests clear and doable actions. Changing behavior is changing experience, which equals new and better neural pathways.

Another of my favorite things to do as a business psychologist is to give assessments to key employees and leaders in a company. These assessments can take on many forms; let’s consider two. The first includes a variety of personality assessments — where employees learn not only about their personality but also about how it affects their performance in their job. A second type of assessment is the 360-degree rater feedback — where others who know you take a common test about you. As a result, you get a “360 view” of who you are in your job performance: views from those you report to; from those who report to you; from your peers; and perhaps from those you serve, like clients. This all-inclusive feedback, if properly administered and followed-up with a clear and doable action plan, can have significant effects on learning and growth — by raising awareness and directing new behaviors and experiences.

Business Coaching. Probably the most powerful way for a leader to raise awareness and retrain the brain is through coaching: Business coaching — executive coaching, corporate coaching, or leadership coaching — is based on a one-on-one relationship with a trusted advisor, usually from the “outside,” who provides a discovery process, in-time feedback, support, and advice to improve an individual’s effectiveness in their organization. It is the individualized, on-going process that makes it the most salient brain changer. If a basketball player benefits from a coach, every business leader would likewise be better for the process of personal interaction and feedback.

An Aware Organization. This last suggestion is the hardest to come by but the most comprehensive. It goes beyond helping individuals become more aware (as in the previous three methods) to ensuring that awareness is part of the corporate culture itself. It is not only a corporate culture that models and encourages awareness from all its members but also a corporate culture that takes unflinching interest in itself. It is an organic, living SWOT Analysis — an organization unconditionally aware of its unique …

  • Strengths to exploit.
  • Weaknesses — yes, weaknesses — to monitor.
  • Opportunities to leverage.
  • Threats to be alert to.

How does an organization become aware? It starts at the top. If its leaders are not aware, then there is no hope. Like an aware individual, the Aware Organization is open to outside review (assessment) and feedback; it is willing to hear and face the truth about itself. This organization is one that will naturally promote awareness as a norm.

So in conclusion, if you want leaders who can bend without breaking (Flexibility), who have the ability to adjust to varying conditions and markets (Adaptability), who can think with clarity and logic (Coherent), who have a vitality and an enthusiasm (Energy), and who are firmly established and do not give up easily (Stability), then you want leaders with a high-functioning middle prefrontal cortex. And to retrain that part of the brain you need to increase awareness and foster growth experiences — for each individual leader and for the organization as a whole. This is the company of the 21st century.

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