Using Neuroscience to Build Better Leaders

0:00:09.0 S1: Welcome back, everybody. This is XL 10-minute Leader’s Life. Talking to leaders in different time zones about what they’re doing in technology, business and society. What they are doing to make the world a slightly better place. Helping us in leadership and in just general development, personal goals, whether it’s skills, education. Wherever it may take us. So joining us today, Jen Thornton. All the way from Dallas. Jen, welcome to the show.

0:00:35.9 S2: Thanks for having me. It’ll be a fun 10 minutes.

0:00:40.2 S1: I hope so. So especially when we are going to dive into the world of neuroscience. Inside the grey matter, that changes everything that we do in our lives. Especially for leadership as well and how they all are linked together. So, Jen are you ready to do this? Absolutely. Alright, let’s do the business card then top off the 10 minutes, what does it say on your business card, Jen?

0:01:01.8 S2: Officially, it says, Jen Thornton, Founder and CEO of 304 Coaching.

0:01:08.2 S1: What does 304 Coaching do, Jen?

0:01:11.2 S2: We are a leadership education company. We have quite a few different platforms that we use for education. But, at the core of all of it is neuroscience and really a progressive way of looking at leadership and we’re trying to break some old habits out there.

0:01:28.4 S1: When you say neuroscience, do you mean the study of neuropsychology? What exactly does it mean for those that maybe are not familiar?

0:01:36.9 S2: So what we do is we really work with organizations and we go through a ton of education where we learn how the brain actually works. How does the brain respond to fear, how do we create stories in our head, how does our language actually either move someone to fear, which shuts down the prefrontal cortex, all the good stuff, or all the emotional control and curiosity and learning all the stuff you want in life, you want out of your employees. But what we know now is how we’ve been taught to lead actually creates a lot of fear. Through our traditional leadership skills, we are shutting down the parts of the brain that we really need to show up in the workplace so that we can move our business results forward. We help leaders start to understand how to lead with the brain instead of against it.

0:02:27.2 S1: This is interesting. Using fear as a tool of control, seems to be how we’ve been doing things for hundreds of years. What’s wrong with that?

0:02:38.0 S2: Well, what’s interesting is, you look at some of our traditional leadership skills that we’ve been taught, and most of them were developed and the mid to early 1900’s, and obviously the world looked a little different back then. It was, “I’m the boss. You’re not the boss”. I hold all the information. You don’t have access to information. And the world obviously didn’t change at the pace it changes now. So how we were taught to lead might have worked then, but there are some parts of it probably didn’t work because we didn’t know what we know about the brain. What we know about the brain today, which is still probably not half of what we should know, we could take this information and even two years from now through new research, it could be wrong. But, what we’re learning now, they had no access to in 1950, 1960. So what sounds good on paper, something as simple as motivation, you’ll say to your employees “you’ve got this, I trust you, just go do it, you’re fine, you’re fine, I trust you, you’ve got this” just by saying that to someone who may not have it, who may have questions, who may have fear, you just actually move them into additional fear. Because now they’re scared to ask you questions, now they’re scared to look weak, and so just buy something super simple by saying, you’re awesome, you’ve got this, you’re actually creating additional fear in your employees minds.

0:04:02.6 S1: Because they’re thinking, Actually, I’m not awesome. Actually, maybe I don’t have this. And therefore, if I’m thinking this, maybe there’s something wrong with me, or if I say to my boss, I don’t have this, then maybe she’s gonna get angry with me because I’ve just now undermined her. Right. So that’s interesting because that’s very traditional, where motivating people and leading, isn’t it, that’s what we’ve been taught for generations, there’s a lot of talk now about vulnerability and authenticity, how does that fall into this conversation, how does that come into leadership now?

0:04:43.0 S2: I love that you ask that question because that’s a big piece of it, when we as leaders position ourselves where we know it all, or we don’t need additional education or we don’t need any more training because we’ve become a master… One of the things I always teach has, never become a master, because as soon as you think you’re the master, you’re actually going backwards. And so when you present yourself as a leader, as a master to your team, because you’re probably in fear, you don’t want them to think bad things about you or think that you can’t handle it or any of those things, so your fear actually creates this world where then you’re talking about how you have it all together, which then creates additional fear within your team because they’re like, Wow, if I tell the truth, it might be wrong. If I say I don’t know this, then I might get in trouble or I don’t have anything to learn. Because then if I’m learning, then I’m not good enough because my boss doesn’t have anything else to learn, and so by not being vulnerable, typically we do it because we’re in fear as leader, so we’re not vulnerable like we need to, but then we create additional fear in our team, so then they don’t perform as well, and then the cells are down or product revenues down, and then the leaders and even more fear, so they get a little bit more aggressive and then you create more fear and you can see how the cycle repeats itself and gets worse over time.

0:06:07.0 S1: Yeah, I see a trend in business now when people are talking about vulnerability and talking about making mistakes, obviously, as a way of creating a culture without fear, and yet I’ve seen this being courted in many senses by leaders saying, Okay, it’s okay for you to admit making mistakes, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay for you to make mistakes, but what they’re not doing is saying, I’ve made a mistake, and I feel this is something missing, isn’t it in leadership is that we really lead by example, not by our words, if I say, Screw it, everybody, then everybody will learn rather than reading it or hearing me, they will learn that that is okay, and that’s the behavior that is green-lighted in this organization. How are you finding out if we still got work to do in leadership and making them examples, or is it easy people take the ideas that we’re talking about and still preach them to people if you’re like…

0:07:07.4 S2: Yeah, I think we always have work… I always say leadership is practice, it’s something no one ever masters, no one’s ever perfect at it and we’re learning more every single day, and as the world evolves and we’re exposed to new things, we also have to evolve our leadership styles, and that’s as simple as looking at the evolution of competencies, you talk about a leader… And there’s a list of competencies we’re all supposed to have, but really starting to think about what are the competencies of our future leader… We don’t always list change management or leading, change is a top competency for leaders, but in today’s world, if you can’t lead change then last week was tough and next week’s gonna be tougher ’cause it’s every week as a change. And then the other thing that we’re really working on right now is helping leaders understand that they can lead teams where they actually have no clue, no idea how to do the job that the people on their team know how to do. And that’s really important in our future leadership skills because one, everything’s moving too fast, so if I was the best at this and I’m the boss of that, well, a year later, it’s all obsolete and I’m still managing it, and it just changes too fast and we have a lot more matrix environment because it international or virtual or any of those things.

0:08:34.1 S2: So one of the other things that we’ve got to start learning is leading people in a way that we don’t know how they do their job, but we still have to hold them accountable, we still have to get curious with them and still have to lead that and that can be uncomfortable for a lot of people.

0:08:50.4 S1: And that’s the reality that we’re evolving into where the leaders possibly don’t have technical information that the work is to… If you like, Okay, Jen, I’m gonna give you an assignment wrapping up, I’m going to give you an assignment to put together a podcast full of leaders, you’re gonna host the podcast, this is the podcast in heaven, so they can be alive or dead, they can be fictional if you like as well, but are the leaders that you feel embody the skills and the mindsets and the personalities that are important to you, so if you’re putting this podcast together as the host, who would be your three leaders to exemplify leadership…

0:09:31.7 S2: Oh my gosh, that I love that. I gotta find people who make noise, I love leaders that make noise. So the first one, which will be really random, my great-grandmother, she was way ahead of her time, she made a ton of noise, she had her Master’s degree in the 1800s, lived in Middle America, small town, and she created a ton of noise and did a lot for women in the Midwest and brought Girl Scouts and to the State of Kansas, things like that. So she made noise, and I love that she made noise, I know she was away for her time and I go, she’s on the case, she was always before his time, so.

0:10:08.7 S1: It… She’s got a character as well, she doesn’t take a stick from people…

0:10:12.4 S2: Yeah, oh no, she had lived on a farm, she was a farm wife and didn’t put up with anything, which is kind of a trend of the females in our family. Gosh, who else? That’s so hard to narrow it down to three. When you got one.

0:10:26.9 S1: In the Sheraton there?

0:10:29.8 S2: Yeah, I think that… Oh, you know who I’d love to bring in just because… Probably ’cause I just wanna meet her. Michelle Obama. So if I’m gonna invite anyone, I just wanna meet her. But I think that she’s got such a cool head about her, she’s curious, she’s kind, but she also doesn’t take anything, she’ll create a little bit of noise too, but she creates that curiosity and that provocative thought with kindness and respect, and I think that’s a beautiful, amazing… Way to think about leadership. So she’s probably my number two for self issues, and I just wanna meet her.

0:11:09.6 S1: But she manages himself very well, it doesn’t… She, I think that she’s obviously easily criticized, she’s in a very high profile position, and yet she seems to navigate it very well, both of them ready, they do very well in sort of managing their profile… Their brand, if you like. But she has a very good sort of calm energy about him, I think… Yeah, she does go one more.

0:11:34.2 S2: And then the other one’s gonna be totally out of left field probably to Dolly Parton, I don’t know if you know much about Dolly Parton, but that was a eternal… Are the.

0:11:44.8 S1: Been reinvented a bit of As opposed feminist icon in the recent… She seems to have had a revival where she was seen as a bit of a doll, if you like the old world. She seemed to reinvent, I don’t know. Maybe she was always like that. What’s your take on that?

0:12:00.6 S2: I think she was always like that, I think that maybe she was uncomfortable or the world was unwilling to let her be her, but I think she’s always been strong. If you look back, even 40, 50 years ago, some of the non-profits that she started, she’s very quiet about the work she does, and so I don’t think everyone always gives her the credit for it, but if you go and really look and research some of the work she’s done to better communities, I have a ton of respect for it, and she wakes up every day and does what she loves, and I think there’s a ton of of respect for that, so that would be my really random list of some kick ass, amazing women.

0:12:41.0 S1: That’s gonna be about podcast, you get Grant Michelle Obama in Dolly Parton, it’s gonna be more rock at least. No, holds bar. So the last question, now that this is an over-time question, is that you’ve picked three women, obviously, there’s gonna be for wind at the table there, and I’m just curious, you will take on the last 18 months in the world, we’ve seen some interesting case studies and leadership, men and women both attempt to manage crisis, and I know it’s easy to draw conclusions, Monahan, women are that, but there seems to be different approaches here, what are your thoughts and how women leaders have handled the pandemic and the crisis as opposed to men, is there a difference or is it just random? The fact that it seems that the best responses came from women.

0:13:27.3 S2: So I think that for me, those are women I respect, but when I look at the research has actually been some research that have recently come out, Harvard Business Review did some articles and research on organizations that fared well during the pandemic, and they went and surveyed those employees and they surveyed them on certain competencies, and overall female lead businesses did far better during the pandemic and they scored better on those internal surveys around kindness, appreciation, understanding, and… That’s the results from the study. So it is interesting and you do… There are some studies also to show long-term financially, if a company is primarily female, it does better financially long-term, typically they do better short-term with Mel liters and female leaders over a long term. And so there’s a lot of research, and I think it’s just… There are some differences, I think, in how men and women lead, and I think a lot of it goes to risk, and how do you weigh out risk, and typically men take bigger risks than women do.

0:14:42.2 S1: Absolutely, yeah, there’s been a lot of research on this as well, especially if you look, for example, in business and startups, maintain to want to break through and 100ad in the universe where women are much more sort of measured and they both have their roles and time frames as well, and appropriate to different fitness landscapes in business as well, so it’s fascinating, the world of leadership, really understanding that and delving into the science behind it as well. So, Jen Thornton, thank you very much for joining us on the show and sharing a little bit of that journey with us. Where do we find out more about you?

0:15:20.5 S2: So you can find out more about our organization at, you can connect directly with me at LinkedIn at Jen Thornton ACC and we can continue the conversation there.

0:15:31.7 S1: Jen Thornton, everybody, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.

0:15:35.5 S2: Thanks for having me.

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