Leadership plays a critical role in nearly all aspects of social, political and business endeavours. No matter how large or small the organisation, poor leadership can result in repercussions that span years, and even decades.
The topic itself is diverse, and ‘good’ leadership can be difficult to define. One step in the right direction is to ensure the leadership methods of your organisation are ready for the challenges of the modern era.
For many in the top tiers of leadership, removing themselves from the ghosts of past ideologies is arduous, as the patterns and routines become deeply embedded in our minds. Neuroscience has shown repetition is built into our brains, and straying from these comfortable behaviours can almost be a fearful experience for some.
Our brains try to stay one step ahead by predicting what is going to happen next and then preparing the body to react. Therefore, our perceptions are often based on past experiences. This can be problematic when we essentially get ‘stuck’ in a certain behaviour, and it can be tough to break free of that routine.
The brain can be conditioned to certain behaviours, and the basal ganglia are the part of the brain that oversees our routines. Fortunately, our brains exhibit plasticity, or the capacity to form new connections between brain cells. ‘Unlearning’ a conditioned response results in the growth of new connections in the prefrontal cortex, which will help inhibit the original learning.
Think of someone who is self-taught on an instrument. The person may be able to play quite well, but their technique may prevent the full expression of their talent. This also occurs in leadership, and overcoming these ‘bad’ habits takes time, effort and often a great deal of patience.
A hundred years of research has still not wholly defined leadership. This is because leadership in itself is constantly evolving and adapting. Leaders who are unable to also adapt are left floundering as they struggle to use the methods of the past that are no longer relevant or effective.
Most scholars agree leadership is a process of influencing others and this process is determined by the leader’s education, knowledge, personality and leadership style. Leaders are expected to guide and direct employees to achieve the goals of the organisation while balancing a hundred other factors at the same time.
Australia is like a patchwork quilt of small businesses, and together they form a strong, dynamic economic sector. Small businesses (less than 19 people) account for nine out of 10 Australian companies and employ over 40% of the workforce. Only 3% employ more than 20 people, so focusing on how technology can fuel development for smaller organisations is the key to a growing, thriving economy.
But, small business owners must take the initiative to ‘keep up’ with their larger counterparts. Innovation helps drive productivity, but smaller firms aren’t investing as much in advanced technology — only 28% compared to 36% for larger entities.
Technology is helping us to better understand how our brains and bodies function, but something else is looming: artificial intelligence (AI).
AI is growing at a prodigious rate, and it is revolutionising many industries, including manufacturing and healthcare. Since 2013, the share of jobs requiring AI use has jumped 450%. There has been a 1400% increase in AI startups since 2000, so like it or not, this technology is here to stay.
Imagine the possibilities when AI is available to companies of all sizes, from one person to thousands, to help them make better-informed decisions. The idea of a robot companion that is as emotional and cognitively as intelligent as a human is still reserved for science fiction, so think of AI in leadership as support and not as a replacement.
Small business owners may scoff at the idea of using AI at work, especially if they are uncertain of the cost. Like any other technology, AI will continue to come down in price and become more accessible to even the smallest of organisations. If you run your business, or if you have a small family enterprise, imagine the time you could free up if an AI completed your daily, mundane tasks. The future of work is working smarter, not harder, and AI technology could help us accomplish this.
Once we acknowledge leadership must be fluid and our brains are up for the challenge of learning something new, we can move forward in creating healthy, innovative and productive leaders.
Leaders in the modern era must
break free of old traditions and routines.
Neuroscience has shown our brains are very capable of change and the leadership styles needed today will inspire and shape the future for businesses of every size. When we embrace diversity and create the conditions required for learning, we create healthy, curious and innovative brains.
Originally published in Smart Company.
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