New Leadership and Neuroscience: A Proposal for Cognitive and Emotional Coherence for Leaders

The DAVOS Forum has established a hierarchy of qualities required for leadership in 2020. It proposes a cognitive and emotional coherence that prefigures the profiles of the transformational leaders we need to build a different future. In the past, controlling economic performance and quality control ensured the sustainability of organizations, today, in a changing world, it is collaborative and agile management, aiming at disruptive innovation in situational intelligence, which is the first required skill..

Proposed changes

Vhere is a comparative table between the qualities required in 2015 and their evolution for 2020. It is based on the work of DAVOS experts. Solving complex problems remains the champion of the list. Critical thinking takes second place, closely followed by creativity, which moves from last to third place. Emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility are in the top 10 leadership qualities, while quality control and active listening are out of the top ten. Systemic and relational skills are becoming increasingly important. The set of talents proposed for 2020 clearly become complementary for the development of strategies to solve complex problems. This coherence relegates the manager manager to levels of execution, in favour of the emergence of a dynamic coherence oriented towards a new form of agility for leaders.
Leadership Qualifications Chart
Davos Economic Forum 2016
Source Business-Les Échos

Critical thinking: knowing how to inhibit, confront, verify... Learning to resist one's own brain.

Cognitive neuroscience helps us understand why practicing critical thinking is more difficult than it seems. This is because we evaluate the reliability of information with our brains. The emotions that govern us are intimately linked to our memories and vice versa. We are under the influence of our past and our affects. The memory and its routines, emotions and their subterranean stimulations, lead us to give value from a reference frame whose automatisms we are unaware of.
It was Daniel KANEMAN who first demonstrated the role of routine modes of thinking and their impact on decisions. Neuroscientists such as Antonio DAMASIO have shown how memory is consolidated under the influence of emotions. These processes, which are precious for survival, are frustrating when it is necessary to "take the time" to open one's perceptions to new criteria in a world where everything goes fast.
Olivier HOUDÉ, professor of developmental psychology, advises to work on critical thinking from a very young age, in order to learn to resist one's own brain. This cognitive capacity - which he calls the trigger "shifting" - is to know how to unlearn/learn modes of reasoning that have structured our thinking. It requires knowing how to doubt one's perceptions/reasoning. The activation of this cognitive skill can be observed in brain imaging. It remains to make it widely known and to value it as essential. This is what is proposed by DAVOS researchers.

Creativity: combining pugnacity and trial and error with the soul of an explorer

She goes from last to third place. It's true that when it comes to solving complex problems, a little creativity is welcome. Many researchers have focused on understanding what differentiates creative people from others.
Ekonon GOLBERG, an American neuroscientist, showed the role of the two hemispheres. Creative thinking requires the mobilization of two cognitive styles. One, controlled by classical mental patterns, the other, giving access to unfiltered experience of the world around us. Creative people solve problems by articulating their acquired knowledge using the left hemisphere, with explorations using the right hemisphere. They mobilize their prefrontal cortex to the detriment of the routine areas at the back of the brain.
For Dean Keith SIMONTON, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, strong creative abilities are associated with creative disinhibition, i.e. the ability to dare to question beliefs/knowledge from the past. It requires cognitive and behavioural flexibility, from tolerance to ambiguity of change. Practising producing ideas of all kinds without evolving them a priori, knowing how to go back and forth, returning to the starting point to take a new path without being stubborn, remaining pugnacious and venturing into unknown territories... In short, having the soul of an explorer who is not afraid to fumble around looking for innovations.

The two new entrants: emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility go well together

Developing emotional intelligence remains a challenge for our normative society. The social authorization to be a "simplex" human, as the neurophysiologist Alain BERTHOZ calls it, working harmoniously with "simplex" humans can only be acquired through an evolution of self-knowledge. The brain has developed in such a way as to be able to anticipate the consequences of an action, projecting its preperceptions, hypotheses and patterns of interpretation onto the world. To do this, evolution has found ways to simplify complexity. Our mental processes are the result.
Seeking deeper motivations than hierarchical power and conformal thinking is an art that requires knowing how to interact in interdependent relational modes. They involve the acceptance of differences and the emotional disturbances that go with them. For this, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility go hand in hand. Talent management and coordination with others can only be strengthened.

A new coherence to lead organizations

This table proposes a new managerial coherence. The output of the TOP 10 of quality control does not say that it is no longer important. It is part of the know-how acquired by the organization and must be delegated to each actor of the system. Active listening is a quality at the operational level, which does not justify a place in this system. The new transformational leaders need to be in a dynamic adapted to changing environments. Integrating new solutions, whether technological, sociological or managerial, requires a focus on diversified objectives, in a collaborative interaction with the human, social and economic environment.
The ability to make connections between different areas/competencies and to challenge prior learning are therefore key competencies for these curious and agile leaders. Louis Pasteur warned us: "Luck only favours the well-prepared. Dedicated to researchers, this adage now applies to those who claim to be inventing new ways of orchestrating the changes underway in an agile and mobilizing co-leadership.

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