We are living in a time of great extremes. Politically, socially, economically. You are not alone if you are feeling confused, unable to discern what’s fully true, feeling blank about how to move forward. It is clear to everyone that the “threshold,” the “initiation,” the “portal” that we’ve been talking about for decades, is finally here.
The moment of truth – the opening to new possibilities that we’ve been waiting for – has arrived! And somehow, it’s even more intense than we thought it would be. The pandemic is the starting point, which is a profound opportunity to re-examine the way we lead and work. As we feel our passions ignited and our hearts magnetised by the call and craving for a new paradigm of collective conscious evolution to emerge, new leaders are rising to the call.
A movement toward greater authenticity, courage, and compassion, and a celebration of wholeheartedness when engaging with customers, communities, and employees. Masks are off and our personal and professional lives are now more integrated than ever. It’s fair to say we’re now getting super clear on what really matters and we are coming to a collective realisation that there’s a much better way forward.
“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”
– Chuck Swindoll
Any real whole-system change that is both sustainable and wise requires leaders who are authentically connected deeply within themselves, to their staff, and to the communities they serve. This requires leaders who are neurologically integrated across their head, heart and gut brains. By aligning their conscious and unconscious intuitive abilities, leaders are able to harness the innate wisdom of their head, heart and gut intelligences for powerful and generative decision-making.
True leadership today requires new levels of self-awareness and self-facilitation for integrating head-based intellect with heart-based values and gut-based instincts. No longer can a true leader rely solely on the competencies dominated by their head alone. As the now well-validated field of Emotional Intelligence has shown, mental cognition and thinking processes alone are not sufficient for total success. More recently there is a growing list of leadership experts weighing in to say that even IQ and EQ together don’t provide the full solution. Leaders who operate only from the head are now considered ‘incomplete leaders’. To truly thrive and lead successfully in today’s complex social and business environments, ‘whole leaders’ must learn to tap into the innate intelligence of their head, heart and gut.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Not One Brain, But Three!
Over the last decade or so, the field of Neuroscience has uncovered some intriguing findings that support the idea that true leaders use all of the intelligence available to them and go well beyond that of just their head brain.
Starting with his pioneering research on neuro-cardiology, Dr. J. Andrew Armour introduced the concept of a functional brain in the heart. His work revealed that the heart has a complex intrinsic neural network sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a ‘brain’ in its own right. The heart’s neural network meets all the criteria specified for a brain including several types of neurons, motor neurons, sensory neurons, interneurons, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells. Its complex and elaborate neural circuitry allows the heart brain to function independently of the head brain and it can learn, remember, feel and sense. Biophysically, the heart creates a wave every time it contracts, which sends blood through the body, synchronising the energetic signals of the body’s various parts, including the brain. Perhaps the most crucial observation is the electromagnetic power of the heart, which is 5,000 times greater than that of the brain.
In his pivotal book The Second Brain, Dr. Michael Gershon described the culmination of over a decade of research and discovery that the gut also contains a complex and fully functional neural network or ‘brain’. The gut brain, known as the enteric brain, contains over 500 million neurons and sends and receives nerve signals throughout the chest and torso and innervates organs as diverse as the pancreas, lungs, diaphragm and liver. The gut brain is a vast chemical and neuro-hormonal warehouse and uses every class of neurotransmitter found in the head brain. Research has shown that the gut brain can learn, store memories and perform complex independent processing. The significance of these findings to leadership development is deeply profound.
“If you want to improve the organisation, you have to improve yourself and the organisation gets pulled up with you.”
– Indra Nooyi
Competencies of the Heart and Gut Brains
Following these findings, behavioural research has advanced heart and gut brains’ function in the practical areas of: decision-making; action-taking; intuition; relationships; health and wellbeing; and personal fulfillment has followed. Further analysis has shown that the heart and gut brains are involved in representing and processing very specific forms of intelligence and intuitive functions.
These findings support commonly held notions such as trusting your ‘gut instinct’ and being ‘true to your heart’. They also back up the assertions that whole leaders need to use not only their heads, but also the innate intelligence and wisdom of both their heart and gut.
“There is a looming chasm between what your brain knows and what your mind is capable of accessing.”
Primary Functions of Our Three Brains
Findings indicate that there are three core Prime Functions for each of the three neural networks, or brains.
Emoting – emotional processing (anger, grief, hatred, joy, happiness etc.)
Values – processing what’s important to you and your priorities (and its relationship to the emotional strength of your aspirations, dreams, desires, etc.)
Relational Affect – your connection with others (feelings of love/hate/indifference, compassion/uncaring, like/dislike, etc.)
Core Identity – a deep and visceral sense of core self, and determining at the deepest levels what is ‘self’ versus ‘not-self’
Self-Preservation – protection of self, safety, boundaries, hungers and aversions
Mobilisation – motility, impulse for action, gutsy courage and the will power to act
Cognitive Perception – cognition, perception, pattern recognition, etc.
Thinking – reasoning, abstraction, analysis, synthesis, meta-cognition etc.
Meaning – semantic processing, languaging, narrative, metaphor, etc.
Science is so often simply confirming ancient wisdom. Interesting, but not surprisingly this science correlates to the Chakra System. In Sanskrit, the word “chakra” means “wheel” and refers to the energy centres in your body corresponding to certain nerve bundles and major organs. Clearly, each of the brains has a fundamentally different form of intelligence and has different goals operating under different criteria. In other words, the head, heart and gut have different ways of processing the world with different concerns and domains of competence.
“A visionary is a leader of excellence who sees what others do not see, who achieves for now and plans for the future, who positively impacts different generations and raises up other visionaries.”
Your Tri-Brain Leadership Arsenal
As a leader, the importance of this science to you is two-fold. First, it’s crucial that all three intelligences are accessed and incorporated into the decision-making process. Without the head intelligence, the decision will not be properly thought through. Without the heart intelligence, there will not be sufficient emotional energy to prioritise the decision against competing pressures. Without the gut intelligence there will not be sufficient attention to managing risks or enough willpower to execute the decision once challenges arise.
The second implication is to ensure you avoid using one brain to do the function of another. Each brain has its own domain of competence and, by definition, is not the most competent in the other prime functions. This mistake can be typically seen in organisations where the head brain is used to define the corporate values that people’s heart brains don’t really connect to, or the head brain is used to design action plans that people’s gut brains don’t really engage with.
“Authenticity is our natural state of being. The authentic self is a state of being where we are centred, creative, adaptive, and inspired.”
The Highest Expressions of Leadership
One of the many powerful models emerging suggests that each of our brains has what is known as a ‘Highest Expression’. This is an emergent competency that expresses what it means to be truly and deeply human. It represents the highest, most optimised and adaptive class of intelligence or competency of each brain. The Highest Expressions of each brain are:
Head Brain – Creativity
Heart Brain – Compassion
Enteric Brain – Courage
These Highest Expressions are accessed and activated when the leader is in an optimum state of neurological balance, or what is defined by the HeartMath Institute as ‘Heart Coherence’. In this state we are neither too stressed nor too relaxed, rather, we are in a ‘flow state’. It makes sense that unless a leader is in a neurological flow state, their perceptions of any particular issue or situation along with their subsequent decision-making must be impaired.
“When you find a truth that surpasses your desire to fit trends and meet approval, you can be certain it’s worth fighting to spread.”
The Sequence Matters
Another key finding from the behavioural modelling research is the importance of sequence whenever aligning and harnessing the wisdom of your three brains. The order in which each of your brains is accessed makes a significant difference to how they work together and the wisdom that does or does not emerge. Is the head influencing the heart or the heart influencing the head? Is the gut leading the head or the head directing the gut?
The most favourable sequence, for the purpose of leadership development, starts with the heart intelligence. From a leadership perspective, engaging the heart brain first ensures you start with a connection to the people you lead and the communities you serve. This connection arises from a values-based connection within yourself and generates strong emotional energy and a desire to respond to human issues in meaningful ways.
The sequence then moves from the heart to the head brain. The connected and values-based emotional states from the heart influence and shape the head brain’s thoughts, perceptions and interpretations. This influence of the heart on the head is essential for authentic leadership. The perspective of a compassionate heart provides the emotional fuel and desire to make things better for others, for yourself, for your organisation and for the world. The creative perspective of the head brain synthesises all available information into a larger pattern for a new way of seeing and understanding the situation or issue. This is the ‘heart’ of a true visioning process that is meaningful and inspiring.
The combined signals of the heart and head neural networks then connect with the gut brain, which assimilates them into the leader’s identity and mobilises them into action. As these actions are values-driven, the leader’s identity is greatly expanded and evolved through this action-taking. The sequence then finishes back at the heart brain to ensure the underlying values and human connection remain the anchor point across time as the leader moves into action.
Where there is disruption, there is an opportunity. Where there is a collapse, there is an evolutionary juncture. We are living at a momentous time in history. We have the opportunity to plot a future that is unlike our past. We have a chance to leave a legacy where future generations look back and see this time as a renaissance — when the foundation was laid to create a future better than many people living could ever have imagined. We have the power to make progress to co-create the future we envision — whatever that future is, it starts with our leaders.
“We thrive when we are pulled by the future, not pushed by the past.”
6 Post-COVID Business Trends Every Leader Needs to Know
According to estimates from McKinsey, the minimum economic value that has been vaporised by the pandemic is somewhere in the range of $9 trillion. With a figure like that, it’s no wonder that business leaders the world over are looking to change the ways they think about innovation for good. As a leader, you need to know what the current discourse around business trends looks like. Here are a few good places to start.
1. Customer Interaction
COVID-19 exposed just how flimsy some customer experiences truly are, and consumers are taking a stand. Research from American Express shows that one-third of customers will switch brands after just one single bad experience. This means it’s high time businesses get their act together. It used to be that customer experience was the only way to differentiate your brand among a sea of sameness. Now the challenge is not just to stand-out, but to pivot, innovate and transform. These three buzzwords are much more easily said than done. This is not the time to quiver in fear and count our losses, but be a leader in helping customers get back on their feet. We are now serving a customer that’s been financially impacted by COVID-19, who wants to be a touchless and digital customer, and who will be living differently for some time.
A game changer for all organisations are customer/client demands. Harvard Business Review research from 2019 shows that products with sustainability credentials grew 90% in demand since 2013 as opposed to non-marked products.
3. Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence
Mindful leadership is focused on cultivating very high levels of self-awareness, wisdom, and self-mastery, allowing leaders to show up in a way that brings their best self to all aspects of leadership and daily life, and to inspire greatness in others. Mindful leadership significantly improves both the “soft” and “hard” skills of emotional intelligence and business acumen.
4. Social Enterprise
Since early 2020, many businesses across the globe made quick shifts for the good of workers, customers and society. These shifts for the greater good may prove to be impossible to roll back when the pandemic blows over. As a result, COVID-19 may indeed be ushering in a new era of social enterprise. A social enterprise is a business that equally prioritises revenue and impact. This is typically realised through innovative strategies for hiring, philanthropy, production and supply chain.
5. Virtual Living
Even before the pandemic struck, the average internet user spent just shy of 7 hours a day online — an already-high number that has surely ballooned since the start of the pandemic. The digital world may be full of ways to keep yourself entertained, but as the internet starts to become a prosthetic for other aspects of life, people are beginning to look for new ways to replicate in-person experiences online. Wave, a digital concert-streaming platform, recently nabbed $30 million during a round of fundraising and later partnered with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, paving the way for a new era of concerts that don’t have to be attended to be seen. Scooter Braun perhaps summed it up best when he said that “the future of the industry depends on” companies like Wave, and the same is true for nearly all other industries as well.
6. Circular Economy Thinking
Circular economy thinking is slowly but surely penetrating financial investments, which will have a strong top-down reverberating effect for organisations seeking capital. It has been well adopted by organisations in waste, materials, automotive industries and manufacturing processes. This means it’s probably entering a board meeting near you soon – are you ready to make your company circular?
“You can’t live an extraordinary life with an extraordinary mindset.”
A New Earth
We are pioneers of a New Earth. We are opening up new realms, new ways of feeling, thinking, and being. We are each the leader when we choose to be an example for others. It does not mean we solve their issues, but we are able to throw a different light on them. When we suffer with others we do them a disservice. When we stay firmly within our own boundaries, and not regard the others as victims but instead as creators of their own lives, then we are most empowering as an example to others.
While we may currently be experiencing ‘growing pains’, as the old paradigm falls away, this is not a time to give into fear. Keep your vibration high as we usher in a new era of planetary wellbeing, peace and prosperity. Do not let the media fool you. The upside of where we are headed is endless. More people leading at a lower payroll cost. More people who feel connected to their work that are inspired by those around them. More senior leaders actually getting to focus on visionary leadership rather than management. Easier succession planning because you don’t have to spend months looking for one “Super Hero” who can allegedly do-it-all. We are already seeing many new areas of ‘work’ opening up as the old paradigm collapses. When we find ‘a job’ that provides personal satisfaction, we do not consider it ‘work’. It is a joy to be doing something that expresses an inner sense of self-worth and self-identity.
Humanity’s future is breathtakingly bright! Along with emotionally satisfying ‘work’, we will soon see new healing technologies, lower stress, and high vibrational diets which will lead to a dramatic increase in our lifespans. Initially, lifespans of 100 to 120 years will likely be common, but lifespans continuing for hundreds of years may be possible in the not-too-distant future. It starts with you – right now. Choose today to accept responsibility for your choices and outcomes. You are in charge of picking the right life for you, making an impact and contributing to a better world.
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”