What are the key capacities workplaces need in the 21st Century? What mindset and abilities do leaders need to position themselves, their organisations and their teams to succeed and thrive in increasingly complex, unpredictable and interconnected global markets? How can coaches, consultants and organisational development professionals help them gain and sustain these abilities?
These were some of the questions tackled at the 11th Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference in Melbourne on 2nd to 4th of July, 2015.
Approximately 650 people attended the Australian Psychological Society event, including many international delegates.
Sue Langley presented a pre-conference workshop on the neuroscience of leadership, along with a how-to session on harnessing creativity at work and a paper on the impact of positive emotions on individuals and groups.
Sue was honoured to receive the prize for the best how-to session. Even more meaningful was hearing feedback that the ideas and strategies we are sharing with people are having an impact and inspiring them to make tangible changes in the way they work, live and help others.
Conference insights and takeaways
Here are some highlights and takeaways from Sue's workshops and research presentation at the IOP conference.
The Neuroscience of Leadership
Our understanding of the brain has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Neuroscience insights are helping us better understand why and how people behave, perform, make decisions and relate to others. As the demands on leaders and their teams increase, they (and the people who coach, develop and advise them) need to perform, collaborate, innovate and remain agile as never before.
Sue shared strategies for leading with the brain in mind (see her ebook for more) and increasing people’s capacity to perform at their best. After delving into some of the fundamentals of neuroscience and neuroplasticity (the brain's capacity to adapt and change), Sue walked us through the i4 Neuroleadership model. This new leadership framework and assessment method is made up of four key competencies—Performance, Collaboration, Innovation and Agility—and underpinned by brain and body processes that are often forgotten in leadership and organisations.
Performance. The optimal level, both mentally and physically, a person is able to achieve when implementing a task.
This involves integration, the effective functioning of the various components of our brains and bodies, which result in a healthy system. Our brains and bodies form an integrated system and failing to take care of it may lead to poor performance and decrease our health and wellbeing. One of the key factors in healthy brain function, performance and effective decision-making is receiving the right fuel. Positive emotions boost the neurochemical dopamine, providing the brain with essential fuel.
Collaboration. Attainment of a common goal through the effort of a combined body of people working together.
As social and emotional beings, humans feel inspiration when forging positive and productive connections with others. They gain energy, enthusiasm and the desire to act, as a result of feeling mentally and emotionally stimulated. The emergence of virtual teams and a global economy requires us to develop the ability to inspire others, work fluidly across boundaries and collaborate with diverse groups to successfully accomplish our goals. By making conscious connections and challenging the brain's unconscious biases, we can tap into the brain's capacity for empathy and build inspiring, collaborative relationships.
Innovation. The generation of new ideas, the tenacity to bring the best ones to life and the wisdom to know how to enthuse others to support them.
Innovation is inspired by imagination, the mental faculty or recognising patterns and forming new concepts and ideas. Discoveries about how the brain functions when an insight moment occurs has shed new light on how we can tap into our imagination. This gives us the possibility of being co-creators rather than passive observers. Finding ways to increase curiosity and create an environment that fosters creativity will help leaders and teams come up with new ideas.
Agility. The capacity to read changing conditions in one’s environment and the ability to rapidly adapt to them.
Knowing something without the involvement of conscious reasoning involves intuition. Leading in a complex world where uncertainty and ambiguity are constant factors, requires us to intuitively anticipate and solve issues that appear more often in rapidly changing environments. Listening to your 'gut', paying attention to subtle emotional cues and learning to being mindful in the moment are important capabilities for leaders who want to be more agile and adaptable.
Harnessing creativity at work
Creativity may be the next most important area in organisational psychology. In a world where organisations increasingly require leaders and teams to co-create market-leading solutions, generate creative ideas and solve problems under pressure, harnessing creative potential has never been so vital. Yet modern workplaces are seldom geared toward a culture where creativity thrives. In fact, they often create conditions that narrow rather than expand thinking.
So how do you create a thriving culture that boosts creativity, innovation, collaboration and learning?
Research shows when people experience positive emotions they tend to be more creative and productive. Positive emotions broaden and build our repertoire for thinking and acting, according to Barbara Fredrickson. They can undo the effect of negative emotions and even mitigate the impact of a toxic work environment to a certain degree, creating a buffer that builds resilience and resources over time. This is known as the upward spiral effect.
Focus on creating a positive emotional climate to enable people’s brains to perform at their creative best. For sustainable results, give leaders tools to increase the duration and intensity of positive emotions, while decreasing the duration and intensity of negative emotions.
Read more about how to maximise creativity at work.
Creating positive habits
Sue Langley's recent research on positive emotions posed the question: If we change people’s mood can we change their level of creativity? The answer is yes. Both the quantity and quality of our creative output can be boosted by inducing a good mood, she found.
You can help people create daily habits that amplify positive emotion, which in turn can enhance their creative output.
New, soon-to-be published, research from Barbara Fredrickson indicates that if we practice a positive or wellness-enhancing behaviour, and we enjoy doing it, we are attaching positive emotions to that action. This leads us to have spontaneous unconscious thoughts about doing that behaviour, which in turn encourages us to anticipate and want to perform that action again. An upward spiral of positive health (and creative potential) is created.
The key is to prioritise these positivity-inspiring behaviours.
Turn your To-do list into a Ta-da! list - something you can really get excited and creative about!
Learn more in our i4 Neuroleader Certification, Diploma of Positive Psychology & Wellbeing, practitioner certification and professional development opportunities. For more brain-based strategies, check out our free eBook below.