Management requires data, leadership calls for something more

tennis playerOur brains have evolved to notice change. Because, for our ancestors, change might mean one of three things: food, sex, or death.

But when so much of the world is changing all at once our brains can easily become overwhelmed.

One response to this could be to shut out some of the information. But then we risk missing out on something important. Another approach might be to allow blind instinct to take over. But if we want to remain responsible leaders — of ourselves and other people — we need to find a better way. We need to learn to analyse and interpret more data more quickly.

Computers might seem the best way to achieve this. But computers bring with them three problems:

  • First, the information they provide is not reality — it is based on assumptions and interpretations programmed into the computer by other, flawed, human beings. In a time of change, these assumptions might no longer hold true.
  • Second, as this article in the Harvard Business Review points out, the raw data used by computers can also be flawed. So computers can lead us into a false sense of security.
  • And third, using computers to process more information about more things more quickly still brings us back to the same underlying bottleneck: our own capacity for making sense of what is happening.

If we want to become better leaders in times of change, we need to expand our own capacity to process information.

The fact is that our brains are still 30 times more powerful than the best supercomputers. Neuroscientists estimate that we are only conscious of about five percent of our cognitive activity — 95 percent is unconscious. So we can expand our capacity for processing information if we learn to harness the power of our unconscious.

When a sportsperson leaps and stretches in a split second to put the ball exactly where they want it to go; or when the answer to a difficult problem suddenly pops into our head from nowhere; or when we suddenly remember something incredibly important just in time, it is not our conscious, thinking minds that are bringing us the answers. It is our intuition.

When we stop thinking we can achieve great things.

We all have this ability. Often it happens best in the moments of most extreme stress and improvisation. What we need is a structured way of accessing it reliably.

Management requires data. Leadership calls on us to deliver something more.

Have you ever found yourself struggling to think through a situation with too much information? Have you ever had an intuition that turned out to be right? Might it be useful to learn to call upon your intuition more easily and more often?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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