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How to Handle the Leadership Challenges of a Changing World

How do I become a better leader in a changing world?

It’s a question that’s been on the minds of so many I’ve talked with recently. It was also the question that lingered in my mind this past year as I was deep in the process of putting together the second edition of The Whole Brain Business Book.

The response we hear so often is, Be more agile. Build your agility. But how? And what does that even mean?

Well, for one, I believe it means unleashing your full brainpower. The only way you can keep up with change and lead through the chaos and uncertainty and distractions and complexities and big data and on and on and on…is to get more conscious about your thinking and how you apply it.

Unleashing your full thinking potential can be uncomfortable, though, whether you’re a highly structured thinker who needs to experiment and take more risks, or a highly imaginative person who needs the discipline and organization to be more productive with your time.

Fortunately, brain research supports the fact that you can stretch and overcome your mental blind spots to become a more agile thinker and leader. It’s something we talk about throughout the newly updated Whole Brain Business Book.

Although the second edition won’t be on the shelves until this spring, you don’t have to wait until then to get started! Here are 6 tips from the book you can apply today to make thinking agility your leadership advantage in a changing world:

  1. Get used to being uncomfortable: Discomfort is a sign the brain is engaged and learning. Instead of wanting to avoid those who make you uncomfortable, recognize the opportunity they offer to help you stretch your thinking. Hire and enlist them. They can become your biggest asset. Make it a personal challenge to work through the discomfort to new understanding.
  2. Challenge your assumptions. The brain is very efficient, and it will “fill in the blanks” for you when you’re looking for a solution. But when you’re trying to see something in a different way or find a new way of doing things, the quick leap to conclusions can ultimately be a trap. When you begin to make an assumption, flip it around. Ask yourself, “What if this was not true?”
  3. Embrace the unknown. It’s your ally, not your enemy. Change presents a great opportunity for new thinking, but only if you deliberately and consciously take advantage of it.
  4. Optimize your toolkit. Use your own thinking preferences to determine the tools that work for you. For example, if you’re a highly visual thinker, a linear, spreadsheet-style planning tool may make the task of getting organized even more difficult for you. If the techniques and processes aren’t helping, look to thinking preferences for clues and help on how you can find or create a more workable solution for you.
  5. Lighten up. Unconventional approaches free the brain and stimulate new ideas and perspectives. Find ways to jolt your thinking, and have fun with it!
  6. Make it a mental habit. Decide what you want and go for it, making your desired future outcomes a reality.

Especially in today’s knowledge-intensive world, your greatest strength lies in your ability to get smarter about your thinking—to make your thinking work for you instead of being trapped by it. Try it, and see how it makes the difference!

(And if you want to get more insights from the book—and be among the first to get a copy—be sure to join me at the ATD 2015 International Conference & Exposition in Orlando this May.)

 

Just Don’t Do It: Fight Distraction with Subtraction

Today’s world generates a lot of cognitive load, where our work and personal lives overlap and create even more complexities. We’re checking e-mails in the evening and on weekends, and making phone calls to resolve personal issues during the day.

We forget how much of the chaos in our lives is self-imposed. We complain about the complexity of our lives, we survey our crowded calendars and cluttered garages, and we wake up to the day already feeling overwhelmed. Yet at some point we agreed (or acquiesced) to taking on all those things. We complain about information overload even when we choose to over-consume information—a habit that we can control.

Here’s an idea: Don’t just do something—stand there!

When faced with a packed schedule and long to-do list, the natural inclination is to get busy and do something—anything. There is another option: Before you dig in, stop to think. Is everything that’s on your plate truly worth doing? You might be able to get the most important things done by filtering out the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Because most of us are unconsciously allowing more possessions and commitments to stream into our lives. Stuff comes in so fast that we don’t realize how much we’ve accumulated. In contrast, letting go of stuff calls for mindfulness, new ways of thinking, focused action.

If you really want to get things done, you have to get more conscious about what you choose not to do. In other words, fight distraction with subtraction.

Imagine what it would feel like to have to have one more unscheduled hour in your life every day. What would become possible for you with that added space in your schedule? Now visualize a life where your weekends are largely unscheduled and you leave your office by 6 pm at the latest on a workday. It’s harder to let go than to take on, but it can be done. It just takes some practice over time.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.  Write a three-item to-do list. Keep a master to-do list, then choose the next three things you intend to do and write these down on a Post-it. A three-item list is doable and inviting. In addition, crossing off those three tasks provides a dopamine-driven sense of reward and momentum.

2. Clean out your inbox and unsubscribe to any automatic e-mail list that you do not always read. Purge your subscriptions to magazines, newspapers and newsletters.

3.  Outsource your cognitive load. Draw out a map of your cognitive load:

  •  Take out a blank sheet of paper (or use a Walk-Around Pad), and map your cognitive load against the different thinking preferences as depicted in the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model:

A Quadrant: Financial, technical issues
B Quadrant: Unfinished projects, plans, organizational issues
C Quadrant: People and interpersonal issues
D Quadrant: Long-term concerns, “big picture” issues

  •  “Unload” by writing down the key areas that represent cognitive load for you, those areas that weigh heaviest in your mind, for both work and personal.
  •  Now look at the list. Is there anything you can outsource or delegate?

4. Stop the madness by creating a no-to-do-list. Attending meetings with no clear agendas or end times, spending large chunks of time on low-value/low-return activities or clients, mindlessly filling out unnecessary reports or other activities “because we’ve always done them,” checking emails throughout the day instead of at scheduled intervals… name your not-to-dos and then stick with it!

5. Get offline. Yes, you can.

You can balance FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) with TOTO (the Thrill of Throwing Out). Savor the pure pleasure of a calendar with more blank space and a life with less stuff.

What have you chosen not to do? What about your team, colleagues or employees? How can you encourage them to overcome distraction with subtraction?

 

On-Demand Webinar: Developing Leadership Agility for an “All of the Above World”

What’s your biggest leadership challenge?

Engaging employees?

Preparing emerging leaders to step up?

Building high-performance teams?

Developing a leadership mindset across the organization?

If you’re like most training leaders today, the answer is “all of the above.” The good news is, you and your leaders already have the best tool for navigating an “all of the above” world—the brain.

Even better news: Kevin Sensenig’s webinar for Training Magazine has the practical strategies and steps you need to take full advantage of your brainpower and consciously shift your thinking when the situation requires it.

The webinar recording and follow-up resources for Developing Leadership Agility for an “All of the Above” World are available now for on-demand access.

Take a moment to check it out and download the materials, because particularly as the world grows more complex, the time you spend now getting your thinking in order will pay off exponentially in 2015.

 

Snapshots from Training 2014

We had the opportunity to mix and mingle with some of the sharpest minds in the training profession at the Training 2014 Conference earlier this month in San Diego.

We enjoyed learning about the latest trends in training and development, and from our booth in the Expo Hall, we had a chance to catch up with a number of you who shared how Whole Brain® Thinking is playing a role in your development, performance and business strategies.

In case you missed it, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi presented two sessions at the conference, Getting More Done with Less: 4 Steps to Leadership Agility,” and “Thinking and Learning Agility: 10 Steps to Maximizing Learning Outcomes.” If you’d like more information about these topics, please let us know.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts: Agility, social learning, new technologies, employee engagement, measurement…What tops your training agenda for 2014?

“Thinking Managers” More Critical Than Ever

 

In his groundbreaking book, The Creative Brain, Ned Herrmann wrote about the important move to Whole Brain® management as a necessity for business survival and success. The primarily left-mode thinking (A and B quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model) prevalent in most organizations’ leadership teams would hold them back, he warned, because:

The right brain (especially D quadrant) is the only part of our brains that deals effectively with change. As essential as left-modes are to business success, they spell slow death for a company when used without the right-brain modes…If change is constant, in order to compete effectively in a world characterized by change, business managers must function in all four of the brain’s different modes, right as well as left, upper as well as lower.

 Today, we’re seeing this play out almost to the extreme. Managers at all levels are requiring increased agility to deal with a level and pace of change, complexity and uncertainty that’s even more intense than it was when Ned first wrote about it.

 But what exactly is Whole Brain® management? Ned emphasizes that it’s not about de-emphasizing the left modes of thinking or putting the right modes into “exclusive ascendance.” It’s also not about mentally restructuring the corporation:

What I do mean is this: When designing and implementing responses to business issues and challenges, the human brain functions at its most innovative, productive best only when all four quadrants engage situationally and iteratively in the process.

 In mental terms, this means no organization that restricts its mental options to A and B quadrants alone can hope to prevail over the organization that uses A, B, C and D.

 For managers, in particular, that means realizing “that we function situationally—that we have equal access to all four [styles of thinking] so that when the situation calls for a given type of mental function, we can give it our best response.”

 Check out our recent white paper, Navigating in an Unpredictable and Complex World: Why Thinking Agility is Critical to a Manager’s Success, for tips and strategies to help today’s managers use their own—and others’— thinking in the most optimal way.

Because the more things change, the more we need Whole Brain® management!

Developing High Potentials? Here’s Why Thinking Has Everything to Do With It

Companies are increasingly optimistic about growth, according to new research from Right Management. That’s the good news.

The bad? “Only 6% of companies in the Americas say, ‘We have an ample leadership pipeline that will cover most of our needs.’” (“Trends in Talent Management: Employers Optimistic on Growth but Lack of ‘Ready Now’ Leaders will Impede Success,” Right Management)

Coming out of the layoffs and restructurings of recent years, organizations are starting to see better results, but now they’re dealing with another issue: a talent gap. This talent gap is colliding with a changing business landscape—one that will place new demands on the leaders of the future.

So what can organizations do to start “growing their own” to step up to leadership?

The first task is to recognize that thinking, as Ned Herrmann would say, has everything to do with management.

In his book, The Creative Brain, he spoke of the need for managers to be able to engage all modes of thinking, depending on the demands of the situation, explaining, “When designing and implementing responses to business issues and challenges, the human brain functions at its most innovative, productive best only when all four quadrants [of thinking styles as depicted in the Whole Brain® Model] engage situationally and iteratively in the process…”

This description—a call for Whole Brain® Thinking as a way to be more agile in leadership—has never been more relevant than today. Consider:

  • As the environment continues to change, up-and-coming leaders will have to get comfortable with unpredictability and be able to shift their thinking in a moment’s notice.
  • As they move through the leadership pipeline, they’ll have to deal with a variety of different mental demands, many of which will require them to stretch outside their own mental comfort zones.
  • In the midst of more noise and complexity, but less time to develop people, HR, talent management and training professionals will have to find more brain-friendly ways to engage learners, understanding what they need and how to best deliver it.

What are you doing to make sure Whole Brain® Thinking is part of your high-potential development strategies?

Developing Managers? Start With Their Thinking.

“Agility” has become one of the hot buzzwords of the workplace today. As we settle in to a reality of rapid changes, continual uncertainty and new circumstances that have very little precedent and no clear-cut answers, everyone is feeling the pressure to adapt, to flex, to shift on a dime.

In many organizations, it’s the managers and emerging leaders who are on the front lines of this pressure. As Tom Davenport of Towers Watson put it, “Creating a resilient workplace that can deal with trauma and come out engaged on the other end is not a senior executive’s role. It’s a line manager’s job.”

Ultimately, managers are the ones responsible for bridging strategy and performance, for taking the organization from Point A to Point B faster and more effectively, even when it seems as though there’s always too much work and never enough time or resources to get it done.

A recent Forbes article describes agile leaders as those who can “handle any curve ball thrown their way. Leading through this new business environment requires the capability to sense and respond to changes in the business environment with actions that are focused, fast and flexible.”

The question is, are your managers up to the task? Between putting out fires and managing the daily workflow, getting people to bring their best thinking to work while optimizing communication time and managing relationships up, down and across the company, it takes a whole new level of intensity and skill to keep up.

Thinking is the catalyst for greater manager agility.

In essence, where agile managers outshine all the others is in their ability to successfully deconstruct today’s complexities to take advantage of the right resources for the job, and by doing so, get better results faster.

Our research has shown that the way people prefer to think impacts how they approach interactions, decisions, problems and every other aspect of work and management. By understanding and then optimizing their thinking for the situation, managers can increase their agility and overall effectiveness exponentially across the board.

Here are just a few questions to consider as you look at your management development activities in the context of building thinking agility.

  •  Do your managers know how to stretch beyond their thinking preferences when necessary to execute where you need to go?
  • Do they know how to leverage their own brainpower and the brainpower around them in the most efficient, optimal ways?
  • Do they understand how to best manage and allocate the thinking resources on a project or initiative?
  • Do they know how to optimize and shorten communication time, regardless of whom they are interacting with?
  • Can they quickly adapt to the communication needs of others?
  • Much of management’s focus in the past has been on individuals, but effective collaboration is becoming more important for better, faster and more innovative results. Do your managers know how to encourage collaboration, bring together the best cognitive resources for the task at hand, and participate in a collaborative way to make sure objectives are achieved?

To get the “Agile Leader’s Toolbox: 4 Key Areas to Increase Agility Through Better Thinking,” download our new white paper, Navigating in an Unpredictable and Complex World: Why Thinking Agility is Critical to a Manager’s Success.

What about you? Have you seen a need for greater agility in your own role? Is it impacting the way you approach the job?

 

Is A Survival Mentality Holding Your Business Back? Free Chapter Download

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For the past few years we’ve heard a lot about what businesses need to do to survive through the recession and survive in the new economic environment we’ve entered. 

No question, these strategies have been helpful and important. But it’s equally important to remember that, although operating in survival mode can keep heads above water, it’s only a short-term solution. And this short-term mentality impacts companies even when it’s not related to tough economic conditions.

Businesses focused on making the leap to the next stage of growth often find themselves in a similar situation. The very mentality that helped them get where they are may be keeping them from getting where they want to go.

Brain research has shown that the kind of thinking that’s essential for short-term survival actually hinders long-term growth and development. In an unpublished chapter originally written for The Whole Brain® Business Book, Ned Herrmann, founder of Herrmann International, addressed this topic as it relates specifically to the dilemma that many businesses face as they attempt to move from infancy to maturity.

In “Short-Term/Long-Term Leadership: Survival of the Fittest,” he notes that, in terms of the Whole Brain® Model, companies often start with an emphasis on D-quadrant thinking about the future and possibilities. But pressing business realities quickly intervene, and cash flow becomes the immediate concern. Leaders discover they must shift to left-mode, A- and B-quadrant thinking to deliver products and services and generate cash quickly.

In short, they suppress entrepreneurial thinking in favor of operational action.

While this approach makes sense for a business in its infancy, it often perpetuates itself long after because left-mode thinking becomes part of the management culture.

The same thinking that kept the business alive up to this point now threatens to kill it.

For the business to thrive, Ned explains, leaders have to become more agile in their thinking and to be able to apply situational Whole Brain® leadership thinking.

You can download the full chapter here: Short-Term/Long-Term Leadership: Survival of the Fittest

 

ASTD 2012: 5 Reasons to Stop By Booth 711

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The ASTD 2012 International Conference and Expo is around the corner, and we’re gearing up for a great show in Denver.

Here are just a few of the things you’ll be able to do when you stop by the Herrmann International booth, #711, in the Expo Hall this year:

  1. Pick up a free USB drive pre-stocked with Whole Brain® resources.
  2. Spend focused time with Herrmann International representatives to discuss your business priorities and goals.
  3. Experience sample modules from the award-winning simulation, The Thinking Accelerator®.
  4. View quick learning videos on various management topics.
  5. Play “Kinect Adventures” and get the opportunity to win a free Kinect peripheral for XBOX 360!

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Get in the Game

“Kinect Adventures,” the game that ships with Kinect, is the first consumer product designed from the ground up using Herrmann International’s Whole Brain® framework.

We’re highlighting this milestone by giving you the chance to play the game and win your very own Kinect.

Top-Rated Speaker

While at the conference, you also won’t want to miss Ann Herrmann-Nehdi’s Trends Track session, Outthink, Outpace, Outperform: Developing Agile Thinkers to Lead the Way.

Ann consistently ranks as one of the top-rated speakers each year at ASTD, and in this engaging, high-energy session you’ll see why. Learn how to develop your leaders’ thinking agility and apply proven learning approaches to accelerate leadership development in a complex world. You will learn practical techniques you can quickly apply to get immediate impact.

Details:

ASTD 2012 International Conference & Expo

Session TU325: Outthink, Outpace, Outperform: Developing Agile Thinkers to Lead the Way (Trends Track)

Presenter: Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO, Herrmann International

Date: May 8, 2012, 4:00-5:30 PM MDT

More information about the 2012 ASTD Conference & Expo