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.)


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.


4 Steps to Developing the Thinking Agility of Today’s and Tomorrow’s Leaders

We have to be faster. We have to be more flexible. We have to constantly balance the long term and the short term, and quickly rearrange what we’re doing and how we’re structured to deal with today’s and tomorrow’s big challenges.

The question is:

How will you adapt? 

Find out how thinking agility—the ability to consciously shift your thinking when the situation requires it—can provide the antidote to an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. 

Whether you’re responsible for developing leaders, are a leader or aspire to be one, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi’s recent webcast for, 4 Steps to Developing the Thinking Agility of Today’s and Tomorrow’s Leaders, will give you strategies and actions you can immediately put into practice to claim the thinking space necessary to adapt and be more agile every day.

Here’s what one participant had to say about the webinar:

This was EXCELLENT! I love webinars that share a little bit of knowledge along with a lot of action items and resources in an organized fashion.

View the webinar and then share with us:

What are the few critical competences your organization needs to focus on to help people get mentally “unstuck” so they can adapt?

Engage the Brains of Your High Potentials & Managers As If Your Business Depends On It (Because it Does)

High-potential leaders are critical to ensuring businesses can meet their goals now and in years to come, and that’s why one of the most pressing human resource challenges today is a lack of up-and-coming managerial talent to quickly and effectively execute on critical strategies and initiatives.

A recent PWC survey found that 50% of business leaders say their biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining high-potential middle managers. The impact, they report, is being felt across the business, from cancelled or delayed strategic initiatives to missed market opportunities and an inability to innovative effectively.

In its 2012 Talent Shortage Survey report, Manpower points out that organizations need to make some changes to turn this tide:

This lack of talent will force organizations to adopt a new mindset regarding talent development, where upskilling their existing employees and developing candidates with potential becomes the norm rather than the exception.

The question is, what’s the best way to do it, particularly when time and resources are limited?

Start with thinking.

Our research shows that thinking preferences impact the way people approach communications, problems, decisions, projects and tasks. When you align management and high-potential development with what we know about thinking and the brain, you can accelerate and optimize the performance of the “bench,” helping this essential group accomplish more today and lead the way tomorrow.

Here are just a couple of areas where a framework of thinking can help your up-and-coming leaders meet the challenges of today’s business environment:

Execution: Leaders need to quickly and efficiently move the organization from Point A to Point B, and that means knowing when and how to get work done through others and manage the thinking resources on a project. Your leaders — whether they have the title or not — need to effectively leverage their own thinking and the thinking around them to successfully execute on critical strategies.

Innovation and Problem Solving: Quickly coming up with breakthrough ideas and solutions requires leaders who can bring together and manage diverse thinking and put it to work to solve problems that may not have clear-cut answers. The most effective leaders are encouraging everyone around them to bring their best thinking to work. And they understand how to lead an effective problem-solving process so even the most complex issues are addressed quickly.

These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg. In her November 29th webinar, Building Brainpower on the Bench: Motivate and Engage the Brains of High Potentials and New Leaders, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi will show you how to incorporate a Whole Brain® Thinking framework into your HR, talent management and learning & development strategies so you can develop a strong bench with the thinking capacity to lead effectively in any situation.

What do you think? Is the leadership skills gap impacting your organization?

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


Leaders Need to Develop Their Thinking Agility

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In a recent video interview, Tapping into the Brain for Powerful Results, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO of Herrmann International, shared why thinking agility is so important for leaders today, and why the ability to adapt to situations as they arise and focus energy on optimizing thinking processes is critical to the development of the next generation of leadership.

The interview, which was conducted at the 2012 ASTD International Conference and Expo, is part of a Training & Development Insights documentary project sponsored by Cooper Services. In it, Ann explains how leaders can become more balanced in thinking both strategically and tactically.

You can watch the video in its entirety at  and access additional resources.

Hiring Is Up, But Will Your New Hires Stay?

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Earlier this year, we talked about the challenges new hires often face when joining a company, and how organizations and their leaders can “teach culture” to ease the onboarding process.

Another new survey of 500 human resource professionals shows just how important the onboarding and employee engagement processes are — in real financial terms.

According to Allied Van Lines’ 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, employers are losing nearly a quarter of their new hires within the first year. Of those that remain, one-third fail to achieve productivity targets.

Citing an average cost of $10,731 to fill one position, and another $21,033 per new hire for relocation, the study shows how this retention and productivity problem is more than just an HR issue; it’s a bottom-line issue.

Why are new hires leaving? According to the respondents, the top three reasons are managerial relationships, job performance and career advancement opportunities.

As the economy turns around and hiring picks up, your organization may need to take a fresh look at the onboarding and employee engagement processes. So much has changed in the workplace and business environment over the past few years, yet many of our internal systems and processes haven’t kept up.

Here’s an innovative approach a pharmaceutical company we’ve worked with has taken.

While training and a strong coaching culture already existed, the company worked with its sales managers to help them better understand the mental demands of the sales rep positions they were filling as well as their own and their employees’ thinking preferences.

By mapping the job responsibilities against the thinking processes involved, and then looking at their own thinking preferences as well as the preferences of the new hires, they could not only put together a more focused, targeted development plan, they could better align their coaching to the individual.

Many of the new hires were recent college graduates. This approach didn’t just give them a faster way to learn the ropes and achieve productivity goals — although it did, reducing the average ramp-up time from two years to just seven months — it also brought them into the culture in a more significant way. They appreciated the insights they learned about thinking preferences, many commenting that they’d wished they’d known this information when they were in school.

What onboarding or retention challenges have you seen since hiring has picked back up? Have you used any Whole Brain® Thinking approaches to make the process easier and more effective?

Engaging Employees: Pay Attention to What Really Matters

Engaging Employees: Pay Attention to What Really Matters

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From business magazines to HR publications to health and wellness websites, employee engagement is one of the hot topics of the moment.

The Googles and’s of the world are often name-dropped as examples of companies that are doing it right, keeping their employees happy and, well, keeping their employees.

But what makes them happy? Is it the perks like free food and dry cleaning? The financial incentives? The social activities?

Before you install that coffee bar, take a look at what employees say really matters to them.

While Google offers many perks, the research shows that these aren’t actually the primary drivers of job satisfaction. Referring to the results of his study of more than 1,400 US-based companies, Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, put it bluntly about what motivates employees:

“What they really need is a workplace that isn’t going to irritate them.”

What actually makes Google so successful, he adds, “is the competition of ideas, the pure meritocracy, whoever has the best idea wins.”

Blessing White’s Employee Engagement Report echoes these findings. In their survey of more than 11,000 people around the globe, they found that “employees worldwide view opportunities to apply their talents, career development and training as top drivers of job satisfaction.”

And managers, they point out, aren’t necessarily focusing on the things that matter most to their employees.

No wonder employees are irritated. And no wonder the high potentials at those organizations are looking for other opportunities.

What motivates one person won’t necessarily motivate another, but applying what we know about the brain makes it easier for leaders to understand how different employees prefer to think and approach their work and what they pay attention to. Because thinking drives behavior, it gives leaders the clues and framework to focus on what will really engage, motivate and retain their employees.

If you’re an HBDI® Certified Practitioner, be sure to register for the January 25th THINC™ Webinar, Don’t Lose Your Top Talent! Engaging Employees With Whole Brain® Leadership, for specific tips and takeaways on how to help your managers take action to engage their employees in a meaningful way.

Leadership in an Age of Information Overload

What does it take to be an effective leader in an age of information overload?

In an webinar last month, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi showed participants how to develop their leaders’ “mind management skills” so they can successfully navigate in an increasingly noisy and demanding environment. If you missed the session, or if you want to view it again and download the slides, the recording is now available on the website.

In this webinar, you’ll learn how to align leadership competencies with the type of nimble thinking skills that are critical in an age of smartphones, overflowing email inboxes and continual change. Ann gives you an easy-to-apply approach for helping your leaders get more strategic while getting more done.

Access the recording and handouts here:

From Mind-Full to Mindful: Developing Strategic Leaders in an Age of Information Overload

NOTE: If you are already a member of, simply log in to access the webinar. If you are not a member, you will need to sign up for a free membership, which will take only a moment.

Once you have confirmation of your membership, you will be able to access recordings and register for other educational opportunities, including Ann’s upcoming webinar, Getting Buy-in for Your HR Initiatives: Applying C-Level Thinking for Faster and Better Results.

The Four Things You Need to Know about The Neurobiology of Leadership Assessments

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For more learning and insights on thinking, mindsets and brain science, check out my full video report from the 2011 Neuroleadership Summit.

In our presentation on the Neurobiology of Leadership Assessments at the Neuroleadership Summit last week, Mark Schar from Stanford and I concluded that in this early stage of this field of research, there are four points we have to pay attention to.

We need to define leadership:  The clarity of the research on this is cloudy at best. It seems obvious that if we want to assess leadership, we need to have some clear definition of what it is and what we are trying to measure.  

Two differing perspectives can be found in the business and academic worlds. Business tends to look at leadership as a vital key to organization success, often citing guru CEOs like Jack Welch: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”  

Academia however, is much more skeptical, perceiving leadership as poorly defined, difficult to measure and situational, better represented by a Casey Stengel quote: “The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.”

Defining what it is and what we intend to measure is critical the evaluation of a leadership assessment. In a pilot study we conducted for the session, it was clear the assessments known and most used by business were not the same as those known and used by the academic community. Their reasons for using assessments are also different: Business uses them to make better decisions; academia is typically looking to make a discovery.

We learn about leadership from assessments: Be clear on what YOU want to learn. The hundreds of thousands of assessments processed each year would seem to indicate that we are learning something. Our pilot study showed that those in business had a range of application arenas, as shown below.

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Whatever the application, one helpful way to differentiate between assessments is to look at the construct each instrument is based on. The 16 assessments in our pilot study were equally divided between these four construct clusters:

Personality: Individual, intrinsic motivation

Behavioral: Individual behaviors as perceived by others

Talent/Interest: Individual skills and interests

Cognitive: Individual preferences in processing and problem solving

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We focused on the cognitive construct to address our next question.

Neuroscience might measure leadership: What do your learners need to know and why? Did I mention this was a huge topic? Assuming we can all agree on the definition of what we are measuring as leadership, our initial scan of the research uncovered two assessments where there is a neurological research connection.

The research on the Neo Five Factor showed a relationship between brain volume and several of the factors. The research on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument’s (HBDI®) revealed neurological data that related to each of the four factors of the Whole Brain® Model. The real question then emerges: What does this tell us? How do we decide what constitutes “validity?”

We asked the audience to select what was most important for them in the selection of an assessment:

A. Statistical validity, research basis and pedigree.

B. Reliability, administration, practicality, longitudinal studies and references.

C. User’s perceived value and experience, ease of applicability and face validity.

D. Observed insights, visual appeal, discovery/aha’s and conceptual framework validity.

Our audience then split into four groups based on their answer to the above question and discussed what was most important to measure—and how that differed for business and academia. Members of each group* vehemently defended their point of view.

What is yours? How about your learners? What do they need to know and why? How does that impact your selection process?

Academia and business should converge to advance research on the neurobiology of leadership assessments. There is a great opportunity to further pursue research in this domain. We need more research! If the worlds  (you might even call them tribes) of business and academia came together we could take this research to the next level.

A special interest group emerged at the conference on this topic. Let me know if you are interested in the conversation or if would to learn more about our findings. Email me at, and post your thoughts in the comments below.

*discreetly sorted based on the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model