Management requires data, leadership requires something more

tennisOur brains have evolved to notice change because change can mean one of three things: food, sex, or danger. But when so much of the world is changing at once, our brains can easily become overwhelmed.

One response might be to shut out some of the information. Another would be to allow blind instinct to take over. But if we want to remain responsible leaders (of ourselves as well as other people) then it makes sense to look for more controlled responses.

A third solution is to find ways to analyse and interpret more data more quickly. Computers can do this for us, but the information they provide is not reality. It is based on the assumptions and interpretations programmed into the computer by other (flawed) human beings. In a time of change those assumptions may no longer hold true. As this article in the Harvard Business Review points out, the raw data itself can also be flawed.

So while computers can seem to allow us to understand more information about more things more quickly, their interpretations can often be flawed (as recent elections have shown). And computers don’t fix the underlying bottleneck, which is our own capacity to make sense of what is happening.

So instead of relying on computers, another approach is to expand our own ability to access and process the information. Our brains are still 30 times more powerful than the best supercomputers, and neuroscientists estimate that we are only conscious of about five percent of our cognitive activity, 95 percent is unconscious. So we can achieve this goal by learning to draw upon the power of our unconscious minds.

When you suddenly remember something incredibly important that you thought you had forgotten, it is not your conscious, thinking mind that prompts you, but your unconscious intuition. When sportspeople leap and stretch to put the ball exactly where they wanted it to go they are not using their conscious, rational minds, they are drawing on their intuition (developed and embodied through training). When tensions rise in a meeting because nobody can see a way forward, but then the perfect solution suddenly pops into someone’s head, this is not our rational minds providing 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 dynamic change, stress, and improvisation. What we need is a structured way of accessing it reliably.

Management requires data. But leadership requires something more.

Adapted from Inner Leadership.

Photo By anuarsalleh via

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