Understanding the brain is the first step to understanding your emotions and the emotions of your board of directors. Emotional connections are essential to overall board performance. How directors feel about each other directly impacts the efficacy of the board.
The brain is our most complex organ and even through we’ve been studying it for years, we still have so much to learn about it. That being said, we do have a very good idea of how emotions and thoughts are connected.
Emotion vs. rational thought
If you look at the structure of the brain, you will see that the prefrontal cortex (responsible for thinking, planning and decision-making) is not connected to the emotional region of the brain. Instead, the emotional region has massive connections with the cerebral cortex (responsible for higher brain functioning). The cerebral cortex also controls the prefrontal cortex, therefore it is difficult for us to control our emotions, but it is very easy for our emotions to control our thoughts. Think of it like a one-way street where your emotions can drive your thoughts but your logical thought-process can’t drive towards your emotions.
Keeping this concept in mind, it is easier to understand things that we have all experienced. For example, once you are afraid or anxious, it is very hard to say, “I am not going to be afraid anymore.” At this point, fear or anxiety has taken over your brain and you can’t think your way out of it. You must find an emotional connection to regain control of your thoughts. For our brain to stay calm and in control of emotion, we need to reestablish emotional connection with another person who can helps us to feel safe and secure.
Research shows that groups with people who have strong emotional bonds had far better interactions and made far better decisions than groups with people who had weak emotional bonds.
In other words, groups are smarter than single individuals when their members are able to effectively connect emotionally with one another. When a group lacks this type of secure connection, the quality of its decisions and the speed at which they are made suffer. So when you are faced with a difficult or stressful decision in the boardroom, it is essential for directors to connect emotionally to stay calm and move towards resolution.
Recently we have seen the consequence of a leader without understanding of the emotional brain. Simon Newman recently resigned as the President of Catholic college, Mount St. Mary’s. His actions received national attention after he compared struggling students to bunnies that needed to be killed. These comments as well as other actions he took that were not in line with the school’s core values sent the board and the school into emotional distress.
The board even took steps to apologize to staff for the “breakdown in compassionate communication”. After Newman resigned, one member expressed “I think everyone’s top priority is moving forward with healing, and with rebuilding trust.” Clearly Newman was not emotionally conscious of his board or company in his actions. If he had established better emotional connections with his board of directors he would likely have made statements that were more in line with the school’s goals and mission.
A good CEO or director understands the consequence of our brain’s cognition and emotional disconnect.
Sometimes we express emotions such as anger when less volatile expression could be in our best interest, or we make decisions that may lack an appreciation for emotional consequence for ourselves and others. When people are under stress, these kinds of disconnections between emotions and thoughts should be expected and countered with and emotionally safe environment.
We are obsessed with brain function and emotion here at Level Five Executive. If you would like to learn more about how to create safe environments, please contact us at [email protected].