Taking the High Road in Leadership | Mantle

26 Jun 2024

Taking the High Road in Leadership

The current work environment is full of challenges that can overwhelm even the most seasoned leaders. We must acknowledge that leadership affects everyone, and everyone has the capacity to lead in some capacity. Leadership can and should be learned.

Leadership today often leaves much to be desired. 

While there are extraordinary leaders who are open, collaborative, and courageous, many others operate on autopilot, chasing immediate profits, stressed, and sometimes teetering on the edge of unethical behaviour. 

The reality is, when our brains are constantly tired, we become fearful, anxious, and emotionally out of control, leading to poor decision-making. 

This state of affairs among many leaders today is a call for radical change.

The current work environment is full of challenges that can overwhelm even the most seasoned leaders. Leaders operating from a place of threat and ego often make decisions that have serious, long-lasting consequences. It’s important to note that this is not an excuse for poor leadership but rather a motivation for drastic change. We must acknowledge that leadership affects everyone, and everyone has the capacity to lead in some capacity.

Leadership can and should be learned.

To support effective leadership, there are three areas to focus on in new ways: the leader, the context, and the content.

Understanding what happens in the human brain at moments of decision-making is crucial. Modern decisions are complex, with no clear-cut options and significant impacts. Neuroscience offers insights into how leaders can better navigate these challenges.

The brain can follow two paths: the high road or the low road. 

The low road is characterised by reactive self-referencing, fear, and automatic responses. This path often leads to complacency and all-or-nothing thinking, driven by the need for efficiency rather than effectiveness. Alternatively, the high road involves deliberate self-referencing, considering others, and executive functions such as cognitive flexibility and self-regulation. This path promotes strategic, clear-thinking, and long-term positive outcomes.

Interestingly, those with lower status in organisations tend to mentalise more than those higher up, suggesting that empathy and understanding of others’ perspectives are crucial leadership qualities.

Neuroscience shows that the brain’s condition significantly influences behaviour. A stressed brain cannot perform to its full potential, regardless of effort. To nourish the brain, leaders must also nourish the body as a whole.

The modern workplace often requires individuals to suppress parts of themselves, leading to widespread depression, anxiety, and addiction. These issues create cultures that shun emotion and struggle to engage employees’ hearts and minds. Leaders need to develop their whole selves, focusing on how they need to be rather than only what they need to do. This holistic development maximises their potential and aligns their strengths and ambitions with organisational needs.

In leading-edge companies, leadership is less about hierarchy and more about personal power and influence. Leaders today must be comfortable with vulnerability and not knowing, as this openness fosters new ideas and resilience. Effective leaders operate from a place of wellbeing, enabling them to be resourceful and resilient.

The Importance of Context

Context is critical in leadership development. Real business objectives, culture, challenges, and opportunities provide the context that makes leadership development transformational and delivers measurable ROI. When people contribute to something bigger than themselves, they activate inherent leadership capabilities and experience leadership in action.

The leadership models of the past, rooted in the Industrial Age, were based on top-down autocracy. The Information Age shifted leadership to visionary models, rewarding those with the most knowledge and compelling visions. Today, in the Age of Creativity, organisations must be nimble, courageous, and forgiving. Leadership is about inspiring others, fostering innovation, and being agile.

Teams now operate globally, often virtually, coming together to accomplish goals and disbanding quickly to reform elsewhere. This dynamic environment demands an understanding of all aspects of one’s context and its impacts.

Modern leadership programmes must teach more than management skills; they must also develop emotional intelligence, self-management, and the ability to lead self-managing teams.

Leaders must be treated like elite athletes, with a holistic approach to their development. 

This includes fostering personal performance, collaboration, innovation, and agility.

At Mantle, we are committed to fostering holistic leadership development that integrates the leader, the context, and the content. By taking the high road in leadership, we can cultivate leaders who are resilient, innovative, and capable of driving sustainable success in a rapidly changing world.

Ready to learn more? Contact us today.