Are you a brain-savvy leader?

May 7th, 2015

Although I’ve earned a masters and a doctorate in Christian ministry, in addition to my engineering degree, I never heard a seminary professor talk about how the brain impacts leadership, relationships, or preaching and teaching. The unspoken message has been, “You work with the spiritual stuff and leave the medical and psychological stuff to the doctors, researchers, and counselors.” The painful journey that gave me my passion to understand the brain (my daughter’s successful 25-year battle with a brain tumor) has led me to resist that unspoken message and earn an executive masters in the neuroscience of leadership.

As I’ve incorporated brain insights into my leadership and spiritual life, I’ve experienced new personal freedom, leadership consistency, a better ability to connect through my teaching, and a deeper spiritual walk. Many leadership practices were developed in the past to guide leaders to help workers who used their motor skills to make things with their hands. While that’s still important, much of today’s workforce (including ministry leaders) work less with their hands and more with their brains. As a result, I believe Christian leaders need to incorporate what we’re learning about brain functioning.

In my growth journey as a pastor-leader and as a Christian, sometimes I’ve become frustrated with how a conversation went with my family, how I led a leadership meeting or how I responded to a critic. I truly wanted those encounters to go well. For some reason, however, something in my head influenced me to say something unhelpful, get emotional or react. But I couldn’t put my finger on what prompted that behavior. I didn’t have the words to describe these internal processes that affected my behavior. I’ve since learned that deeply imbedded habits and thought patterns actually move further away from the language centers in our brains, making it difficult to articulate them or determine what cued them.

For example, although sometimes I’ve felt my anxiety rise in board meetings, I couldn’t seem find the words to explain why. However, brain insight has helped me more consistently put my feelings and thoughts into words. As a result I’ve been able to better manage that anxiety in a board meeting and listen more effectively to others.

By intersecting Biblical truth with insights about the brain, you can develop new learnings and language so that you can become a better leader in four core leadership domains. It starts by:

  1. Keeping your emotions in check: Emotional regulation.
  2. Doing your best with what you have: Personal productivity.
  3. Fostering high performing teams: Team collaboration.
  4. Motivating others to embrace change that lasts: Change management.

The end result will be significant ministry, effective organizations, and churches that are resilient, cohesive and outwardly focused.

This article is a modified excerpt from Dr. Stone's recent book, Brain Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry. Learn more about the book here. 

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