Leadership as a neural network

If we look at an organisation as the human nervous system, the leader-of-leaders role acts within an organisation much like a synapse does within the brain. The neurons represent the people within an organisation responsible for applying their professional knowledge and skills to produce products or services.

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The leader-of-leaders role is the most significant position in any organisation. With design and decision rights and the ability to influence broadly across an organisation, and even beyond to external stakeholders, the leader-of-leaders role is at the epicentre of staff morale, discretionary effort and staff retention – it can make or break an organisation. Based on our conversations with industry professionals, it is clear that the relationship between these leaders and their people has a direct influence on the outputs and results of an organisation.

In the human nervous system, an idea in the brain is brought to life in the body through synapses. The synapses, according to Moulson & Nelson (2008), ‘refer to the points of contact between neurons where information is passed from one neuron to the next’.1 Without a synapse, the brain is unable to transmit information and coordinate action to parts of the body. The crucial function in the neurological process allows us to function, to learn, to interact and to develop memories. The hand cannot do what the brain wants without effective synapses to allow the neural pathways to fire.

If we look at an organisation as the human nervous system, the leader-of-leaders role acts within an organisation much like a synapse does within the brain. The neurons represent the people within an organisation responsible for applying their professional knowledge and skills to produce products or services. More than a transmission of information, the leader of leaders (as the synapse) must activate and coordinate action within an organisation. The leader of leaders spurs the firing of neurons to instigate action and provides the pathway for messages to get through, therefore triggering the necessary responses within the body.

Using this analogy between our nervous system and leadership we can see that without effective leaders of leaders an organisation cannot expect to perform well and thrive because it lacks both the clarity of role and good communication and coordination between its people. 

When we over-stimulate the neurons, there is chaos and a lack of clarity. When we do not foster and nurture the neurons, they shrink and disappear. These principles can be applied to people within an organisation, where they need to be inspired and supported to grow. The notion of the ‘multiplier effect’ is applicable to the leader-of-leaders role, whereby the effectiveness of this role is carried through to their people and then in turn, the teams working under them. We all have stories of a leader who proved to be a roadblock due to their tendency to micromanage. Conversely, there are the incredible leaders who empower and support, providing the much-needed clarity that inspires people throughout an organisation. The relationship between the leader of leaders and their team leaders is “make or break” for an organisation. To use a corporate cliche, the cascading effect of this relationship has a significant impact on the people and culture aspects of a business.

Given the significance of the leader-of-leaders role, how do you ensure the effectiveness of these leaders and that their capabilities are equipped to be impactful in that role?

Through conversations with industry professionals, Being Leaders has formed key insights into the leader-of-leaders space. Our initial findings indicate that the leader-of-leaders role is the most crucial component of an organisation’s design, whereby the people and culture impact on an organisation can be equally positive as it can be detrimental. The effectiveness of a person in a leader-of-leaders role has direct implications for broader business outcomes as well. 

Being Leaders delivers a leadership development program, working with people who are navigating their leader-of-leaders role. Based on the concepts in the Amazon best-seller, Becoming a Leader of Leaders, the program provides practical tools and resources to help people transform from overworked to incredibly impactful.

Transform your people from overworked to incredibly impactful.

Contact Being Leaders to find out more.

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Podcast: Leadership as a neural network

The leader-of-leaders role is the most significant position in any organisation. With design and decision rights and the ability to influence broadly across an organisation, and even beyond to external stakeholders, the leader-of-leaders role is at the epicentre of staff morale, discretionary effort and staff retention – it can make or break an organisation.

Read More »

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