Tag Archives: ethical leadership

Brainwaves in Business: How neurofeedback can make you a more ethical leader

Brainwaves in Business:

How neurofeedback can make you a more ethical leader

by Sasha Seddon

neurofeedback

The idea of being able to modify brain activity using neuroscientific techniques may sound like a frightening prospect. It invokes images of the bleak dystopian futures imagined by science fiction writers, in which scientific advances have been used to oppress humanity, in an attempt to prevent crime, violence or war. There is no ethical leadership in these futures – the concept is an oxymoron. However, this is the stuff of fiction. The reality is much less scary but nevertheless exciting. Progress in neuroscience is allowing us to enhance certain aspects of our personalities, with a technique called neurofeedback. It is not mind control – it is simply a way in which people can self-regulate the activity of their brain – and it has potential for improving leadership.

Do we need new ways to encourage ethics in leadership?

Linda Klebe Treviňo and Michael Brown, scholars of organisational behaviour and ethics in management, have declared that “a more descriptive and predictive social scientific approach to ethics and leadership has remained underdeveloped and fragmented” (Brown & Trevino, 2006).

There have been a number of cases throughout the past decade where ethics have been severely compromised in the corporate world, with one salient example being the 2001 Enron scandal. This revealed that the CEOs of the US energy company Enron had been exploiting their employees by covering up the company’s true financial health. They created subsidiary companies which could show losses whilst allowing the parent company to falsely appear financially sound, thus raising the price of Enron stock. Eventually this led to the company’s collapse, with 20,000 employees losing their jobs. It resulted from the dishonesty of the CEOs and their disregard for the future of both their employees and shareholders, the inattentiveness of the Board of Directors to the nature of the subsidiary companies, and the complicity of the investment banking world. One way to safeguard against similar crises would be to enforce ethics more vigorously via governmental reforms. Another way would be to take an internal approach, integrating ethics into leadership training practices.

Luckily, neuroscience and philosophy have recently been brought together to work out what underlies the subjective concept of ethical leadership. A marriage between the sciences and humanities may raise a few cynical eyebrows but it usually gives birth to some interesting new ideas. But first things first, how do we define the concept of ethical leadership?

What it means to be an ethical leader

The fundamental objective of leaders should be to ensure the long-term stability of their company and the well-being of their employees, avoiding the myopic self-interest displayed by the executives involved in the Enron scandal.

For John Buchan, the nineteenth century Scottish novelist and politician, a leader’s task was “not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there”. And according to Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, who won the 2013 Stanley C. Pace Award for Leadership in Ethics, it means appreciating the significance of everyone involved in every stage of the process, from the farmers to the store employees. Perhaps then, acknowledging the contributions of every employee and striving to bring out their good attributes, is the key to successful business ethics. An ethical leader is a grateful and empathetic one, able to connect with employees on an individual basis and value their efforts in the bigger picture of the corporate world.

This view is held by the business administration and ethics researchers, Voegtlin and Kaufmann (2012), who highlight empathy as a crucial facet of effective leadership. While it is difficult to map a precise signature of brain activity to certain emotions or capabilities, the areas believed to be implicated in these processes are the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula (Singer et al, 2004). A person uses these for subjectivity and for self-perception – ‘I feel’, ‘I think’. These areas are also important in understanding our own emotional states and those of others.

It is not just a matter of which regions are active, but also which coordinate with each other – known technically as coherence. This is a measurement of synchronous activity, and thereby the degree of interconnectedness, of different brain areas. David A. Waldman has studied leaders who are considered inspirational by their employees, and has found that these subjects exhibit high levels of coherence in the right frontal lobe, an area associated with personality, sociality and decision-making. So what can we take from this? It may be overly reductionist to say that there is a universal neural signature for good leadership. However, by identifying traits which are prominent amongst successful leaders, we can try to implement neurofeedback strategies to develop these in people being trained for leadership roles.

So how do these neurofeedback strategies work?

Neurofeedback is a technique which uses fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) or QEEG (quantitative electroencephalography) technology to measure neural activity in real-time. It then displays the data and allows the user to modify, to some extent, their brain function. Neurofeedback treatment can be carried out in different ways, but a common method employed is where the patient mentally plays a specially designed video game while electrodes attached to their scalp transmit information to a computer.

Positive brain activity in the user is reflected in their being successful in the video game, for example having better control over speed and direction. The brain self-corrects based on the feedback supplied and this is a subconscious process. The user does not have to consciously try to alter their neural activity, as their brain is doing the work for them – absorbing the information and automatically adjusting. Positive reinforcement is a term usually applied to the discipline of psychology, but now it is stretching into the realm of neuroscience. Neurofeedback is essentially behavioural modification at an electrophysiological level.

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Neurofeedback in action

So what exactly is changing in the brain during neurofeedback?

The concept of altering brain function is quite vague. To be more specific, it is the patterns of neural discharge emitted from the brain which are being altered. The number of each type of wave varies in each pattern, and different patterns correspond to different mental states. For instance, when we say we have a high amount of beta activity, this means that brainwaves at a frequency in the range of 12-27Hz (Hertz, or cycles per second) predominate. This occurs when an individual is awake and alert.

The ideal brainwave frequency of a person engaging in neurofeedback will depend on the type of disorder being treated; perhaps the person wants to reduce their anxiety or improve their concentration. The latter is the main goal in combating ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and this is usually achieved by decreasing the number of theta waves and increasing the number of beta waves, resulting in the patient being more alert and able to concentrate better.

How effective is neurofeedback?

A quick search on neurofeedback on the internet yields many scientific papers extolling the virtues of the therapy for increasing cognitive performance. It has shown promise in the medical world, for the treatment of conditions such as depression, addiction, insomnia and even epilepsy. Neurofeedback is also now being incorporated into training to help musicians, athletes and businesspeople exert more control over their brain activity. For the latter group, the technique increases concentration and the ability to keep calm in stressful situations, highly useful attributes for all leaders in business.

Furthermore, it has been implemented in couples therapy in order to strengthen communication and empathy between partners. With this in mind, neurofeedback seems like an ideal training exercise for promoting better leadership. The Leipzig Graduate School of Management seems to think so, having incorporated neurocoaching sessions into their Global Executive MBA programme. Steven Poelmans, one of the lecturers, believes that neurofeedback really can give us a good insight into our professional strengths and weaknesses, as “the most constructive feedback is the feedback we give ourselves…(and) the more developed our inner observer is, the better managers we make”.

But can the brain really be changed?

Well, it is important to note that our genetics do not have a monopoly over this powerful organ; it is highly susceptible to environmental feedback and even the adult brain retains a surprising degree of plasticity. Neuroplasticity is important for memory storage, recovery after brain injury, and learning new skills, amongst many other processes. Evidence for this can be seen in the application of neurofeedback practices for people with neurological and psychological deficits. It has been shown to increase emotional connection in children who have been subjected to neglect during critical developmental periods and also in autistic individuals. These improvements in empathy, as well as focus and creativity, pave the way to greater emotional and innovative intelligence, respectively. It is certainly exciting that we are living in a time where it is possible to visually depict the electrical activity correlating with certain mental processes, and use this to change the way we relate to and connect with other minds.

What does the future hold for neurofeedback?

While neurofeedback can help us to exert some degree of emotional self-regulation, it cannot be used to dictate our thoughts or give us a specific personality – which is of course a good thing. Simply put, it can be used to enhance desirable characteristics in individuals – drive, empathy, level-headedness – thereby allowing them to become better leaders. As Buchan would say, the good qualities are already there, they just need to be coaxed out.

neurofeedback

The importance of Ethics in Sales: the opinion of Nick Lee, Honorary Professor at Aston University, Birmingham

The importance of Ethics in Sales: the opinion of Nick Lee, Honorary Professor at Aston University, Birmingham

by Antonia Di Lorenzo

nick lee 2009

As water and oil for some companies or bread and butter for other ones, Ethics and Sales is one of the thorny problems which involves the new frontier of the business.

As if I were one of his students, Nick Lee, Honorary Professor at Aston University, Birmingham, explained me in an interview the importance of “being ethics” and how to connect this aspect to the main aim of making profit.

Author of Journal of Management, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Dr. Lee’s work has also featured in popular outlets such as The Times, The Financial Times and BBC Breakfast.

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  • Dr Lee, what relevance does ethics have in business and why?

I think it depends, there are a lot of ways you can say it is relevant. It depends on what you mean by ethics.

  • What does ethics mean for you?

I think you talk about behaving in a fair manner. Essentially not taking advantage of the organization or customers in sales. In sales I think this is a very important thing. We have to be realistic. In sales the main objective is to make profit but automatically I think the important thing is to talk about long-term profit.

If we behave in an unethical way we tend to focus on the short-term. If we see companies having problems this is because they don’t have very good long-term prospects on relationships. Some of the reasons for the financial crisis was that there was too much short-term focus on making profit. If you think about long-term continuing relationships and continuing business, then  ethical behavior is the natural thing to do.

  • How would you recognize an ethical business? What characteristics do ethical business have in your opinion?

There isn’t a model that you can look at a business and you can say that it is ethical. You don’t have to say “we are an ethical business”. I guess what ethical organizations have in common is that they have good ethical role models, that is people who behave ethically and show you can be successful by being ethical. A lot of problems with ethics is that people make bad decisions. But they don’t make bad decisions because they are bad people, but because they don’t have experience or a knowledge what the right decision can be or they feel under pressure.

  • What do you mean for “bad decisions”?

Defining what makes a behavior ethical or unethical is actually a difficult task. Everyone knows you are wrong if you go to a customer meeting and you hit your customer with a baseball bat. But what about if you are in a customer meeting, you have to make a target by the end of the week and the customer maybe is thinking he wants to delay the decision for two weeks. What do you do? Do you lie to the customer? You can say if he orders after the end of the week, his order will be not quick enough because many factory facilities are overstressed, so he has to order quickly. And it is lying to the customer.

Lying is unethical in a philosophy point of view, but you can look at a practical one. Is anybody really being hurt by unethical behavior? Do you just think of unethical because of the behavior or the consequences? This is one of the questions we always have to think when we talk about ethics. But also why people behave like that. One reason may be they are under pressure or they don’t realize the importance of behaving in a truthful manner or they don’t have a good role model as sales manager.

  • What about Trust and Credibility? Firstly, how is possible to get the customer’s trust? How long does it take to develop a strong relationship with a customer?

If you have ethical behavior you can build trust. Sometimes people behave unethically because they are afraid. According to an economic theory, if you think someone is harming you also feel you can advantage of them. Building trust from the customer is always a difficult task.  As every relationship, it takes a long time to build a good relationship but it doesn’t take very long to break the relationship. Usually in a long term is always an ineffective strategy to be unethical, but in a short term you can relate to a great performance.

  • How much can the reputation influence a customer?

Company reputation can play an important role at the beginning of the relationship. It can help a lot to build trust.

  • If credibility comes from performance and professional reputation, what is the role of the social media? How much can they influence what people think about you?

Social media plays an important role. I think it is easier to influence people in a bad way rather than in a good way. I think it takes more to build a positive reputation. A lot of campaigns were wrong because people who were running them didn’t expect how consumers will take that. A lot of companies don’t know what it is going to happen when you put something online.

  • Can spending time together and sharing the same interests be a way to get the customer’s trust? If yes, which is the borderline?

Yes, it can. Psychologically we know that sharing interests can help to build a relationship together. But the important thing is to avoid to pass the “borderline” and be genuine. The company has to look genuine, in terms that you have to look real, not just an act.

  • Do you believe there are many organizations currently adopting an ethical approach in terms of engagement?

I think it is hard to say. It is hard to really place ethical frameworks around what people are doing. There are a couple of things to be worried about: one is how important you think being authentic is unethical or to be presenting an image to the world that is not true. But companies do that as part of their job. But probably the image ethical concerning everybody, consumers and staff, related online, is the data collection and data protection.

  • At the recent London conference by Ethisphere on ethics and governance one attendee suggested “sales trump ethics every time.” This was asserting that for most companies if it’s a choice between ethics and sales, the latter always wins. What do you think about that? Do you believe that sales always trumps ethics?

It is a kind of false choice. It is easy to say things like that, but we don’t have any reference. If you face people with the right choice you can always influence what they choose. But the problem is between Ethics and Sales on a long term prospective. On a short term basis perhaps that’s the case, for individual salespersons sometimes the choice can concern choosing the easier and the more beneficial outcome for themselves. What we have to do is showing very clearly the benefits.

People always choose the benefit over no benefit. That’s the truth. We have to present the ethical choice as long term benefit, rather than a short term benefit. The problem we had in the past concerns that there were a lot companies focused on short term performances and influenced by unethical behavior. Ethical behavior is more about long term relationships generation.

If you think about your personal life, for example, if you married with somebody you have a long term prospective or if you have a long term relationship, it is in your benefit to place wider criterion of your decision rather than your short term benefit when you are out on an evening or in a night club. Business is not different to life. If we have long-term prospective the ethical choice is always the highest performance choice. The problem is when we motivate people with short-term prospective.

If we have effective long terms wider intensive motivational programs, people will be motivated to behave more ethically. Our job is saving the long-term prospective as preference.

Got-Ethics

Ethical Leadership: Women do better!

Ethical Leadership: Women do better!

donne-e-coworking 

Today, I opened door n° 68 at 9:15 am. I took a seat and made a coffee.

There were ten people working this morning, eight of them were women. Mothers, wives or girlfriends. But it seemed everyone had something in common: a potential for ethical leadership.

According to a study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, women are less ready to compromise their ethical values for money and social status.

It sounds good, but let’s try to understand why and how.

Firstly, ethical leadership is about understanding your core values and having the courage to express them in all parts of your life, in service of the common good.

It starts with an inner journey, in search of values which define one’s own identity, developing a vision as a frame to articulate one’s actions, and finally, finding the voice with which to express it, in order to lead the whole community.

It sounds like this person would be organised, with a deep commitment to her priorities, able to juggle work and everyday life, never once taking their eyes off their goals, always ready to serve others, following a moral code. It looks almost like a portrait of a mother.

Supporting this thesis, Liz Earle, British entrepreneur, but foremost a mother of five children, reveals that the working mothers’ approach is the key to success in an interview released in the Irish Times on 30th September 2014.

She told the Irish Times: “I always say if you want something done well ask a woman, but if you want something done really well and fast, ask a busy woman.”

According to Liz, women are able to think faster than men, because they naturally have to do so. She co-founded the Liz Earle Beauty Company in 1995 when she was a young, working mother, sold it fifteen years later to Avon. Today, it is a global brand with 600 employees.

Jessica Kennedy, the paper’s lead researcher and a post-doctoral fellow in Legal Studies and Business Ethics at Wharton, said: “It is the very need of ethics that is driving many of us to talk about bringing the ‘feminine’ relational characteristics to the masculine ‘wield power’ characteristics of the workplace.”

Nevertheless, the headline of a global development article on the Guardian, entitled “Women are better off today, but still far from being equal with men”, explains that, despite the improvement in women’s role, in both industry and government, the faces remain stubbornly male. According to the statistics, the number of women owning a small and medium-sized business is estimated to be between 8 and 10 million.

An article in The Independent published on of the 28th September reports the initiative of one of the world’s leading executive headhunters, Egon Zehnder, to end the male dominance in the boardrooms of the UK’s top firms. Under the guidance of Miranda Pode, the managing director, Egon Zehnder has promised to re-organise the male-dominated executive roles, to push women to the top of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies.

Currently, there are just five women covering the big boss role, such as Carolyn McCall of Easyjet, Véronique Laury of Kingfisher and Olivia Garfield of Severn Trent.

It seems women cover support roles but are far from the leadership of a company.

You could ask me why. I could reply to you with another question that could be useful for reflection. If it is true that women are potential ethical leaders, following core values in their actions in the business more than men, the lack of female faces at the top of companies leaves open some questions:

  • Is ethics still a taboo in developing business topics?
  • Considering the wish to renovate the male-dominated executive positions, can ethics and business work together to innovate the old view of business?
  • Can following a moral code save the business or is it just blocking the interests of other parties?
  • Can core values and showing the emotional side of a company create an engaging environment in the office and transmit it to the clients?
  • Can clients be more engaged, feel like a part of a community, be more mindful of their real necessities?

If the answer to all the questions above is yes, it means you are ready to start the change. Put the business in the hands of a woman, she will make sure it is successful.