“The Business Brain In Close-up:Business Week”

NeuroLeadership is a term coined in 2006 by David Rock.  It defines the field of study and exploration that involves looking at leadership development and human performance improvement through the lens of understanding how the brain works.

A recent article by Jena McGregor, in The Business Week July 23, 2007 said: “At Emory, researchers asked 16 executives to respond to PowerPoint slides about moral quandaries, such as acting on privileged information, while inside an MRI machine. They found that managers weighing ethical dilemmas use the part of their brain associated with early memories, which could mean moral thinking is formed early in life.”


Scientists have discovered that our brain is a connection machine. Our thoughts, memories, skills, and attributes are vast sets of connections or “maps” joined together via complex chemical and physical pathways. So when we process any new idea we create a map of that idea in our mind, and then compare it subconsciously in a fraction of a second to our existing maps. If we can find solid enough links between the new idea and our current maps, if we can find the connections, we create a new map that becomes part of who we are.

 Creating a new map takes up a lot of resources. Our brain needs to do a lot of comparing, associating, and matching any new idea with our existing maps. However, the creation of a new map releases substantial energy along with various neurotransmitters, and even changes the brain waves occurring. This is the stage when sudden spurt of gamma band activity is relaesed. There is a sudden, strong motivation for action. So it explains the job of the leaders to help people make their new connections.


Jena further points out “ Business school professors at Arizona State University and Emory University are working with neuroscientists to use electroencephalograph (EEG) machines and fMRIs to study the brain waves or images of executives rather than those of traditional undergraduates”

A lot of people in the companies are now being paid to think. Yet the management models we are applying to our workforces are still those of the process era. W e have not yet taught our leaders and managers how to improve thinking, they need to do so with extremely knowledgeable individuals. The increasing education and independence of employees is an important issue. Yet we have not yet reinvented our management models.

The new generations coming into management positions have different needs from their predecessors. They need leaders who help them fulfill their potential at work.

Leaders who improve their thinking.


[Rock and Schwartz] have been […] applying broader themes from neuroscience to leadership rather than trying to map individual managers’ brains. One of their main ideas emphasizes that mindful, focused attention on new management practices, rather than on old habits, can rewire the brain.(Jena Mc Gregor)


Science has shown us that we can change the way we think, and that’s not as hard as we’ve been assuming. Changing a habit, now that’s hard, but leaving it where it is and creating a whole new habit-that turns out to be far more achievable.

In the workplace context this insight says that if a manager is trying to improve an executive’s performance, then working out what’s wrong with their thinking is not going to be very productive stating the need for a whole new approach.

An exciting new domain within neuroscience called neuroplasticity found that the brain had a remarkable ability to repair itself when things went wrong. Scientists noticed that the brain was capable of creating new connections on a massive scale, at any stage of life, and this in response to anything new that was learned, such as learning to play an instrument. If we want to hardwire a new behavior we just need to give our new mental map enough attention over enough time to ensure it becomes embedded in our brain. We do this by making links to different parts of the brain so that the web of links thickens and spreads out.

Again in the workplace, to improve people’s performance, our job is to help them find new ways to approach situations that leaves their existing wiring where it is, and allows for the development and ultimately the hard wiring of new habits. This also means we need them to focus on solutions rather than problems. The need to `fix` behaviors and become fascinated with identifying and growing people’s strengths, an entirely other discipline. It is often seen that if the focus is on just improving thinking, rather than trying to understand or unravel it, the conversations are surprisingly quick and simple.


Jim Smalley, director of training and leadership development, has been working with Rock to school managers. One insight: Focus on just three goals to “quiet all the background noise in the brain,” says Smalley. The brain, they’re reminded, can hold only a few ideas at a time in its working memory.



The working memory vs. hard wiring: David and Schwartz compare the working memory to a stage used for understanding, making decisions, and remembering. However the challenges are that it has limited capacity, is easily distracted and is energy intensive. They call it the spotlight of attention.


Jeffery Schwartz says “An important and well verified law in quantum mechanics called Quantum Zeno Effect turns out to be the key to understanding how focused attention can systematically re-wire the brain…..If you pay enough attention to a certain set of brain connections, it keeps this relevant circuitry stable, open and dynamically alive, enabling it to eventually becoming a part of the brain’s hard wiring.





ABCDE method by Brian Tracy :Effective Time Management Technique

Brian Tracy is an international success coach. He has produced a Podcast series entitled “21 Great Ways To Double Your Productivity.” In this installment of that series, Brian Tracy discusses how to double your output by using the ABCDE Method.

You will find the principles discussed in this article simple to implement in your life. The ABCDE Method by Brian Tracy is hands-down one of the most effective time management methods anywhere.

Brian Tracy says that in order for you to achieve success, you will need to learn to identify and work on your most important tasks until they’re complete. The ABCDE method will help you find your most important tasks and prioritize them.

It’s easy to figure out your most important task. Think about which, of all your tasks, will carry the greatest consequences, whether or not it’s finished.

That’s the key: to continually identify the consequences of completing, or not completing, a given task.

The three steps of Brian Tracy’s Successful ABCDE Method:

1. Make a list of all of your To Do’s.

2. Go through the list and put one of these letters (ABCDE) by each item

“A” items are your key tasks. There will be major consequences if you don’t complete these. Start on these first.

A “B” item is “Should Do” but is not as important as an “A” item. There are only mild consequences to not completing these tasks. The consequences are only short-lived.

“C” tasks have no consequences. They’re nice to do, but not essential. They will not contribute to your long-term success in your personal life or career.

Remember that you should never work on a “B” when an “A” still exists on your list. The same goes for “C” items. Don’t work on these until all of the “B” tasks are complete.

D’s need to be completed but should be given to someone else. In one word – delegate. The only time you should spend on these tasks is the amount of time it takes you to figure out someone to delegate the task to.

“E” stands for eliminate. You can eliminate these tasks and there will be no consequences.

If you want to free yourself to work on your A and B tasks you really need to discipline yourself to get rid of all tasks that can be done by others and to eliminate all non-essential tasks.


3. Put A’s in order of priority.

You do this by placing numbers by each item. 1 for the most important, 2 for the next important, etc. You’ll end up with a list that looks like this: A1, A2, A3, … Next stick to A1 until there is nothing left to do on that task.

If you truly want to double your productivity, you would be wise to adapt the ABCDE Method into your daily planning. Brian Tracy is a master at what he teaches, as demonstrated by his own success.

( Credit : Brian Tracy. )

Unilever’s former HR chiefs much in demand : The Economic Times :16/5/2008

16 May, 2008, 0532 hrs IST,Arati Menon Carroll, TNN
“Know what’s in there?” asks Leena Nair pointing to a row of drawers in her office at Lever House. “Thirty years of HR planning papers.” If the executive director, human resources (HR), allowed us access to them, we might have given you the low down on how Vindi Banga’s career was plotted or when exactly fast-tracker Harish Manwani was deigned a potential chairman. But alas, the contents of the drawers remain firmly under lock and key. “Other companies have these formats too, but the difference here is the rigour with which HR chiefs have owned these processes and the leadership’s commitment to them,” says Nair. “Over 50% of top management’s time is spent on people issues.”

Levers has long enjoyed iconic status for leadership development and Nair estimates that 440 of India Inc’s CEOs and heads of global boards today are Levers alumni. Less documented is the spread of HR heads across India Inc, most of whom have had substantive careers with Levers. “Look around you,” says Nair, “From ICICI’s Ramkumar to Aditya Birla’s Santrupt Mishra and Colgate’s Debashish Roy, Lever-ites occupy top HR posts across India Inc. 80% of Confederation of Indian Industries’ (CII) HR committee is ex-Levers .”

Interesting, but what happens when HR chiefs, after lengthy and successful tenures at Levers, retire? Taking board seats is old hat. In what seems to be a trend, they are choosing to become executive coaches, whizzing about the country (and worldwide), helping high-performing top management achieve that critical edge. With strong foundations in management development and organisational transformation, their role of coaching CEOs has become a natural extension.

RR Nair, who retired from Unilever in 1999 as advisor, organisation development and training for Central Asia & Middle East, is a case in point. His potential as a coach was recognised by Keki Dadiseth , then outgoing chairman, who requested him to continue as mentor to Vindi Banga and Harish Manwani after retirement. A few years later, when his involvement with Levers ended (“ to make room for others” he jokes), Nair’s multicultural exposure to the human dimensions of M&A (Unilever Arabia at one point comprised 36 nationalities) was priceless to other firms. Today, the lion’s share of his time is spent on addressing issues of succession and leadership effectiveness in Indian companies. “With an ageing senior management , creation of a robust leadership pipeline is a huge preoccupation ,” he says.

Other companies have produced respected independent HR consultants — Infosys’ Hema Ravichandran, Cadburys’ Radhakrishnan Menon, ITC’s Zahid Gangjee, Bharti’s Jagdeep Khandpur — but no company has produced them in greater numbers than Levers. And all of them are juggling packed itineraries, with most Indian companies on a growth binge and in dire need of HR advice.

After three decades in HUL, Prem Kamath decided to “go it alone” a few years ago, as a specialist in executive coaching and leadership development. When Kamath deals with issues of organisational restructuring he knows what he is talking about — handling the testing HR integration of the 1993 Tomco-HUL and Brooke Bond-Lipton mergers was lasting learning. “We all had to re-learn the paradigm of labour-management relations,” he says.

Interestingly, Kamath is actually an operations guy. With an engineering degree from IIT followed up with an MBA from IIM, and with the first 16 years of his career spent in marketing and sales, Kamath was one of many hard-boiled operations heads who were thrown into the deep end of HR by Dadiseth. “It was considered an advantage to have HR guys who spoke the language of the operating side because the acceptance levels were higher,” says Kamath.

Dadiseth, for his part, passes on the credit for introducing non-HR people into tough industrial relations jobs to former chairman Ashok Ganguly: “I simply built upon it. At the end of the day, he believed that if you have the necessary IQ and interpersonal skills, then very quickly you can make up the experience deficit and go on to do a very good job.” “I think those of us line managers who used to crib the most about HR were pulled in to head the key HR subfunctions ,” says Kamath.

Kamath isn’t the only operations-turned-HR executive to take up coaching. Naren Nanda, a chemical engineer with experience in manufacturing and factory management, eventually retired as head of HR for Unilever’s global Home and Personal Care business. He then founded Enen Consulting through which he has been extensively coaching clients in the UK, India and Japan.

Natarajan Sunder, former VP, global reward, Unilever and today an independent HR consultant to leading multinationals in the UK and India, had a background in science and banking before being drawn into the remuneration function of HR in 1986. “Unilever decided India needed a full-time remuneration manager and I was probably picked because I could both add and spell ‘human resources’ ,” he jokes.

Sunder made the switch between finance and HR thrice. When he successfully piloted the work level remuneration program in India , Unilever’s HR director invited him to design and implement the integrated global remuneration policy. “It remains Unilever’s largest global HR project till date,” says Sunder, who now darts between designing expatriate packages for moves between an Indian company and acquisitions in Europe and developing clarity of job roles for a FTSE 10 company.

Former Levers HR chiefs thus score over pure-HR players in the consulting space because of their experience in other functions. Many of them were heads of strategic business units before being brought into HR. “It has always been Lever’s policy to move people into different roles and experiences across various commodity groups and geographies,” says Dadiseth. Gurdeep Singh, a chemical engineer who retired as HR executive director HUL, says: “Developing potential came naturally to us as business unit heads because large factories had 60-70 managers and thousands of workers. Besides, Keki was always more comfortable having the right mix of business fundamentals with people skills.” Back in 2003, Singh recalls he was alerted to a “problem”

Well respected , with an admirable history of handling adversarial labour issues, Singh was told that a 360-degree appraisal revealed that he was perceived by subordinates as intimidating. He was advised to recruit an internal “coach” from within his team. He chose a young Leena Nair, who, over the next few months became his mirror, giving him real-time feedback on how he could overcome his weaknesses. “I was only a rookie at the time, but he was amazingly open to feedback,” says Leena Nair.

That must have built up his capacity for coaching because today, it is Singh who holds that mirror, while the CEOs at the receiving end squirm in their seats. “CEOs are still very sensitive about selfdisclosure ,” explains Singh. He derived much of his capability from the challenging environment that he had to function in. It was the late 90s and multinationals had swarmed into India drastically altering the way careers were being shaped. HUL was going through a slow growth phase as well as faltering in its long-held perception as preferred employer. “It was a huge challenge to maintain the mindset of risk taking and entrepreneurship,” he recalls.

Besides situational learning, a lot of HR competence came from the drill of administering Unilever’s renowned leadership development mechanisms. “While other organisations hired leaders, Unilever, for its own good reasons, developed its own leaders and so, quickly designed the systems to identify potential,” says Singh.

RR Nair says part of what he tries to do with companies is build the kind of top leadership that focuses on “200 potential leaders with the skills and credibility to deliver” . “There were several reasons why Levers was so good at it but two key values helped- meritocracy and professionalism,” he says.

Tarun Sheth, who retired from Levers in the 80s after an 18-year career and joined his wife’s recruitment consultancy Shilputsi (where he’s added on the practices of HR systems and strategy building), agrees with a touch of caution, saying that while the systems were strong what helped more was a “solid underpinning of commitment from the line” . Sunder agrees, saying, “I wouldn’t oversell HLL’s HR system. It has performed well partly because it has all along been largely owned by the line managers.”

And if commitment rose bottom-up , there was even more flowing top-down . There is collective pride in crediting chairmen like PL Tandon, Ranjan Banerjee, MK Sharma and Keki Dadiseth . “Prakash Tandon set the standard for the CEO to play the principal HR leadership role and that tradition just continued,” says Sunder. Or, as Sheth puts it: “HR is only as good as the top management — if both are aligned you can move the world.”

The top management’s involvement begins with HUL’s management trainee programme, which recruits an elite cadre from the best engineering and management institutes. “Management trainees weren’t recruited without at least two directors on the panel; I had four,” says Singh.

Sheth recalls how the late chairman Vasant Rajadhyaksha once spotted a participant in a college debate he went to judge and didn’t rest until she was persuaded to join HUL’s legal services team. Today that is exactly the kind of involved leadership they’re trying to develop within the organisations they consult with. “An Indian MD recently told me that he was spending an inordinate amount of time on HR issues. I said that couldn’t be better news for his company,” says Singh.

Still, the extent to which they replicate Levers’ standards ends there. While they all acknowledge the HUL “stamp of quality” they are very clear that there is no place for lionising HUL as a “fountainhead of wisdom” . These gentlemen prefer to tailor make solutions for their clients. “I did initially wonder if organisations hired me so they could borrow from Levers wisdom,” says Kamath , “but I quickly discovered that other less high-profile companies have now got great HR systems too, all they need is the push from top management and the environment to deliver.”

Sunder is less guarded, “Sadly, since the late 1990s, HUL would not be considered by the market as one of the best performers , while everyone will admit they continue to have outstanding people. It would be naive to think that people are interested in replicating what HLL did.”

Still, their continued enthusiasm for Levers is thinly veiled, and you cannot escape the unanimity of reactions, references, even rhetoric. ‘You can get a man out of Levers but not Levers out of a man’ might just be the aphorism that underscores the shared culture.

“All of us make it a point to stay connected. The network of our relationships, besides being hinged on collective pride, is what provides sustenance for caring and growing ,” says RR Nair. What about returning to coach top management at Levers? Singh laughs, “There has to be a strong succession plan even for coaches.”

Coaching Quotes

“Coaching simply speeds up a process of change that would most likely occur anyway if an individual had enough time. Without a coaching program that forces a client to focus and make time, people sometimes miss the real issues they need to focus on.” – The Ivy Business Journal, September-October 2000

“People who are coaches will be the norm. Other people won’t get promoted.” – Jack Welch, CEO, General Electric

Papa don’t preach, get some coaching : The Times Of India : 11 May `08


Congratulations! You are a father now.” Abhinav, 30, was on cloud nine when he heard those six words. His wife Aarti had just delivered a baby girl, and the proud papa couldn’t wait to hold his tiny bundle of joy. The moment came…and Papa turned pale. ‘‘I’d never held a baby. So I sought help and rushed out to pick up Benjamin Spock’s parenting book,” recalls Abhinav, now father of two undamaged kids.

That was 15 years ago. Cut to the present and you have GenX couples who prepare themselves to be parents months before D-day. They attend workshops, register themselves as members of online parenting groups, join interactive forums and prep up on everything about parenting – from how to change a nappy to which cream’s best for their baby.

For some, the learning curve carries on beyond the toddler years. Enter the ‘parent coach’ – a concept popular in the West, it’s catching on in India as well. A parent coach is not a counsellor with a degree on psychology, someone you go to in times of trouble. Rather, s/he is a certified trainer who dispenses parenting gyan at monthly workshops for which you pay anything between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500.

Puneet Rathi, a certified parent coach, says coaching helps parents decide the right course for them, which is unique in each case. ‘‘It’s not that without a parent coach, families are not happy or successful. But often parents are uncertain about managing certain issues regarding their children and a parent coach helps them develop strategies to tackle those. These issues also change with time as the kids grow up. We aren’t there to give advice but to catalyze creativity in the parents we work with.”

Take, for instance, the case of Vijay Kumar. The government officer didn’t know what to make of his 15-year-old daughter’s sudden change of behaviour. ‘‘She had become indifferent and wouldn’t communicate with us. I read up books, approached psychologists, but nothing seemed to work. Then my wife and I started attending workshops conducted by a parent coach. They also invited my daughter to one of the sessions. Today, I see a lot of difference in her attitude and my wife and I have also become better parents,” he says.

A number of foreign universities offer certificate courses on parent coaching, and India will soon have one too. ‘‘We are planning to launch a three-month certificate course on parent coaching. We will tie up with a private university and our NGO, Atma Chetna will certify the course,” says Puneet, who got his certificate from the US.
In the meantime, there are several organisations formed by parents themselves to address issues related to children’s education, like the Delhi-based Parents’ Forum for Meaningful Education (PFME). ‘‘We get together often and work out plans to take up issues like the homework burden on children, unnecessary examinations and student suicides. We meet principals of schools and discuss these issues with them,” says Kusum Jain, convenor, PFME.

And if you thought social networking sites are only meant for youngsters, think again. There are around 25 Indian communities on parenting on Orkut, one of which reads: ‘‘Everything to do with kids – from their eating habits, sleeping habits, tantrums, going to school, falling sick to dining out, taking them out on holidays, reading bedtime stories, toilet training…” Community members hold debates on parenting and also meet up in person to learn from each other.

Other than social networking sites, there are hundreds of parenting sites offering support and succour to harried folks. ‘‘I take out at least 10 minutes every day at work to read about children on the net. There are websites where you can post your queries to parent counsellors,” says PR executive Anju Agarwal, mother of a five-year-old girl.

While parents may have gotten net-savvy, they haven’t stopped stocking up on parenting bestsellers. The market is flooded with self-help books like How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk and The Indian Parenting Book . Now whatever happened to good old parental instinct?