We should not use the newly acquired knowledge and apply it to old situations – we have to create new situations.
M: What is the most important piece of knowledge that a leader can get nowadays?
N: There is a big body of knowledge that is considered as basic for leaders that has been influenced a lot by decision science and psychology in the last years. Things that are alive for more than 15 years – emotional intelligence, risk assessment, developing the right purpose for your company are all important. However, there is a new body of knowledge that has been coming out in the last 3-5 few years and will play an even bigger role in the next decades. Because of the new discoveries about how our brain functions, it is more connected to neuroscience than psychology. The interesting thing is that this can be applied on different situations in business, but yet there have only been a hand full of studies about the decision making in business, and how they improve their engagement, motivation, teamwork and performance. The great revolution that we are experiencing is the rapid growth of the studies about neuroscience.
M: The investment in the leadership knowledge is enormous. But still, there is always a question about the quality of leadership. Why?
N: Nowadays we have a lot of resources such as articles, seminars, and videos about leadership, yet there is no evidence that the things we measure in companies, the ones that matter, are improving. I think, we have more leadership talk and less leadership reality in the marketplace. I think the problem in this case is the discrepancy between our knowledge of the brain and the system of a business. The way that the companies are organized, the way the management is being taught and performed and the many other different tasks in business, are a man-made method that fits in a different environment and human understanding. With neuroscience we learned more about leadership, but still we are trying to implement it into the same model – which in my opinion is the problem. I think that the organizational model and the everyday activities are the barriers. It is like using the right tool for the wrong machine – for that reason we have to change the machine. I think that leaders have to do more than just learn the little tricks; they have to understand the need to change as well as the way they do business. This is not because of the digital revolution, which has brought a lot of accessibility and transparency, this is because of its effect on the human revolution in business where it is more needed and prominent. To sum up, my main message is that we should not use the newly acquired knowledge and apply it to old situations – we have to create new situations.
M: So, is what you are saying that the revolution is not in the field of digitalization but in the field of leadership?
N: Yes, kind of. We now have the evidence, that digitalization has been a buzz word in the last few years and companies have fallen in it. Most of the companies are lost, they all have done some digital transformation, regardless of their field of work. Everyone got onto the bandwagon of the digital transformation, like it is the Holy Grail and it will save us from the problems of the old system. Yet companies and consultants all around the world are saying that the digital transformation is not bringing the expected results. Companies face many problems as they are rushing into things without required knowledge, which brings questionable results. One of the problems is also that digitalization is not an end product, it is more of a methodology required to achieve something. We have to use it, but at the same time we have to change what we want to achieve. Things like loyalty, engagement, advocacy, or the things that we see from a customer perspective or our employees, who are not going to become better just because we change the tool, as we are still using old behavioral and working systems. In order for digital transformation to succeed it needs a deeper change, not a superficial one – as I said a human revolution is needed.
M: And how can neuroscience contribute to this field?
N: Neuroscience specifically, but also other sciences like social-anthropology and psychology, are nowadays much more about what makes us human. The management and organizational systems of the past used an old model of what we thought made us human, what motivates us, why we perform, why we buy, why we like or dislike to work in teams. All of these are old models with very basic, if not wrong, understanding of human nature – and this is the center of revolution. For that reason, we have to change the model and mindset, and only then a digital or any other tool will do wonders. But until we change this hard-wired attitude of what makes us human, nothing will work.
M: What about the innovation culture?
N: We have our kids at school, where we teach them zero innovation, as most school systems around the world are feeding us with old knowledge. The atmosphere is extremely individualistic, and we know that an individualistic brain is less innovative, as it focuses too much on details and not on the bigger picture. Schools and universities create education that is very individually centered as everyone is also graded individually. So, after years of education that promotes individualism, egocentrism, repetition of old knowledge, and only occasional team work, which does exist but is not the core of it, we are saying our team is not really a team and people are not open minded and brave enough to move into risky territory. And why is that? Because innovation equals risk. After years of education and parenting people want something different – but for that we have to start changing things earlier. That is also proven by the research in psychology and neuroscience, which focuses on the functioning of the brain from a young age and on how to bring up innovative and creative brains. The need to solve the problems and increase the motivation is often overlooked. Nevertheless, it is also very important, as many people often just lack the motivation to be innovative and creative.
M: What about innovation in companies?
N: Concerning the leadership problem, I think that most companies talk about innovations and have the desire to change the game, but they do not make it happen. Innovation has to happen daily. Much more than reading an article or attending a seminar is required – it has to happen with true leadership, which means true behavior. The question is whether leaders asking for innovation and creativity, are also behaving and leading in a way that promotes creativity on a daily basis. Do they make bold decisions? Do they allow the room for failure? Do they take huge financial risks? If they do that, the way to create innovative companies will be much faster.
M: What do you have in mind when speaking about modern leadership?
N: Modern leadership has to follow a modern organization, so for me modern leaders are the ones that manage to break away from the mental barriers of the old management and organizational systems. The way that scientific management was first developed by Frederic Taylor and other people and the beginning of the industrial revolution had a very specific task – to optimize performance with specific benchmarks. But when you want people to be innovate, to go outside of their comfort zone, and to create new disruptive moves, then the old way is not good enough and it becomes an obstacle rather than a booster. A modern leader is the one that can both, recognize when to apply the old model for stability and management, so our corporate system survives, but also when to use innovation as we approach the costumers with a religious focus on their delights, satisfaction, and loyalty. We have to be a leader that we want the others to follow. We have to walk the talk, and these are the new leaders, who move effortlessly through new models and slowly get away from the management and organizational systems of the past. Old management was about getting things done. Therefore, if you got your thing done you performed well as a manager and for that reason we confuse this with great leadership. Great and modern leaders do not just get things done, they get the right things done fantastically well, through their best people who are performing at their highest level. And exactly that is the difference between new management and new leadership.
M: But how can we make a change?
N: With not giving up and standing up even if we fall multiple times. Everything is about continuous practice and obtaining the right knowledge. I think that nobody should be afraid or worried of changing their fundamental view of what makes us human. We need this change fast – great leaders have done it already, actually they do it every day. We need to change it fast, as we have to abolish the perceptions of the importance, control, and self-arrogance that our conscious mind adapts and then connects with people. But most importantly we have to make a change with ourselves, otherwise we will continue to get disappointing results.
This year, we will host Nikolaos Dimitriadis at the following events:
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