I am a curious person. I think I always have been. I’m not curious about everything that perhaps I should be, especially when it comes to numbers and spreadsheets and median, mode, statistical variance, or standard deviation.

What I am curious about is behaviour. Human behaviour at the individual and aggregate levels. And specifically, how leaders can take a more human approach to leading.

If I could go back in time to my pre-university years, I would counsel myself to study organizational psychology as that is what I practice within the talent management space. I also often call myself a corporate cultural anthropologist: I study the cultures of organizations and how they evolved, and then use that when designing leadership programs.

My curiosity is peaked when I come across a new field of study that relates to my work.

A few years back I was asked to participate in a week-long learning program from the Dr. Aubrey Daniels Institute. In it, we learned about how to apply or remove both positive and negative consequences as a means of modifying behaviour. If you’re familiar with the “ABC’s” (antecedents, behaviour, consequences), then you’re familiar with the work. I grasped right away the potential this practice has for correcting unproductive or negative behaviours and how to stop or redirect energy into more productive ones. We learned about positive or negative consequences that were either immediate or future, and were certain or uncertain (P/N, I/F, C/U; IYKYK). Most people are easily drawn into the power of negative consequences, and our brains are wired to see those first. More difficult to see and use are positive consequences, but they are more powerful when you add them up.

Then just as I was getting a handle on the entire “consequences” thing, I stumbled across neuroscience research with the practices promoted by Dr. David Rock and the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI). They blew my socks off! I learned about the three research areas: social motivation (the SCARF model), insight generation, and growth mindset.

The NLI’s body of research teaches how to have brain-friendly conversations that help keep people in a positive headspace, even when having a difficult conversation. It helps teach us how to generate ideas and where innovation can come from. And it fits so nicely with the research from Dr. Carol Dweck on the growth mindset and how we choose to look at learning and challenges. It all adds up to understanding how to cultivate a more engaged workplace. All things leaders need to be great at.

Then enter the dark horse: Intellectual Processing Capacity (IPC). It seems very pre-deterministic. And maybe it is. Part of Requisite Organization philosophies comes with a series of research papers that speak how one’s intellectual processing capacity (think of it as how one takes in and processes information, understands it, reasons with it, and makes plans and decisions) matures. Ron Capelle in his book “Optimizing Organization Design” I think speaks most comprehensively about this. So, what’s pre-deterministic? The research that suggests one’s IPC matures at a set rate and that you can predict based on an assessment of one’s IPC, say at 25 years old, where they be at 30, at 40, and at 50, and from there who should be promoted or placed in succession plans for different roles at various hierarchical levels based on (in part) one’s IPC.

" Intellectual Processing Capacity helps us understand not how smart someone is, or hard they work, or how they choose to look at challenges and failures, or what behaviours they demonstrate, or how creative they are "

At first, the three areas (neuroscience, behavioural science, and IPC) don’t seem to talk to each other. Consulting companies might not want to consider how their practice works with other areas of research. Maybe that’s why HR seems to jump from one thing to the next: we don’t pause to consider how all the research and practices work and exist in the same universe. That’s the role I’ve taken on: helping make sense of it all.

So, what I have learned? Let’s go in reverse order.

Intellectual Processing Capacity helps us understand not how smart someone is, or hard they work, or how they choose to look at challenges and failures, or what behaviours they demonstrate, or how creative they are. It informs how they process information. And a universal truth is that higher a role is hierarchically, the more information there is to take in and manage. How fast one matures, and how successful one is (or is not) is not solely dependent on their IPC, but it can inform who should be considered for select roles if your organization understand both role requirements and individual capability. I think of this as more of a filter or litmus test for pairing capability to what a role demands.

Neuroscience informs how we should approach relationships and communication with individuals and teams. Understanding social threats and rewards (motivation), how to help others generate insights and make new connections, and how to persist and succeed when faced with changes, challenges, and obstacles, is the most powerful skill set we can help leaders learn and adopt. I am an unabashed fan of teaching all leaders these core concepts of human leadership.

Behavioural science helps us understand how we reward, recognize, redirect, or correct behaviour with both positive and negative consequences that are unique to the individual. Each human is unique in what we respond to, our job is to know our teams well enough so that our actions are received as we intend them. A simple example: sending a teenager to their bedroom may not a punishment to some, but taking away their mobile, their tablet, their game system and the like is a fate worse than death to others.

My observations may be simplistic and obvious to some, but the ideas I have generated because of these insights are coming into play as I build the talent management portfolio and a leadership development framework with my employer. That’s the power of generating the insights myself: I own them and am motivated to act on them, more so than if I had been handed a manual from elsewhere on how to make sense of it all. And that would be my challenge to our readers. What links are you making? How can you make research that seems to contradict, work in concert for your organization?