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  • University of Iowa/CIMBA


Bolstered over the past decade by the advent of affordable and effective brain-imaging technology, neuroscience research is begin-ning to influence how leadership scholars both think about the brain and view the contribution neuroscience can make to further-ing our understanding of leadership generally and to teaching lead-ership more specifically. Based on this research, readily available technology capable of measuring an individual's psychological data in real-time has the potential to make significant contributions to leadership-learning environments, particularly as it relates to stu-dents gaining an experiential understanding of the fundamental relationship between cognition and emotion. In this article the authors look at how such technology and the neuroscience research 23 370 N The Handbook for Teaching Leadership that supports its use are impacting learn-ing environments at CIMBA, an interna-tional MBA program located in Italy and headed by the University of Iowa. At CIMBA, MBA students are wired up and measured using nonintrusive, wire-less technology to support a broad range of learning events and activities from traditional classroom discussions and team-based exercises to specifically designed emotion elicitation business simulations. Although leadership is just at the beginning stages of teaching and developing leaders with the brain in mind, the authors are encouraged by the observed results and motivated by the opportunities for further research. Oddly, despite B schools' scientific emphasis, they do little in the areas of contemporary science that prob-ably hold the greatest promise for business education: cognitive science and neuroscience.
Bolstered over the past decade by the advent of affordable and
effective brain-imaging technology, neuroscience research is begin-
ning to influence how leadership scholars both think about the
brain and view the contribution neuroscience can make to further-
ing our understanding of leadership generally and to teaching lead-
ership more specifically. Based on this research, readily available
technology capable of measuring an individual’s psychological data
in real-time has the potential to make significant contributions to
leadership-learning environments, particularly as it relates to stu-
dents gaining an experiential understanding of the fundamental
relationship between cognition and emotion. In this article the
authors look at how such technology and the neuroscience research
Al H. Ringleb
Executive Director, Consortium of Universities for
International Studies
David Rock
CEO of RCS, Faculty at CIMBA
Leadership and Neuroscience at CIMBA
370 The Handbook for Teaching Leadership
that supports its use are impacting learn-
ing environments at CIMBA, an interna-
tional MBA program located in Italy
and headed by the University of Iowa.
At CIMBA, MBA students are wired up
and measured using nonintrusive, wire-
less technology to support a broad range
of learning events and activities from
traditional classroom discussions and
team-based exercises to specifically
designed emotion elicitation business
simulations. Although leadership is just
at the beginning stages of teaching and
developing leaders with the brain in
mind, the authors are encouraged by the
observed results and motivated by the
opportunities for further research.
Oddly, despite B schools’ scientific
emphasis, they do little in the areas
of contemporary science that prob-
ably hold the greatest promise
for business education: cognitive
science and neuroscience.
—Bennis and O’Toole (2005, p. 104)
Imagine an MBA program where students
wear a device throughout the day that
wirelessly, continuously, and unobtrusively
collects, transmits, and stores their neuro-
physiological data for concurrent and later
analyses. Classrooms where students not
only observe the professor’s presentation,
but where both professors and students are
able to observe their neuro-physiological
(emotional) responses as they learn, engage
in discussions, and participate in team
activities together. Student consulting proj-
ects where the same data are collected and
analyzed in assessing progress toward per-
sonal development goals, whether the stu-
dent is within the walls of the school or at
the client’s site. Workshops where a student
learns both the emotional and skill compo-
nents of a particular leadership competency
by confronting a variety of simulations
designed to elicit the emotion commensu-
rate with the leadership competency being
taught—again, measured wirelessly, con-
tinuously, and unobtrusively and transmit-
ted to a team and the students personal
development coach for analysis. Something
for the future? In reality, the technology is
readily available now and this learning
environment currently exists at CIMBA, an
international MBA program located in Italy
and headed by the University of Iowa.
Readily available neurobiofeedback
technology has the potential to significantly
impact the way in which we teach and
develop leaders (Johnson, Boehm, Healy,
Goebel, & Linden, 2010). Within the tra-
ditional Being- Knowi ng- D oing framework
(Hesselbein & Shinseki, 2004), a successful
“leader” learns skills (Knowing) and makes
them actionable or operationally effective
(Doing), all under the assumption that both
leader and followers manifest at will the
appropriate emotional and mental states
(Being). Through observation and experi-
ence, we found traditional, informational or
epistemological, skills-building approaches
particularly deficient in Being, the develop-
ment component needed to guide, support,
and assist learners to reach a deeper psycho-
logical understanding of both their values,
emotions, behaviors, and thinking and those
of others. In searching for Being develop-
ment alternatives, our experiences moved
us outside the confines of the major disci-
plines whose “theories” were then defining
the traditional informational (and other)
approaches to leadership development.
In this article, we provide an overview of
the leadership and leadership development
instructional approach we have developed
based on the experiences, observations,
insights, and thinking generated by our
search for an effective Being component of
leadership. An important part of that jour-
ney was an exploration and assessment of
Being components within other systems and
the research that supported them. While it
was evident that Beings importance was
very much understood and appreciated, its
express inclusion and effectiveness in the
Teaching Leadership with the Brain in Mind 371
leadership development experience was
clearly constrained by the technology avail-
able to the theorists at the time they devel-
oped their systems. It was not difficult to
envision a traditional leadership theorist
asking himself or herself: “How would our
leadership development system be different if
we could actually measure emotion?
Through our various experiences, we found
a viable solution at the intersection of
neuroscience and social psychology, over-
laid it onto more traditional approaches
to leadership and leadership development,
and created an approach that makes use
of neurobiofeedback technology based on
neuroscience research to explicate a lead-
er’s emotions. We begin by providing an
overview of the core neuroscience and
social psychology research and conceptual
tools that support the approach, and some
of the history that brought us to under-
stand and appreciate the contributions
they could make toward an effective lead-
ership learning experience.
The Basic Foundation
and its H istory
While we fully appreciated both the impor-
tance of technically competent leaders and
the ability of the classroom to deliver that
competency, in the late 1990s we decided to
move beyond traditional classroom-based
leadership education with the intent to
bring more process (Doing) and behavior
(Being) into the leadership learning equa-
tion. To assist and guide us, we actively
involved social psychologists, instructional
psychologists, cognitive scientists, neurosci-
entists, leadership scholars, business leaders,
coaches, and others. Social psychologists
identified both the core psychological com-
ponents upon which leadership as a social
event would function most effectively and
the role emotion plays in influencing the
success of such events. Neuroscience was
identified as a natural science upon which
leadership as a struggling social science
could seemingly be built or rebuilt, with neu-
roscientists assisting in connecting emotion
and, more importantly, the measurement of
emotion and its consequences to the efficacy
of leadership events. Instructional psycholo-
gists provided us with insight into the most
effective learning environments to replicate
the emotions being generated by leadership
as a social event. With the assistance of this
eclectic group of thinkers, leadership at
CIMBA came to mean understanding leader
and follower minds with attention to neuro-
science theories and research in order to
better develop leaders for the effective prac-
tice of leadership and management.
Through the late 1990s and early 2000s,
the underlying subtleties and complexities
of human interactions due to individual dif-
ferences in the efficiency and sensitivity of
brain structures were increasingly becom-
ing understood and appreciated by neuro-
scientists working in cooperation with
social psychologists. Much of this new
comprehension was flowing from a rapid
expansion in research on the biological
underpinnings of social processes driven by
the advent of functional neuro-imaging and
other technologies. In this light, we observed
and experienced several significant learning
enhancements to be had from reframing
traditional leadership and leadership devel-
opment theories and concepts through the
lens of neuroscience.
We first saw that neuroscience provided
evidence-based, “hard” science to assist in
the explanation of the Being component of
leadership, which traditionally had been
considered “soft” or a “soft” science. As a
“soft” science, the Being components con-
tribution to effective leadership was under-
stood but was typically “held constant” as
being beyond the purview of traditional
business education and training. But research
in neuroscience would change that practice.
Second, by taking neuroscience’s findings
372 The Handbook for Teaching Leadership
identifying the active, biological “ingredi-
ents” of leadership and relating those find-
ings meaningfully to the learner, the efficacy
of those teaching efforts was significantly
improved. Neuroscience provided a science-
based vehicle for setting out for the learner
the What, Why, and How of leadership
moving leadership and leadership develop-
ment beyond its traditional classroom-based
focus on the What. Learners enjoyed, were
in fact drawn to, learning about their brain,
as well as their ability to expressly direct its
attention and its impact on leadership prac-
tices. Third, neuroscience provided the
necessary scientific rigor to promote the dis-
covery of new and important insights into
the leadership mental process going for-
ward, with some of those insights support-
ing existing theory and others suggesting
consideration of alternatives. Finally, and
perhaps most importantly, neuroscience
greatly assisted us in understanding how to
effectively measure emotion and along with
it the objective evidence to guide us in work-
ing to understand individual differences in
performance and well-being—fundamental
for improving leadership competencies.
Our first encounter with neuroscience
involved a neurobiologist who brought us
to the realization that leadership is a social
event. She and other neurobiologists argue
persuasively that many of the adaptive chal-
lenges facing our earliest ancestors were
social in nature, with those most able to
solve survival problems and adapt to the
social environment the most likely to repro-
duce and pass along their genes. Given that
belonging to a social group had consider-
able value, the human brain was clearly
motivated to evolve dedicated neural mech-
anisms acutely sensitive to social context,
especially to any signals that group mem-
bership was somehow endangered. The
brain understood that social rejection meant
death and must be avoided to survive.
With this realization, we focused on
understanding the underlying psychologi-
cal components necessary to support lead-
ership as a social event. We understood
that being a good group member involves
an awareness of one’s thinking, feelings,
behavior, and emotions with the ability to
alter any of those to satisfy group stan-
dards or expectations. Social psychologists
showed us that this awareness implies the
human need for at least four psychological
components, the failure of any of which
can lead to undesirable outcomes and
being ostracized from the social group: self-
awareness, social awareness, threat/reward
circuitry, and self-regulation.
Individuals need self-awareness to reflect
on their emotions and behaviors to judge
and evaluate them against group norms.
Social awareness, or theory of mind, pro-
vides an individual with the ability to infer
the mental states of others (particularly
those within the individual’s social group),
to empathize with them to be able to pre-
dict their judgments, emotions, behaviors,
and actions. The notion of social awareness
implies that the individual understands and
appreciates that they are the objects of con-
tinuous social group evaluation, which in
turn necessitates knowing that others are
fully capable of making such evaluations
and acting upon them. The human brain’s
evolution further responded to this social
awareness need by providing dedicated
circuitry for detecting inclusionary status.
The brain’s threat detection circuitry con-
tinuously monitors our social environment
for any signals or other evidence of pos-
sible group exclusion. Once the circuitry
senses that the individual’s actions have or
may violate group standards and that oth-
ers group members are evaluating them
negatively, the individual needs the self-
regulatory ability to rectify the situation
and re-establish or maintain group status.
The individual needs to inhibit impulses and
control thoughts, actions, and emotions to
change according to social context.
Against this evolutionary framework, we
ultimately placed considerable importance
Teaching Leadership with the Brain in Mind 373
on individual self-regulation and the ability
to control impulses. From a leadership and
leadership development perspective, those
“impulses” are generated by the individual’s
brain threat/reward circuitry responding to
social environment stimuli (real or per-
ceived). We saw those “impulses” as being
different individual-to-individual and gener-
ated by something we referred as SCARF
events—generated by real or perceived stim-
uli in the social environment affecting the
individual’s status, certainty, autonomy,
relatedness, and/or fairness (Rock, 2008).
How an individual’s SCARF “stressors” are
managed depends upon the individual’s self-
regulatory circuitry (control-related pre-
frontal cortex) and the rate at which the
individual depletes available brain energy in
activating and engaging that circuitry.
Within the development context, this fur-
ther implies the need to assess and measure
both an individual’s SCARF profile and his
or her self-regulatory ability in creating both
an effective leadership development plan for
the individual and the appropriate interven-
tion strategy to bring about the desired
goals and objectives set out in that plan.
By piecing together and testing relevant
neuroscience and social psychology research
findings the basic foundation of our instruc-
tional and developmental system took a
definitive form. In essence, the system
functions upon the following three core
components (On the basis of our current
observations, individual growth and devel-
opment seem to proceed to a significant
degree in the same order):
1. Explicit understanding of emotion
(Barrett, 2006; Gooty, Connelly,
Griffith, & Gupta, 2010; Izard,
2009, 2010);
2. Self-Regulation (Bauer & Baumeister,
2011; Hooker, Gyurak, Verosky,
Miyakawa, & Ayduk, 2010;
Lieberman, 2009); and,
3. The ability to effectively call upon
cognitive resources regardless of one’s
emotion or mental state in order
to enhance performance and well-
being (Farb et al., 2007; Gross &
John, 2003; Gyurak et al., 2009;
Lutz, Slagter, Dunne, & Davidson,
2008; Ochsner & Gross, 2005;
Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David,
& Goolkasian, 2010).
We found that the technology allowed us
to both develop and test our understanding
of emotional and mental states, and to assist
in developing mindfulness, a necessary
ingredient in strengthening self-regulation
(Farb et al., 2010; Jha, Stanley, Kiyonaga,
Wond, & Gelfand, 2010). From a source of
information standpoint, and as the opening
quote to this article also illustrates, we were
surprised at the dearth of interest in applica-
tions of neuroscience among leadership and
organizational behavior scholars. We were
equally surprised at the science of emotion,
particularly in the seemingly divergent ways
in which various disciplines sought to deal
with it. Leadership and organizational
behavior, for example, readily acknowl-
edged its existence but basically held it con-
stant (Gooty, Gavin, & Ashkanasy, 2009).
Sports psychology, on the other hand,
seemed to have a sense of urgency in under-
standing the emotion-performance relation-
ship (see, e.g., Hanin, 2007). It was when
we realized the fundamental role played by
emotion in effectively teaching and develop-
ing leaders and began to explore emotion’s
dimensions with the technology that we
came to understand why.
It has been nearly 60 years since Skinner
(1953, 1974) declared that emotion—that
what [is] felt or introspectively observed
(Skinner, 1974, p. 18)—was on the list of
fictional causes to which an individual’s
behavior is commonly ascribed. The
Managed Heart (Hochschild, 1983) and
Emotional Intelligence (Goleman, 1995)
among other publications brought the dis-
cussion of leadership emotion into the
374 The Handbook for Teaching Leadership
open, and served to assist both practitio-
ners and academics in overcoming a seem-
ingly unwritten reluctance to acknowledge
the contribution of emotions to the mix of
what constitutes the effective practice of
leadership. Over the past two decades,
leadership scholars have expressly recog-
nized the importance of emotion and emo-
tion regulation in effective leadership and
have begun to define its core elements and
components (Gooty et al., 2010). This
attention on leader emotion parallels the
growing attention placed on emotion in
neuroscience, psychology, and organiza-
tional behavior over the same time period.1
In contrast to traditional social science
research, the use of brain imaging has
served to fortify our understanding of core
concepts and their applications by provid-
ing us with a “hard science” understand-
ing of the neural circuitry involved in
emotion, emotion regulation, and cogni-
tion (e.g., Gyurak et al., 2009). As a con-
sequence, neuroscience allows us to better
understand and appreciate the role emo-
tion plays in leadership practice, guiding
and assisting in the selection and applica-
tion of more effective tools and techniques
in developing leaders.
Tra nsf erring tha t unde rst anding of emo-
tion in a practical sense to leadership stu-
dents presented its own unique challenges.
We soon learned that emotion scholars
regardless of their discipline were confront-
ing the same challenge, with relatively little
consensus on the most appropriate
approach. Our international learning envi-
ronment made it evident from the onset
that the use of English language labels was
not going to produce the results we were
looking for, particularly in light of the fact
that descriptive labels for emotions can
easily generate lists of 200 “emotion” words
or more.
Furthermore, unconscious differences in
individual SCARF profiles were revealed in
attempts to gain agreement on the meaning
and application of emotion definitions as
they applied to situations a leader would
commonly encounter in the workplace. To
both simplify emotion identification and
make that simplification operational, we
moved to labeling emotion by color, based
on its physiological and brain state proper-
ties (see Figure 22.1 for our emotion color-
coding scheme). For example, fear became
a “red zone” emotion and was character-
ized by its physiological and brain chemical
properties (for example, simply speaking,
elevated heart rate and increased levels of
cortisol), its corresponding reduction in
available cognitive resources, and reliance
on hardwired or habitual responses to the
stimuli (again, real or perceived).
Rather than experiencing “fear,” an
individual was said to be experiencing a
“red zone” emotion, with a variety of other
emotions capable of generating a similar
“recipe. By contrast, when attentive and
focused on learning, thinking or creating,
an individual was said to be experiencing a
“green zone” emotion, characterized by a
moderate heart rate and lower levels of
cortisol. As stress increases, an individual
moves from a “green-zone” to a “blue-
zone” to a “yellow-zone” to a “red-zone”
emotional state with corresponding changes
in physiology and brain chemicals making
up the “recipe.” With primary emphasis on
available cognitive resources, both pleasant
and unpleasant emotions are seen as gener-
ating the same “green” to “red” emotion/
cognition pathway (but with differing brain
chemicals defining the “recipe”).
1professor Carroll Izard (2010) perhaps best summarizes the growing interest in emotion and emotion regulation:
Only three decades ago . . . it was difficult to find books and empirically based journal articles on emotion. Now
we have a cornucopia of emotion books— has 347,272 titles, and it is not unusual for a university
library to have more than 400 scholarly books on the topic. Today there are at least five scientific journals with
“emotion” in their titles and there are many more that publish research on emotion, resulting altogether in 2,732
articles in the past decade. There appears to be more agreement on the significance of emotion and much greater
acceptance of its place in science than was evident 25 years ago. (Izard, 2010, p. 363).
Teaching Leadership with the Brain in Mind 375
This approach to emotion recognition
greatly simplified the way in which we
taught emotion recognition, from both self
and social awareness perspectives. In a
“wired” classroom environment (defined
below), individuals were baselined against
emotion elicitation films identified by
social psychology research to produce spe-
cific emotions (see, e.g., Gross & Levenson,
1995). Based on students’ knowledge from
prior classes on neuroscience and the
brain, they were confronted with a range
of pleasant and unpleasant emotions as
expressed by facial expressions, voice into-
nation, and body language drawn from
prior social psychology research. In each
case, students were asked to identify the
emotion being elicited on the basis of its
physiological and brain state “recipe.”
The intent of the experience was to fully
develop an “emotion recognition color
chart” with the expectation that from that
point forward emotions and emotional
states would be defined by their color. By
mindfully paying attention to their own
physiology and that of others, this approach
served to activate and make operational
students’ notions of self-awareness and
social awareness, and thereby enhance
each individual’s understanding of the
impact of emotion on performance through
the brain’s threat/reward circuitry.
A fundamental difference between the
social- and neuro-science approaches to
examining leadership issues is in the
research tools they bring to bear on topics
Figure 23.1 CIMBA Emotion Color-Coding System
376 The Handbook for Teaching Leadership
of interest—both inside and outside the
laboratory. Insi de the laboratory, neurosci-
entists use a variety of technologies, most
predominately the fMRI (see Figure 23.2
for a list of common tools used in neurosci-
ence), in seeking to identify the brain
region or regions involved in a mental task
or process of interest. With fMRI, the rel-
evant parts of the subject’s brain indentify
themselves by essentially “lighting up”
when engaging in a designed mental task
or process.
Looking over the shoulder of the neu-
roscientists, we observed defined social
interactions that social science research
had concluded produce similar observ-
able behavioral responses; neuroscience
research, however, showed that the inter-
actions actually rely on different underly-
ing brain mechanisms. fMRI data allowed
the neuroscientists to distinguish between
those two underlying brain mechanisms,
something difficult to do using traditional
social science behavioral methods. Similarly,
but in the opposite direction, fMRI data
allowed the neuroscientists to identify
mental processes expected to not rely on
the same brain mechanisms, when in fact
they actually do.
The determination of a subject’s mental
state is another important area applicable
to leadership understanding where social
science and neuroscience research tools
can deliver significantly different results.
Figure 23.2 Brain-Imaging Technologies
Brain-Imaging Technologies
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI shows detailed anatomical images. It is sometimes referred to as an “X-ray for soft tissues.”
Diffusion MRI (Diffusion Imaging, Tractography)
Used to reveal the brain’s “long-distance” neural connections by tracking water molecules which
diffuses along the lengths of the axons more readily than escaping through their fatty coating.
Functional Connectivity MRI (Resting State MRI)
Like the Diffusion MRI, it reveals “long-distance” neural connections by measuring spontaneous
fluctuations in different brain regions, revealing the extent to which they are communicating.
Functional MRI (fMRI)
Exhibits changes in blood supply within the brain, which are assumed to correlate with neural activity
during designed mental tasks and processes.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
Produces anatomical images to test how organs are functioning by detecting gamma rays emitted by a
nuclear substance (tracer) introduced into the body.
Electroencephalogram (EEG)
Uses electrodes attached to the scalp to detect electrical activity in the brain.
Teaching Leadership with the Brain in Mind 377
fMRI data allow the neuroscientist to infer
a subject’s mental state by looking at the
subject’s benchmarked brain activity. To
gain the same information in the social sci-
ences, the experiment is often interrupted
and the subject is asked, “How do you
feel?” to determine mental state. This dif-
ference in experimental design is significant
because the subject may not want to report
mental state, may not remember accurately
what state he or she was in before the
researcher asked. Perhaps more impor-
tantly to the validity of the underlying
experiment, the act of simply responding
to the question (a response unrelated to the
experiment itself) may bring about an
important change in current mental state
thereby impacting subsequent responses to
experimental stimuli. (In developing leaders,
this distinction takes on new meaning
when in a coaching session an individual is
asked to either discuss a journal entry
describing an [emotional] event or to
examine the applicable neurobiofeedback
data. Neuroscience has shown that the act
of writing down, and thereby “labeling,”
the event’s emotion has the effect of reduc-
ing the emotion’s significance (Ochsner
and Gross, 2005); neurobiofeedback tech-
nology provides actual data on its signifi-
cance (Johnson et al., 2010).)
With regard to technologies outsi de
the laboratory, neuroscience connected the
dots between an individual’s brain and the
body’s physiological states. As illustrated
in Figure 22.1, brain states observable by
an fMRI are also measurable via heart rate,
heart rate variability, skin conductance,
EEG, and ECG2—with all but the EEG
currently being measurable wirelessly and
unobtrusively outside the laboratory.3
After initial tests established the efficacy of
using these neurobiofeedback measures to
study leadership and leadership develop-
ment, we began to look for viable technol-
ogy to bring to the classroom. Our decision
criteria included cost, durability, precision,
intrusiveness, and functionality both inside
and outside the classroom/laboratory. With
limited options ranging in cost from a few
hundred to several thousand dollars, we
elected to adapt a SUUNTO performance
measurement instrument from the field of
sport. We found the SUUNTO td6 device
along with its group support equipment
and software to meet our basic decision
criteria. Once we integrated the device into
our classroom environment, the results
were immediate and obvious. From a
mindfulness standpoint, and in combina-
tion with our emotion color-coding system,
students became much more aware of their
emotional physiology and that of others.
The SUUNTO system involves a chest
strap in which sensors are imbedded and a
“watch” which displays a variety of data at
the user’s discretion in real-time. The watch
has the capability to record up to five hours
of data, which can then be downloaded
and analyzed by the SUUNTO software.
Alternatively, data can be captured by a
computer loaded with SUUNTO software
along with an attached antenna. The
SUUNTO software allows heart rate data
for up to 72 users to be projected for public
observation simultaneously in real-time
2Electrocardiograph (ECG, or EKG [from the German Elektrokardiogramm]) is a diagnostic tool that measures
and records the electrical activity of the heart over time, captured and externally recorded by skin electrodes. Our
current wireless system relies on just two points of measure, and therefore has been of limited usefulness to date.
3“Hardwired” measurement devices rely on physical wires running from the sensors to a recording and/or display
device, inhibiting user movement and basically confining assessments to the laboratory. Wireless technology oper-
ates through a chest strap that houses the sensors and a display device worn on the wrist of the user. Data can be
recorded by the display device outside the laboratory or by a computer fitted with an antenna and accompanying
software inside the laboratory. Both hardwired and wireless neurobiofeedback systems are “noninvasive” in the
sense that no break in the skin is created to secure the requisite data. Wireless systems are “nonintrusive” relative
to hardwired technologies in the sense that other than the possibility of some (often initial) discomfort from the
chest strap, the device does not interfere with user movement or other activities, making them ideal for the class-
room and other leadership development events.
378 The Handbook for Teaching Leadership
(with other data captured but not pre-
sented). The SUUNTO system allows us
to calibrate each individual’s heart rate
according to our emotion recognition color-
coding system so that the projected panel of
individual data shows “green-zone” for
everyone when a professor begins a class
and all students are attentive.
Both the success of this experiment and
the limitations of the SUUNTO software
led us to design and build our own system.4
SUUNTO, for example, did not have the
expectation that the data would be fur-
ther downloaded and analyzed indepen-
dent of their software, nor aggregated in a
group format. Our new system prototype
involves an independent third component
in addition to the chest-strap and watch/
display. This third component can be a
Smartphone, iPad, or other similar device
with the ability to collect data from the
chest-strap (expanded from heart rate and
heart rate variability to include skin con-
ductance, a basic EKG measure, movement,
and respiration), analyze it in real-time,
and send the appropriate data to both the
watch/display and/or to a main server via
the Internet. At the server level, the data are
analyzed against the greater database and
the individual’s data. According to pre-
scribed algorithms, the individual and/or
the individuals coach can be informed of
any action needed in real-time. In initial
assessment and measurement stages of an
Thalamic inputs to lungs
controlling RESPIRATION
via Vagus Nerve
Cerebellar inputs to motor system
via emotion centers controlling
MOVEMENT via Vagus Nerve
Output of central nervous system
to peripheral nervous system and
SUUNTO and other Neuro-and
Bio-feedback Technology
Hypothalamic inputs to
Thalamic inputs to heart
controlling HEART RESPONSE
via Vagus Nerve
Figure 23.3
4Discussions with SUUNTO about a “SUUNTO Leadership Development Classroom” showed us that their pri-
mary focus was justifiably on the known sport performance improvement market.
Teaching Leadership with the Brain in Mind 379
individual’s leadership development jour-
ney, the data collected are used to construct
the individuals development plan template
and to specify to the coach the most appro-
priate intervention strategy.
Neuroscience also influenced the struc-
ture of our leadership learning environ-
ments. In our experience, when it came to
our Knowing component, the traditional
classroom proved to be the most effective
learning environment. The classroom-
based, informational learning/assimilation
process provided direct instructional guid-
ance to the learner. For the Doing and
Being components, we found a minimally
guided, experiential learning environment
supplemented with the support of our
process facilitators and leadership devel-
opment coaches to be far more effective.
(For example, with specific regard to lead-
ership the key was to produce an under-
standing of emotion through a designed
experience, event, or activity.) Any effort
on our part to alter this basic formula—
using, for example, the classroom to
instruct students on effective leadership
behavior or an experiential learning envi-
ronment to learn leadership axioms, theo-
rems, principles, and formulas—detracted
significantly from the student learning
experience. As with many aspects of lead-
ership and leadership development, it was
through neuroscience that we came to
understand and appreciate why.
As educational psychology moved into
the early 2000s, insights from neuroscience
were beginning to impact and reshape
thinking. Instructional psychologists began
to place increased attention on human
cognitive architecture—specifically, exam-
ining the relationship between working,
long-term memory, and learning. Relying
on this line of thinking, a specific work that
most confirmed our approach to leader-
ship-learning environments was Prof. David
C. Geary’s Educating the Evolved Mind
(Geary, 2007). Geary was the first to draw
a distinction between biologica lly primary
and biologically secondary information
and thereby resolve the ongoing dispute
regarding instruction design within educa-
tional psychology (essentially a dispute
over the efficacy of experiential learning5).
Geary’s thesis argues persuasively why
learners acquire some information easily
and unconsciously (which he labeled as
being “biologically primary” information
or knowledge) whereas other information
can be acquired only through considerable
conscious effort, often requiring external
motivation (“biologically secondary”).
Examples of biologically primary knowl-
edge are listening to and speaking our
first language, recognizing faces, using
general problem-solving techniques, and
engaging in basic social relations, all of
which are acquired easily outside of edu-
cational contexts; explicit instruction is
unnecessary for effective learning. From a
neurobiology, evolutionary standpoint,
the acquisition of such knowledge was
and is essential for survival—as we dis-
cussed previously, the brain is clearly
motivated to evolve neural connections
receptive to such information. Under
Geary’s thesis, both the D oing and Being
components of leadership constitute bio-
logically primary knowledge best acqui red
5According to Professor John Sweller (2008), an educational psychologist best known for formulating cognitive
load theory:
David C. Geary’s distinction between biologically primary and biologically secondary information constitutes an
advance that is rare in our discipline. For researchers in instructional psychology, the distinction adds a major piece
of the jigsaw puzzle on which we are all working. In the process, Geary has provided a theoretical framework that
has the potential to resolve important issues with profound instructional implications.(p. 214)
380 The Handbook for Teaching Leadership
in a minimally guided, experiential learn-
ing environment.
In contrast, biologically secondary know-
ledge is associated with more advanced
learning, learning that one would associ-
ate with a particular discipline or subject
matter. As such, Prof. Geary’s thesis asserts
persuasively that we have not evolved to
acquire biologically secondary knowledge
openly, but that learners acquire such
knowledge relatively slowly and with con-
scious effort through explicit instruction.
The vast majority of knowledge acquired
by learners through educational institu-
tions consists of biologically secondary
knowledge. As in other programs, biologi-
cally secondary knowledge is largely
acquired by students through classroom
instruction at CIMBA. Within this instruc-
tional psychology paradigm, there is rela-
tively little difference among leadership
training and development approaches
with regard to the manner in which stu-
dents acquire biologically secondary lead-
ership knowledge. Most serious programs
rely on traditional student-teacher class-
room environments to transmit specific
discipline-based knowledge. However, it
is in the acquisition of biologically pri-
mary knowledge that approa ches to lead-
ership differ significantly.
The importance of understanding emo-
tion coupled with Geary’s thesis guided us
to develop experiential learning opportu-
nities to elicit specific emotions—to best
assist participants in acquiring biologi-
cally primary leadership knowledge. Our
basic premise was to assist individuals in
identifying their most influential SCARF
elements (their SCARF profile) and the
activities within their business day most
likely to be affected by their particular
SCARF “stressors.” Our principal assess-
ment and measurement vehicles are emo-
tion elicitation films and simulations, devel-
oped professionally, and baselined against
existing emotion elicitation research (e.g.,
Gross & Levenson, 1995). In addition,
we are continuing to experiment with a
variety of more active, participative
events including “wired” indoor and out-
door leadership experiences and activi-
ties, contemporaneous acting workshops,
and others.
II. The N eurobiofeedback
Leadership C lass rooms
From the onset, it was our intent to fully
integrate a leadership and leadership
development system throughout a tradi-
tional MBA program. CIMBAs beautiful
location in Italy gave us the ability to
attract extraordinarily talented people
from a variety of fields, the majority with
expertise quite divergent from that typi-
cally found in traditional business schools.
Our express focus on leadership and lead-
ership development coupled with consid-
erable system flexibility has allowed us to
develop and test leadership tools and
techniques at a much more determined
pace than would be possible at a tradi-
tional business school. As an unforeseen
consequence of the manner and purpose
for which CIMBA was originally created,
the organization has focused on student
results, and not on the publications it
could generate.
In its simplest form, the CIMBA
approach to leadership adds neurobiofeed-
back technology to the traditional approach
to leadership and leadership development.
The neurobiofeedback technology is fully
integrated into all learning environments
to capture performance emotion data for
the express purpose of improving partici-
pant performance and health. The neurob-
iofeedback technology and accompanying
training and development methodology
allows CIMBA to expressly generate and
measure defined emotion elicitation events
and experiences, moving participants
beyond traditional skills or content-focused
development to an understanding of under-
lying emotions and their impact on behav-
ior, cognition, and performance—in a
word, Being.
Teaching Leadership with the Brain in Mind 381
Assessment and measurement begins
prior to MBA content classes with LIFE
(Leadership Initiative For Excellence), a
two-and-a-half day, highly intensive, experi-
ential self-learning experience. The ultimate
goal of LIFE is to deepen and broaden par-
ticipant understanding of the importance of
the relationship between emotion, behavior,
and cognition, and how the ability to effec-
tively manage that relationship impacts
performance. It begins with a detailed
overview of the latest NeuroLeadership
concepts, and the neuroscience and social
psychology research that supports it. Each
subsequent LIFE module raises a designed
workplace emotion, reveals how that emo-
tion drives behavior, and shows how it
impacts participant and group perfor-
mance. Through a practical understanding
of how the brain works in such situations,
each module illustrates experientially how
the participant can learn to become cogni-
zant of and then better control emotions
to manifest a more effective behavior and
improve performance, health, and well-
being. During these modules, participants
wear the latest SUUNTO performance
measurement instruments, which provide
real-time feedback on brain performance
by measuring body physiology.
Although it is not made known expressly
to the participants, the LIFE trainers system-
atically create a strongly negative SCARF
environment (low engagement) and then a
strongly positive SCARF environment (high
engagement) as an integral part of the LIFE
experience. Participant cognition is base-
lined just prior to beginning of their LIFE
experience and then measured during both
the low-engagement environment (consis-
tently found to be statistically lower than
baseline; and the high-engagement environ-
ment (consistently statistically higher). After
each LIFE module, the LIFE “Professor”
guides participants in understanding experi-
entially the cognitive consequence of allow-
ing their brain to dictate the behavioral
reaction to the SCARF element the module
portrayed—versus taking cognitive control
of their emotions and rationally calling
upon a more effective behavior or mental
state. The comparison provides the partici-
pant with the determination, desire, and
hardiness necessary for the demanding
CIMBA personal development journey they
are about to undertake.
With the intent to develop key partici-
pant emotion-behavior-performance base-
lines, participants continue the assessment
process by completing selected traditional
psychometric instruments and then move to
assessments unique to the CIMBA system.
Participants are asked to engage in a variety
of emotion-eliciting events common to the
stressful environment that interacting and
working with others often creates. The
interest is in understanding the emotion the
stimuli elicit, the behavior manifested, and
how that behavior impacts the participant’s
performance. SUUNTO and additional,
more sophisticated technologies provide
neurobiofeedback data on the participant’s
mental state. Statistical comparisons are
made between distinct stimulant environ-
ments on participant self-regulatory ability
and on each of the five SCARF “stressors”
identified by neuroscience and social psy-
chology. The assessments assist in determin-
ing emotion-behavior-performance base lines
with the results compared against psycho-
metric instrument results for consistency.
Ultimately, the data collected is analyzed
and used to construct the participant’s
development plan template and to specify
to the coach the most appropriate interven-
tion strategy to be used in bringing about
the plan’s goals and objectives.
At CIMBA, leadership content (Knowing)
is biologically secondary knowledge and
as such is delivered in a traditional class-
room setting. A primary distinction between
CIMBA and other programs is that the
382 The Handbook for Teaching Leadership
classroom learning environment for leader-
ship content as well as all other MBA con-
tent courses (e.g., classes on accounting,
economics, finance, marketing, production,
etc.) are “wired” classrooms. That is, all
students wear SUUNTO measurement
technology with their basic physiological
data displayed on a large projected panel.
After a period of individual student calibra-
tion, appropriate adjustments are made so
that comparisons can be made on emo-
tional color rather than on far less relevant,
absolute heart rate comparisons. For exam-
ple, one student may have an attentive
brain heart rate of 50 beats per minute and
another student 85 beats per minute. As the
professor enters the classroom, he or she
expects to find those numbers but in each
case the emotion color code displayed will
be green—designating a “green-zone” emo-
tion state for both students. In fact (unless
a student is day-dreaming about a favorite
beach or restaurant experience), the profes-
sor would expect to find the entire panel
green for the class once the calibration pro-
cess is complete (a period of one to two
months, with intermittent adjustments nor-
mally required). After each major class, the
data are reviewed by the coaches to see if
there is a need for extraordinary action or
inquiry based on a particular student’s
physiological response to a classroom activ-
ity or event.
While the majority of MBA professors
are trained in the system, the intent is to
involve them largely indirectly in leadership
development. Still, professors actively see
how students differ in responses to various
classroom discussions, group activities, and
project presentations—making them an
important source of confirming informa-
tion regarding student progress toward
development plan goals and objectives. In
fact, with their interest peaked by the tech-
nology, it is not uncommon for professors
to both request their own measurement
device and to begin to look for classroom
activities more likely to take advantage of the
new measurement technology. With regard
to students, the use of the technology in the
traditional classroom is a mandatory ingre-
dient in their implicit mindfulness training,
assisting them in becoming more and more
aware of their physiology and that of others
in a variety of circumstances, both emo-
tional and cognitive.
After assessment and measurement, the
participant and his or her coach establish a
development plan from the template pro-
vided by analysis of the data collected.
Depending upon the “Data-Driven” coach-
ing intervention strategy suggested by the
assessments, that plan schedules data col-
lection, on-line neuro-based training pro-
vided by My Brain Solutions, “challenge
tests, and coaching sessions. The CIMBA
approach to coaching differs somewhat
from traditional coaching systems in its
greater reliance on physiological data. In
many cases, the elusiveness of the root cause
behind the participant’s leadership “issue”
is the participant’s lack of conscious aware-
ness of the emotion or mental state a debili-
tating workplace stimulus (stress, fear of
social ostracism, anger) is creating. The situ-
ation is often further compounded by the
participants self-regulatory brain circuitry
(observed through participant behavior and
responses within traditional coaching sys-
tems, as well as through neurobiofeedback
assessment and measurement data by our
coaches), which if insufficiently developed
to control emotion and thus draw up the
appropriate behavior. By coaching to the
participant’s neurobiofeedback data, Data-
Driven coaching not only works to make
the participant’s underlying brain state visi-
ble and understandable, it also provides an
objective, quantifiable basis for measuring
participant improvement. In addition—and
as dictated by the participant’s needs and
assessments—the development plan pro-
vides a list of suggested Leadership Compe-
tency Workshops, which are separate and
distinct from the MBA content courses.
Teaching Leadership with the Brain in Mind 383
CIMBA defines “leadership competency”
quite specifically. A person has a “Leadership
Competency” only after having gained mas-
tery over both the appropriate mental state
and the appropriate skill making up the
competency. In addition to being a wired
classroom, a leadership competency class-
room may also make use of more sophisti-
cated, neurobiofeedback technologies and
data assessments and display. In teaching a
specific skill for the purpose of addressing a
leadership competency, the workshop design
involves an overview of the SCARF emotion
anticipated, designed emotion elicitation
events involving the competency, an over-
view of the neuroscience involved, and then
the skill component. Under the neuroscience
principle “neurons that fire together, wire
together,” the skill and its corresponding
emotion are taught together. In the event an
individual registers a SCARF response of
concern during an emotion elicitation event,
the coach is informed so that it can be
assessed against the individual’s develop-
ment plan. For example, consider teaching
the leadership competency conflict manage-
ment. A person who has difficulty manag-
ing the emotions associated with conflict
will not likely be able to implement skills a
traditional conflict management course
would teach until the emotional side of con-
flict has been addressed. In our system, stu-
dents first visit the emotion of conflict
through a series of emotion elicitation simu-
lations. The skills instruction that follows
encompasses both the technical aspects of
conflict management and the lessons learned
about the emotion of conflict from those
simulations. Coaches are informed of those
students identified as having a sensitivity of
concern so that specific issue can be further
addressed in a coaching forum.
III. Prel iminary Results
and C hallenges
An advantage of the CIMBA approach to
leadership and leadership development is its
reliance on data derived from its neurobio-
feedback assessment system, a system estab-
lished on a foundation of neuroscience and
social psychology research. To get a sense of
the impact and sustainability of neurobio-
feedback-based leadership and personal
development intervention strategies, con-
sider the biofeedback for four participants
presented in the Figure 22.2. The four par-
ticipants were being “challenge” tested
through a specially designed, emotion elici-
tation business simulation. (CIMBA trained
one of the participants: can you determine
which one?).After the simulation, each of
the participants was asked about a specific
event that took place during the simulation:
“What was your emotion, what behavior
did it manifest, and how did it impact your
performance?” Importantly, all four par-
ticipants reported being “calm,” a response
at odds with the data. This lack of self-
awareness is a common result and empha-
sizes the importance of neurobiofeedback
and Data-Driven coaching if the intent is
long-term, sustainable change.(Answer:
Upper left-hand corner.)
CIMBA has several ongoing studies look-
ing at both the short- and longer-term con-
sequences of its intervention strategies. At
the very core of the CIMBA development
theory is the importance of self-regulation.
The CIMBA neurobiofeedback assessment
system determines with remarkable preci-
sion whether a person is an “A” (low ability
to self regulate), “B” (moderate ability to
self regulate), or “C” (significant self regu-
latory ability). Against a very large data-
base, and in most cases highly statistically
significant, the results show that a person
identified as being in the “A” category has
challenges they do not need to face. The
challenges facing “A”s, along with the emo-
tions they will experience and the behaviors
that will manifest, impact their workplace
and life environments, adversely affecting
both productivity and health. Demanding
situations significantly increase stress; dra-
matically reduce memory, attention, and
planning abilities; increase negativity; reduce
communication; and significantly lower
384 The Handbook for Teaching Leadership
resilience. As stress levels rise, both creativ-
ity and the ability to sustain high-level
thinking decline, adversely impacting cre-
ative problem-solving in difficult situations
and the ability to multitask in less demand-
ing ones. Cognitive companies such as con-
sulting and accounting companies will find
a temporary solution by over-training these
“A” individuals, so as stress levels increase
their brains move to “hardwired,” robotic
responses to tasks at hand—boredom and/
or lifestyle conflicts cause them to quit (or,
their negativity brings about their dismissal).
Strong anecdotal evidence indicates that this
quit pattern follows a two-year cycle unless
either the individual develops or is seen as
having developed an indispensable skill, or
a serious, provocative event or experience
causes them to examine his or herself more
closely. Many follow up the event of experi-
ence by electing to seek assistance through a
coach, mentor, friend, or family member (or,
in appropriate cases, a therapist).
The CIMBA approach to leadership and
leadership development emphasizes the
importance of assessing the functional rela-
tionship between an individual’s perfor-
mance (and health) as defined by his or her
ability to self-regulate emotions that can
adversely affect behavior, negatively impact
cognition, and undermine skill effective-
ness. Thriving organizations are driven by
their mental capital—healthy employees
whose brains are functioning at their best:
employees who can think clearly, are
positive, resilient, and can collaborate
optimally with colleagues and customers.
CIMBA internal studies on a database of
more than 1,000 people show statistically
significant increases of more than 10 per-
cent in both emotional resilience and
positivity bias, considered key indicators
Figure 23.4 Four-Person “Challenge” Test Biofeedback
Teaching Leadership with the Brain in Mind 385
in traditional psychometric instrument
measurements for self-regulation.
More than 10 years of conversations
with HR directors in leading companies
worldwide clearly shows that the vast
majority of companies, in particular those
companies where employee cognition is its
primary product, hire employees on the
basis of IQ, or some similar proxy for
human intelligence. On its face, this is fully
understandable: every company wants
technically competent employees, manag-
ers, and leaders. Those same conversations,
however, provide an even more interesting
insight: those same companies almost uni-
versally fire employees on the basis of EQ
(Emotional Intelligence Quotient) and RQ
(Rational Intelligence Quotient)—employees
who have made poor personal or profes-
sional decisions that cast serious doubt on
the ability of the employee to meet com-
pany expectations. With RQ being statisti-
cally correlated with EQ, with both being
direct functions of self-regulation, and with
both RQ and EQ showing no discernible
statistical relationship with IQ within
ranges relevant to leaders and managers,
the importance of focusing developmental
resources on identifying and assisting “A”s
seems obvious.
IV. Conclusion
In 1997 there were some 10 neuroscience
studies based on fMRI data arguably rele-
vant to explaining personal behavior; in
2010 there were nearly 10 per day. Virtually
every major discipline from the arts to the
sciences is being impacted by neuroscience
and its findings. The teaching and develop-
ment of leadership is no exception. Although
neurobiofeedback technology is still in a
laboratory state, the situation is evolving at
a rapid rate. We are beginning to more pre-
cisely assess and measure individual perfor-
mance and identify the brain functions
holding individuals back from achieving
their full potential. Importantly, that same
hard data are allowing us to better tailor
intervention strategies to assist, challenge,
and support individuals in overcoming their
personal barriers to effective leadership.
With the ability to assess, measure, and
understand emotion and its consequences
on cognition and creativity, neuroscience is
assisting us in creating better leaders than
we could before it appeared on the horizon.
While we are just at the beginning of teach-
ing leadership with the brain in mind, we
are inspired by the real results we see in the
classroom, and excited by the opportunities
for further research in this area.
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"In private life, we try to induce or suppress love, envy, and anger through deep acting or "emotion work," just as we manage our outer expressions of feeling through surface acting. In trying to bridge a gap between what we feel and what we "ought" to feel, we take guidance from "feeling rules" about what is owing to others in a given situation. Based on our private mutual understandings of feeling rules, we make a "gift exchange" of acts of emotion management. We bow to each other not simply from the waist, but from the heart. But what occurs when emotion work, feeling rules, and the gift of exchange are introduced into the public world of work? In search of the answer, Arlie Russell Hochschild closely examines two groups of public-contact workers: flight attendants and bill collectors. The flight attendant's job is to deliver a service and create further demand for it, to enhance the status of the customer and be "nicer than natural." The bill collector's job is to collect on the service, and if necessary, to deflate the status of the customer by being "nastier than natural." Between these extremes, roughly one-third of American men and one-half of American women hold jobs that call for substantial emotional labor. In many of these jobs, they are trained to accept feeling rules and techniques of emotion management that serve the company's commercial purpose. Just as we have seldom recognized or understood emotional labor, we have not appreciated its cost to those who do it for a living. Like a physical laborer who becomes estranged from what he or she makes, an emotional laborer, such as a flight attendant, can become estranged not only from her own expressions of feeling (her smile is not "her" smile), but also from what she actually feels (her managed friendliness). This estrangement, though a valuable defense against stress, is also an important occupational hazard, because it is through our feelings that we are connected with those around us. On the basis of this book, Hochschild was featured in Key Sociological Thinkers, edited by Rob Stones. This book was also the winner of the Charles Cooley Award in 1983, awarded by the American Sociological Association and received an honorable mention for the C. Wright Mills Award. © 1983, 2003, 2012 by The Regents of the University of California.
Many psychological scientists and behavioral neuroscientists affirm that “emotion” influences thinking, decision-making, actions, social relationships, well-being, and physical and mental health. Yet there is no consensus on a definition of the word “emotion,” and the present data suggest that it cannot be defined as a unitary concept. Theorists and researchers attribute quite different yet heuristic meanings to “emotion.” They show considerable agreement about emotion activation, functions, and regulation. The central goal of this article is to alert researchers, students, and other consumers of “emotion” research to the multiple meanings or aspects that distinguished scientists attribute to ”emotion,” increase appreciation of its interesting and challenging complexity, and sharpen perspectives on “emotion” and the associated body of literature that is of critical significance to science and society.
David C. Geary's thesis has the potential to alter our understanding of those aspects of human cognition relevant to instruction. His distinction between biologically primary knowledge that we have evolved to acquire and biologically secondary knowledge that is culturally important, taught in educational institutions and which we have not evolved to acquire in modular form, is critical to instructional design. In this article, I outline some of the instructional implications that I believe flow from Geary's theory.
This paper presents a selective, qualitative review of affect, emotions, and emotional competencies in leadership theory and research published in ten management and organizational psychology journals, book chapters and special issues of journals from 1990 to 2010. Three distinct themes emerged from this review: (1) leader affect, follower affect and outcomes, (2) discrete emotions and leadership, and (3) emotional competencies and leadership. Within each of these themes, we examine theory (construct definition and theoretical foundation) and methods (design, measurement and context) and summarize key findings. Our findings indicate that the study of affect and emotions in leadership fares well with regard to construct definitions across the first two themes, but not in the last theme above. Design and measurement issues across all three themes are a little less advanced. One serious gap is in a lack of focus on levels-of-analysis theoretically and methodologically. Our review concludes with recommendations for future theoretical and empirical work in this area.
Researchers interested in emotion have long struggled with the problem of how to elicit emotional responses in the laboratory. In this article, we summarise five years of work to develop a set of films that reliably elicit each of eight emotional states (amusement, anger, contentment, disgust, fear, neutral, sadness, and surprise). After evaluating over 250 films, we showed selected film clips to an ethnically diverse sample of 494 English-speaking subjects. We then chose the two best films for each of the eight target emotions based on the intensity and discreteness of subjects' responses to each film. We found that our set of 16 films successfully elicited amusement, anger, contentment. disgust, sadness, surprise, a relatively neutral state, and, to a lesser extent, fear. We compare this set of films with another set recently described by Philippot (1993), and indicate that detailed instructions for creating our set of film stimuli will be provided on request.