Right Brain Leadership In a High Tech World

Please don’t worry from the title. This column is not about science and not very technical at all. It is simply about how important it is for a business leader to be in touch with employees, clients, competitors, and friends. One of the greatest works in American literature and well known throughout the world is The Wizard of Oz. In Dorothy’s fantasy world she encounters two major characters: the Tin Man, who is all brain and no heart, and the Scarecrow, who is all heart and no brain. The good CEO and entrepreneur are neither. Rather, leadership requires one simple trait: being human.

Humans are a flawed species: we are mammals who think (perhaps too much, at times). But one of the things that makes us distinctive is that we can listen – not just hear or be trained to respond to commands, but to actually utilize multiple functions to process what other people are saying and to analyze, respect, integrate both diverse and common threads, and to act rationally. We humans place too much emphasis on our abilities to absorb lots of data and to analyze it. That is our left brain at work and thank God we have that capacity. But the actual reality is that it is our right brain – the ability to listen, empathize, to act on the expressed needs of others, to weave new ideas out of a mix of concerns from others, to create beauty and enjoyment for others, to express a vision for a better company and world, to inspire others to be their best at being human – that makes us so different. And this is what gives us the opportunity to lead others. A good manager is not just a technician or a financial wizard. A real leader is someone who is aware of the people he or she serves, and can actually drive them because he or she believes in and respects them.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to the bestselling author, Daniel Pink, who has written a remarkable book entitled A Whole New Mind. There are so many sources of data in our world that, up to this point in time, we have placed a premium on the analysts and technocrats. But Pink points out that the future belongs to those who can empathize, to the creators of beauty and enjoyment, to those of us who can detect patterns and opportunities, to those who can "understand the subtleties of human interaction ... and can find joy in one's self and elicit it in others..."

I am a pollster by profession, someone who collects data and statistics on people’s opinions and values. Good data is vital to making sound decisions. But I, like Daniel Pink, am increasingly aware of the fact that there is an over-abundance of data today. In fact, we all have the capabilities to collect too much data – from swipes of credit cards, from Google Analytics, from blogs, from tweets and other social media, from millions of websites. Some believe (and I am one of them) that sooner than we realize, we humans will have the choice to implant a chip in our brain that is a font of all the data that exists. What makes this fascinating is that this reality today and tomorrow does not necessarily make us smarter or better. Nor will the future belong to the one-dimensional data cruncher or analyst. Instead, as in the world Daniel Pink describes, the real value will be in our ability to find the story, plumb the meaning, take the kernels of information and make it into something that actually can allow us to solve problems, work together in teams, and make our world (both company and globe) a better place.

The present and future world belongs to those of us who can nurture our right brains and use those traits to lead people. High touch more than high tech.