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Working with Change - The Neuroscience behind Change

Working with Change - The Neuroscience behind Change
Organisations going through change become focused on getting the job done and making the changes happen quickly. The focus is on the task at hand and not the relationships that exist in the business. The people component suffers at the hands of efficiency. Leaders justify this approach by saying they want minimal disruption.
Extensive research conducted by different research arms has shown that change initiatives are very seldom successful. There are many change initiatives that manage to get the structural changes in place. Their failings are consistently at the people level. Leaders fail people.
Change is painful enough and people resist and avoid it as highlighted in my previous article. Leaders of tomorrow need to understand how people’s brains interpret change and use approaches to help people shift their hardwired approach that currently has them avoid change.
Change is pain, Change is constant, Change can be managed….
The people-centered approach to change has its merits. Helping people reach their potential through self-actualisation with leaders using empathy to allow a solution to emerge, is time consuming and runs the risk of people leaving the organisation anyway.
Leaders strive to get the balance between authentic enquiry and persuasion with their people. This is difficult to assess as a leader, given the pressures faced to deliver. Having said that, people can tell and feel it on a gut level. This approach alone is not sufficient to get the results we need.
Focus changes everything. Where you focus your attention you create your experiences…
We have long known that focusing people’s attention on what we want versus what we don’t want is a very effective strategy. How we go about this is critical and the science behind it is now revealing why it is so effective.
Quantum Physics talks about the ‘observer’ effect. What this means is that the nature of what we are observing is influenced and altered by our observation. The quantum zero effect (QZE) when applied to neuroscience states that the mental action of focusing attention stabilizes associated brain circuits – David Rock.
What this means is that the more we observe a situation and give it focus and attention we shift our brain circuits from chemical links to physically hardwired structures. Voila, our way of thinking changes. Attention continually reshapes the patterns of the brain.
The application of this for leaders is exciting. Armed with this evidence, leaders are now able to specifically focus people’s attention on solutions versus problems and physically alter the way their brains interpret situations.
People have mental maps that describe their expectations and shape their experiences. The ‘placebo’ effect is one example. People given a placebo, expecting and believing it to be a pain tablet, show decreased experience of pain. Their expectation shapes their experience.
A leaders role is to help people have their own Insights. Neuroscience is showing that when people have their own self-generated insights it generates new brain connectivity resulting in shifting mental maps. Peoples expectations change and they learn to ‘own’ change initiatives based on their insight.
These new brain connections generated through moments of insight enhance mental resources that counter the brains resistance to change as well as the amygdala’s fear response. Essentially we are pointing people’s attention to help them rewire their brains to accepting change.
Mindfulness is a practice of focusing attention. Leaders who use curiosity in the form of open questions and listening and who focus peoples attention on solutions help their people shape the dominant pathways of their brain and steer them in the direction of self-insight. They use this approach in conjunction with positive feedback that reinforces good behaviours in the brain.
It may seem all too simple as an approach and yet neuroscience is revealing that this is what the brain wants. Leaders need to focus people’s attention on solutions and allow for self-generated insights that change peoples mental maps and have them work with, and not against, change initiatives. The constant focusing of attention is what will set great leaders apart.
If this article peaks your interest I am keen to have a conversation with you as to how I can work with you and your teams around using neuroscience to help embed change initiatives. Connect with me – details below.


Stephen Light is a Leadership Expert & Executive Coach who uses Neuroscience as a platform for being more effective at understanding and changing self. He assist leaders in finding more effective ways of leading people through changes resulting in the objectives of teams being met.

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