In the book, “Boundaries for Leaders”, Henry Cloud shares how leaders can activate or inhibit the “executive functions” in their team’s brains.  

Said another way, you as a leader can actually prevent your employees brains from functioning at an optimal level, but how?

To gain an understand of how this happens, you need to understand what “executive functions” are.

Executive functions are “ a set of cognitive processes – including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory – that are necessary for monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.”

It’s extremely important that these brain functions are activated in your employee’s brains since these are the functions drive the attainment of business goals.

More specifically, there are three executive functions that a leader should cultivate if they want to drive success:  

  1. Attention: the ability to focus on what’s relevant, and block out what is not relevant.
  2. Inhibition: the ability to suppress actions or behaviors that could be distracting or even destructive.
  3. Working Memory: the ability to retain and access relevant information for reasoning, decision making, and taking future action.

This confirmed what we’re trying to accomplish at Envisionable  – helping SMBs realize their true potential. It was eye-opening to realize that some leaders are doing things which prevent the activation of the executive functions in their people’s brain and in turn prevent people from realizing their true potential.

According to neuroscience, our brains need to be able to:

(1) focus on something specific

(2) not get off track

(3) be reminded of what’s relevant in order for the brain to perform at the highest level.

So HOW do you ensure you are activating the executive functions of your team? Let’s go through each in turn.

Attention – Clarity Around Company Goals

For the executive function of attention to be activated, there must be clarity around what’s “relevant” or important.

By defining what is relevant you also block out what is not relevant. It’s like a when you develop a budget. You make decisions in black and white – what you are going to invest in and what you are NOT going to invest in. It forces priority.

When your team doesn’t have clarity around what is relevant, their executive function is literally shut down inhibiting their ability to reach business goals.

Question: Does your team have 100% clarity around what is MOST important? What are the top 3-5 company goals? Does everyone on your team know?

Inhibition – Clarity Around Company Core Values

I like to think of inhibition in terms of core values. Your core values and core mission help the team to understand what NOT to do. What behaviors are not acceptable? What won’t you tolerate in your organization. Also, by defining your top 3-5 company goals you’ve naturally forced your team to not to do certain things.

In our software, we allow our users to align their quarterly initiatives with their company goals, again forcing the inhibition function.

Question: How do you keep your core values “front and center”. How do you ensure that distractions and toxic elements are eliminated?

Working Memory – Having The Right Meeting Rythym

If you were to ask your team what your core values are, what percentage of the team could tell you? How many could state your company goals?

The working memory part of executive function requires that your team is reminded of what’s important.

Question: What are the ways that you keep what is important alive. How do you review these important items with your team?

You can’t work against the ways in which the human brain naturally operates.

The good news is that we’ve developed a system which works the way your people’s brains operate. In fact, our system facilitates these executive functions which are so important for driving results.