Are You Activating Your {Emotional Brain} Enough?

07 Aug 2019

To be strong business leaders, general counsel must show they can effectively integrate people, process, technology, and the law, which requires constructive day-to-day management and creativity. The most successful will be the ones who create time and space for reflection.

Easier said than done. We are all constantly bombarded with information, which can put us on edge. One study — now almost 10 years old — found the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content in a single day. Compounding the problem is our dependence on the smartphone, making us constantly available and susceptible to reacting to immediate issues rather than important issues, which is known as “urgency bias.”

In our global report, “The GC {RE}REFINED: In the Face of Complexity and Change, the Time to Lead is Now,” 61 percent of GCs said that they are susceptible to urgency bias. Further, 66 percent said that it prevents them from keeping their teams focused on strategic priorities.

Foster creativity

Nearly half of GCs surveyed also said that urgency bias prevents them from reaching creative solutions. But creativity will become more necessary in the GC role, notes Louise Firestone, Senior Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel for LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE. 

“It’s not just about applying case law in an interesting way or coming up with an interesting precedent,” she says. “It’s also going to be about how you develop people, how you determine what is going to be the next thing that’s going to keep you up at night. Sometimes these things just come up organically, and sometimes you really have to search for them and say, ‘Wait a minute, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this and something tells me there’s going to be issues arising.’”

It’s for the purpose of seeing around the corner that Helen Hayes, Legal Director for Northern & Eastern Europe for Uber, clears two hours from her diary every week.

“It’s important to be mindful and deliberate so I carve out space and time for myself to really think about where I can be most impactful,” she says. “When you have a business that is constantly innovating, you are also expected to be more creative, not just give yes or no answers but a business-oriented solution.”

Tame your smartphone addiction

In addition to carving out time for yourself to think deeply about strategic priorities, there is another way to improve your cognitive and creative ability: Tame your smartphone.

Neuropsychologist Helena Boschi notes that our stress response evolved to keep us alive, but in today’s world of constant information, we are activating the same response for modern, social, and imagined reasons.

“Our brain cannot tell the difference,” she says. “If we merely think something is stressful, the brain will respond as if we were facing a real threat to our life. In other words, we are frequently preparing ourselves for a saber-toothed tiger attack that never actually comes.”

Our addiction to our technological devices has the same effect on the brain as other addictions. The more we look at our phones, the more we want to look at them because the chemicals stimulated by looking feel so good. But the net result is that we are more easily distracted and less socially engaged than we have ever been.  

 “Our brain still craves face-to-face contact and there is no substitute for this,” says Boschi. “Meetings would be more productive if we concentrated on the people around us instead of trying to multitask. Trust and creativity cannot be generated via technology; we need an emotional connection which can only come through interpersonal contact.” 

Is your role being redefined?

Given the need to align and mobilize teams around the world, how will you create the time and space to set a vision and empower your team to pursue a common corporate mission? Do you have a plan to fight urgency bias and unleash your creativity? What’s your stretch as a leader?

This post is part of a thought leadership series, “GC {RE}DEFINED,” which explores how technology is reshaping the role of the GC.



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