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Rebecca Shambaugh

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Women In Business: Does Brain Science Support the Integrated Leadership Model?

Posted: 12/14/11 03:59 PM ET

Over the last several decades, advanced brain research has taught us a tremendous amount about how the human brain functions. And while the applications of this research are many, perhaps none is more fascinating than how brain research and human intelligence affects leadership and organizational success, especially as it relates to male and female leaders and the "integrated leadership" model.

In her groundbreaking books, "The Female Brain" and "The Male Brain," neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, M.D., offers the physiological evidence for what we've always known: men and women are different. (No big surprise there!) Brizendine, who has extensively studied gender brain differences, explains that the unique structure of the female and male brain determines how each gender thinks, what they value, and how they communicate.

She argues that the differences between men's and women's brains explain the considerable differences in how they operate in the workplace -- how they lead, communicate, act, react, problem solve, make decisions and work together. Different brains drive different behaviors, which lead to different outcomes. Men tend to be more competitive, evidence based, results oriented and present-focused. Women, on the other hand, tend to be more collaborative, intuitive, empathetic and future-focused, her book claims. Certainly, both men and women can and do possess the traits of both genders, but because of their brain structure, each gender is geared toward natural tendencies.

Now consider the work of Ned Herrmann, author of "The Whole Brain Business" (McGraw-Hill), who pioneered the study of the brain and its impact in business while working at General Electric. Herrmann discovered that the brain is comprised of four specialized thinking clusters, or quadrants, that control the way we learn, view the world, interpret and process information and interact with others. These four areas correlate to specific thinking preferences: 1) analytical and logical, 2) organized and results-oriented, 3) intuitive and relationship-oriented (emotional intelligence) and 4) creative and big picture-oriented. One of the key principles of Herrmann's whole-brain concept is that when we utilize all of the brain's four quadrants, we are more efficient and productive and perform better.

Just as individuals achieve better results when they use their whole brain, organizations perform better and achieve better results when they utilize and leverage the characteristics of the four quadrants of the brain. If we overlay the concept of whole-brain thinking with the proven brain differences between men and women, we discover the scientific evidence behind the integrated leadership model, which embraces and leverages the strengths of both men and women leaders (and their brains). When organizations adopt this integrated leadership approach, there is a significant, positive effect. I call this the "integration quotient":

Male Traits + Female Traits = Better Business Outcomes

Here are just a few examples of how the Integration Quotient can produce better outcomes in organizations:

  • Analytical Thinking + Creative Ideas = Realistic Innovation
  • Fact-Based Approach + Empathy = Results-Focused Engagement
  • Clear, Concise Information + Collaborative, Free-flow Conversation = Dynamic Exploration
  • Rapid Decision Making + Cautious, Consultative Thought = Balanced Decisions
  • The bottom line is this: Better balanced leadership leads to better business results. But therein lies the challenge! Organizations are not balanced at the senior and executive leadership levels. After all these years, only 12 Fortune 500 Companies are run by women. What this means, in effect, is that organizations have been using only half of their "brain" (i.e., leadership capacity), because most senior leadership teams have been predominately comprised of men. Now, some people will tell you that this approach has worked. My question is this: How successful would you be if you were only using half of your brain? Not very!

    So, if you lead a team or an organization and you want better business results, ask yourself the following questions:

    1. Are you embracing an integrated leadership model?
    2. How balanced is your leadership team? What is the proportion of men to women?
    3. Does your team provide the whole spectrum of traits, dispositions, strengths and behaviors necessary to ensure you are achieving integrated outcomes?


    Feel free to share your experiences and comments below.

    To learn more about SHAMBAUGH's leadership and organizational development, employee engagement, and coaching services, visit: www.shambaughleadership.com