Mindful Change: Organizational Transformation – The Neuroscience of Leadership

Problem: Success isn’t possible without changing the day-to-day behavior of people throughout the company. But changing behavior is hard, even for individuals, and even when new habits can mean the difference between life and death. How can Mike change the way thousands of people at his company think and behave every day? What about changing the way a whole organization behaves? The consistently poor track record in this area tells us it’s a challenging aspiration at best.

Why many leadership efforts and organizational change initiatives fall flat.

 Kindly read the article: The Neuroscience of Leadership by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz at Strategy+Business.

Breakthroughs in brain research explain how to make organizational transformation succeed.


During the last two decades, scientists have gained a new, far more accurate view of human nature and behavior change because of the integration of psychology (the study of the human mind and human behavior) and neuroscience (the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain).

 Managers who understand the recent breakthroughs in cognitive science can lead and influence mindful change: organizational transformation that takes into account the physiological nature of the brain, and the ways in which it predisposes people to resist some forms of leadership and accept others. This does not imply that management — of change or anything else — is a science. There is a great deal of art and craft in it. But several conclusions about organizational change can be drawn that make the art and craft far more effective. These conclusions would have been considered counterintuitive or downright wrong only a few years ago. For example:

  • Change is pain. Organizational change is unexpectedly difficult because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort.
  • Behaviorism doesn’t work. Change efforts based on incentive and threat (the carrot and the stick) rarely succeed in the long run.
  • Humanism is overrated. In practice, the conventional empathic approach of connection and persuasion doesn’t sufficiently engage people.
  • Focus is power. The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain.
  • Expectation shapes reality. People’s preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive.
  • Attention density shapes identity. Repeated, purposeful, and focused attention can lead to long-lasting personal evolution.

As Peter F. Drucker said, “We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” In the knowledge economy, where people are being paid to think, and with constant change, there is more pressure than ever to improve how we learn. Perhaps these findings about the brain can start to pull back the curtain on a new world of productivity improvement: in our ability to bring about positive, lasting change in ourselves, in our families, in our workplaces, and in society itself.


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7 Responses to “Mindful Change: Organizational Transformation – The Neuroscience of Leadership”

  1. Deepak Chakrabarty Says:

    The brain is one thing the mind is another.They are as distant as galaxies in the way they function.However just like the lungs function as organs of breathing, similarly the mind controls thinking.The mind has no specific structure yet as nebulous as it may be it’s functions are vast & myraid,controlling every action & function.If management is about influencing behavior,and behavior being a function of the mind then understaning neurosciences is extremely important for leaders.A great article.

  2. Stephanie West Allen Says:

    Do you know of the article and then book entitled CHANGE OR DIE? I described both at this post on my blog:


    There I also link to a webinar on the difficulty of creating change and include some figures about how likely change is to occur — not likely as you might guess.

  3. Peter A Hunter Says:

    Change is not difficult at all.
    What is difficult is making people do things that they don’t want to.

    When change is driven from the top down it does involve pain and resistance and is seldom sustained, not because the change is wrong but because the workforce are being told to change by management.
    If there is one thing that human beings do not like it is being told what to do.
    Just try telling a teenager to clean their room, you will get the idea.

    Ricardo Semler changed his company, Semco, but it took him eight years of bloody battles during which time his entire management team either left or were sacked before his workforce accepted the new way of working.
    The problems were caused not by the changes that Ricardo was suggesting but by the fact that the workforce were being told to make those changes by management.

    If instead of making the workforce do something they don’t want to do we instead find out what they want to do, then help them to achieve it, we will find that the change in the way they work is astonishing and takes very little effort to implement.

    The normal argument is that we cannot give the workforce control of our organisations, that would be anarchy.

    But that is exactly what Ricardo Semler did.
    If before he started he had asked the workforce what they wanted he would have been able to help them to achieve exactly the same thing that he wanted, without the eight year trauma or the cost of his entire management team.

    If instead of trying to control people we begin to realize how powerful they become when we release control, we will start to realise the true potential of our workforce.

    Until then we will keep doing what we have always done and we will continue to get what we have always got..

    Peter A Hunter
    Author – Breaking the Mould

  4. Ben Simonton Says:

    I second Peter Hunter’s comments above.

    Most change management techniques are based on the conventional top-down command and control model, a model which is the cause of low productivity, poor workforce performance and a resistance to change by the workforce.

    The top-down model demeans, disrespects and demotivates employees. This causes them great frustration leading to stress and the need to protect themselves through apathy. The top-down model naturally creates great distrust, a lack of harmony and low productivity.

    To learn how I managed to escape from this model, go to


    Best regards, Ben
    Author “Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed”

  5. Leandro Herrero Says:

    The management-of-change world is full of mythology constantly reinforced by the Big Consulting Police which understands change as something intrinsically big, painful, and …er… expensive. In my book “Viral Change: the alternative to slow, painful and unsuccessful management of change in organizations” ( meetingminds, 2007) I describe how I do it, and how 15 myths, one of them ‘people are resistant to change’ need to be revisited. Top down management-of-change techniques, which I call ‘tsunami approach, understand the organisation as a mechanic-hydraulic system of bits and pieces, instead of a biological organism with ‘networks inside’. There is a short audio-visual in our website (www.thechalfontproject.com) – Leandro Herrero

  6. Krishna rao Says:

    This article has given new direction in training and orienting the employees for long-term gains. Basically, we have to drive the people to think, think, think and act. As leaders, we should drive others to think on what we want them to think as if the out come is their own baby.

    Knowledge sharing and experience sharing sessions will facilitate the process of thinking. The sessions can be directed toward the issues of concern to the organization or society. The participants and speakers are to be driven to express their Knowledge/Experience w.r.t. their insights, comments, self thoughts, implications, advice and action plans. The leader should follow on the action plans by developing functional system integrations.

    Since, this new approach is being based on Thinking/Visualizing/Fantasizing; it should be driven as a self-development module for the benefit of all those who participate/speak in the formal sessions.

  7. Grace Oshun Says:

    Peter Hunter’s opening sentence which states that “change is not difficult” is a bit controversial. Looked at from the point of view of both management and the workforce, change is tough. Management expects resistance from the workforce. Workers resist change as a result of fear of the unknown. More often than not, workers are suspicious that there could be job cuts as a result of the change proposed by management.

    The viable solution to the problem, in my opinion, is communication. The workers need to be carried along. When there is a concensus of opinion friction is reduced to the minimum.

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