the political environment heats up, the leadership qualities of potential
candidates are under the public microscope. Can advances in our understanding
of the brain help assess a candidate’s leadership potential? Andrew Blackman
takes on this issue in his article in The
Wall Street Journal, “The Inner Workings of the Executive Brain.”
Blackman points out that the advances in brain imaging, many of which I have
previously discussed, have made it possible to determine what areas of the
brain are utilized as an executive makes decisions. Further, he describes the
findings among inspirational leaders—those who not only devise a strategy, but effectively
deliver the message and get others to buy in.
is extensive writing in the psychology literature about distinctive leadership
roles (for example, “Antagonistic neural networks underlying differentiatedleadership roles,” from Frontiers in
Human Neuroscience). There has been agreement that
there are two distinct leadership roles: the task-oriented leader and the
socioemotional-oriented leader. The task-oriented leader is focused on problem
solving, making decisions, and controlling actions. In contrast, the
socioemotional leader is involved in emotional self-awareness and ethical
decision making and is more likely to be more creative using insightful problem
solving. This distinction has been observed and studied since the 1950s.
Recently neuroscience has contributed an important physical underpinning, describing
two separate, and partially distinct, cortical networks: a task-positive
network (TPN) and a default mode network (DMN). These networks are mutually
inhibitory; that is, activity in the TPN inhibits activity in the DMN, and vice
leadership requires both problem solving (TPN) and creativity (DMN) attributes.
Thus the ability to switch consciously from one to the other is needed. Can
this switching ability be learned or enhanced? Blackman addresses that question
in the last part of his article. One can imagine not only practicing making
this switch, but also being monitored, via brain imaging, as one cortical
circuit is activated and the other deactivated. The imaging would provide the
basis for neurofeedback, reinforcing the switching to the other circuit.
Living close to Washington, D.C., I am exposed
to the finer details of the day-to-day activities of both political parties.
Unfortunately, I have the impression that for many participants, neither
network is working too well. A little judicious neurofeedback might be a great