One of the presenters at the Neuroleadership Summit was Dr Jessica Payne, Director of the sleep, stress and memory lab at the University Notre Dame.  She discussed MPG – the importance of Moderate stress, Positive effect and Good sleep in developing brain stamina.

Most of our leaders are working under stress but how is it affecting their performance and decision making? The answer is that it depends on the level of stress.  Research has shown that the brain works at its best under moderate levels of stress. When the level is too low the brain tends to relax and can miss information coming through.  When stress levels are too high the brain can’t process information properly which leads to anxiety.  In effect it shuts down precisely when we need it most.

The findings are that moderate levels of stress can stimulate the brain’s performance as long as it is not on a continued basis.  

Positive affect refers to the impact that positive acknowledgement such as a smile or nod can have on others. Small, positive social signals stimulate a switch from negative to positive focus in the brains of others.  It also stimulates creativity and the ability and willingness of others to contribute to team work and problem solving.  Something as simple as a smile or a pat on the back can change the atmosphere within a team.

We know that we can’t function without sleep. It leads to poor physical and mental performance.  Research has found that sleep is one way the brain manages information processing.  While we rest the brain is sorting through the information it has taken in during the day and deciding what is important and what is not.

While we sleep the brain has “free rein” – our conscious brain is not interfering with the thought processes and trying to make justifications.  The sleeping brain is free to sort and connect information, retrieve it and remember it as well as combining data we may not have known we had.  In fact, research shows that a good sleep after learning something new can actually help you remember it in a way that makes it practical.

When it comes to sleep, quality, not quantity, is best.

What does this all mean for our leaders?  It means that when leading their teams towards change they need to be aware of the limits of the brain.  Rather than driving relentlessly towards a goal as organisations did in the past, modern leaders must be aware of the need for rest and stress-relief. Instead of seeing rest and time-out as lost time, dynamic leaders understand that these are the times during which much of the change actually happens.

Of course it goes without saying that leaders need to be aware of their own MPG needs, too. The more their own needs are taken care of, the better leaders they will be.

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