Are you creative or analytical? Is your right or left brain dominant? What does this mean? Does it matter in business? Does it make a difference at all?
The left brain is analytical, the right brain is creative, or so say many psychologists. In the past, good leaders used left-brain skills more, right-brain qualities are needed more than ever in business.
I suggest we go even further: We need a “whole brain” approach.
In general, the left side of the brain is rational and analytical. We need this side to solve complex problems and analyze mathematical equations. The right side is emotional and sensitive and houses our emotional intelligence.
While it may seem that great business leaders rely more on the left side of the brain, that is not necessarily true.
This article is based on an interview with Jonathan Silver, the founder and owner of Atlanta Coffee Supply Group, which mainly distributes its own brands: Lakehouse Coffee and Blue Durango Iced Tea.
Silver possesses one of the key components of leadership: self-awareness, an attribute so important that I feel obliged to point it out frequently in these columns. Silver is aware that his dominant right-brain creativity needs to be balanced out with some left-brain seichel.
A few of his other key traits are tenacity, perseverance and humility.
Seeing how well Silver knew his strengths and weaknesses prompted me to ask what his core competency was. Instead of a direct answer, he launched in to a story about the survival of his company.
When business shrank in the recession a decade ago, he showed how a good leader adapts to a changing marketplace. First, he reassured all his people that he would not lay them off but would find creative ways to keep them working. He secured his company’s future by securing his employees’ present.
Next, he shifted to more of a left-brain approach.
It is common for creative salespeople to focus on sales. Silver learned the adage “It’s not what you make but what you keep” very quickly. He changed his focus from top-line growth (sales) to bottom-line stability (profits). By focusing on the bottom line, he stayed afloat until the economy turned around.
Leaders today must be multiskilled and use both sides of their brains equally well. A good leader must think rationally and make sound financial decisions, but that same leader must be emotionally intelligent when interacting with workers and the public. This is what I pegged as Silver’s core competency.
Today, with the proper systems in place, Silver can allow his creativity to grow the top and bottom lines. ACSG is expanding into more retail with single-serving K cups for coffee. A Blue Cup Tour of restaurants this summer is promoting Blue Durango tea. The art on the delivery trucks is an Atlanta icon.
The future looks bright at ACSG.
In “A Whole New Mind,” best-selling author Daniel Pink writes that the nature of the world is changing so much that power is being transferred from left-brain thinkers to right-brain thinkers. The world is moving away from the Information Age and toward the Conceptual Age, creating a need for different types of people to take charge.
People who recognize who they are and have the desire to grow and the ability to adapt to the whole-brain approach will come out on top.
A study of successful leaders by Korn Ferry reveals four desirable attributes that coincide with a strong right-brain orientation:
- Social leadership, or the ability to inspire, influence and motivate others.
- Outside-in thinking (a strong mega-trend and customer focus).
- Courage, particularly during adversity and crisis.
- Optimism that encourages and empowers others.
Pulling these traits and attributes together produces a comprehensive picture of leaders who possess both left-brain technical competencies (a strategic mind-set, financial acumen) and right-brain attributes (social leadership to influence, motivate and inspire others). Wherever a leader’s career development path leads, it must combine left-brain competencies with right-brain leadership.
We can all learn from Jonathan Silver, in life as well as business: Combine our creative and analytical sides to become the best leaders and people we can be.
Just don’t forget your morning coffee. Preferably Lakehouse Coffee.
Jason Adler is a John Maxwell-certified executive coach (www.johncmaxwellgroup.com/jasonadler) helping people and their organizations hire and keep quality employees.