Wrong-Brained

Sometimes I just want to give up. I really don’t know why I bother with my epic quest for truth, science and reason.

You are such a right-brain thinker’, she yelled.

I probably should not have said she was so wrong. Maybe I should not have added that she was being a ‘meme sustaining poptart psychologist’ and ‘both neuro-scientifically and anatomically inaccurate’. Like the time she came in when I was watching the cricket and said, “It’s over” and I replied, “No, 3 balls left”.

Despite what you may have been told, you are not left-brained or right-brained. From books to television programs, you may have heard the phrase mentioned numerous times or perhaps you’ve even taken an online test to determine which type best describes you. From self-help and business success books to job applications and smartphone apps, the theory that the different halves of the human brain govern different skills and personality traits is a popular one.

According to this (wrong) theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. For example, a person who is labelled left-brained is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person whom is labelled right-braine is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. So what exactly did this theory suggest?

The Right Brain Nonsense: According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance failed theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:

  • Recognising faces
  • Expressing emotions
  • Music
  • Reading emotions
  • Colour
  • Images
  • Intuition
  • Creativity

The Left Brain Nonsense: The left-side of the brain is (not) considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:

  • Language
  • Logic
  • Critical thinking
  • Numbers
  • Reasoning

Too bad it’s not true. Short of having undergone a hemispherectomy (removal of a cerebral hemisphere), no one is a left-brain only or right-brain only person.In pop psychology, the theory is based on what is known as the lateralisation of brain function. So does one side of the brain really control specific functions? Are people either left-brained or right-brained? Like many popular psychology myths, this one grew out of observations about the human brain that were then dramatically distorted and exaggerated.

To try and put this to bed forever, a new two-year study published in the journal Plos One, University of Utah neuroscientists scanned the brains of more than 1,000 people, ages 7 to 29, while they were lying quietly or reading, measuring their functional lateralisation – the specific mental processes taking place on each side of the brain. They broke the brain into 7,000 regions, and while they did uncover patterns for why a brain connection might be strongly left or right-lateralised, they found no evidence that the study participants had a stronger left or right-sided brain network. Jeff Anderson, the study’s lead author and a professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah says:

It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain, language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right.

But the brain isn’t as clear-cut as the myth makes it out to be. For example, the right hemisphere is involved in processing some aspects of language, such as intonation and emphasis. Where has this come form because I am pretty sure you will have heard it? Experts suggest the myth dates back to the 1800s, when scientists discovered that an injury to one side of the brain caused a loss of specific abilities. The concept gained ground in the 1960s based on Nobel-prize-winning split-brain work by neuropsychologists Robert Sperry, and Michael Gazzaniga. The researchers conducted studies with patients who had undergone surgery to cut the corpus callosum – the band of neural fibres that connect the hemispheres – as a last-resort treatment for epilepsy.

They discovered that when the two sides of the brain weren’t able to communicate with each other, they responded differently to stimuli, indicating that the hemispheres have different functions.Both of these bodies of research tout findings related to function; it was popular psychology enthusiasts who undoubtedly took this work a step further and pegged personality types to brain hemispheres.

Brain function lateralisation is evident in the phenomena of right- or left-handedness and of right or left ear preference, but a person’s preferred hand is not a clear indication of the location of brain function. Although 95% of right-handed people have left-hemisphere dominance for language, 18.8% of left-handed people have right-hemisphere dominance for language function. Additionally, 19.8% of the left-handed have bilateral language functions. Even within various language functions (e.g., semantics, syntax, prosody), degree (and even hemisphere) of dominance may differ.

Additionally, although some functions are lateralised, these are only a tendency. The trend across many individuals may also vary significantly as to how any specific function is implemented. The areas of exploration of this causal or effectual difference of a particular brain function include its gross anatomy, dendritic structure, and neurotransmitter distribution. The structural and chemical variance of a particular brain function, between the two hemispheres of one brain or between the same hemisphere of two different brains, is still being studied.

Researchers have demonstrated that right-brain/left-brain theory is a myth, yet its popularity persists. Unfortunately many people are likely unaware that the theory is outdated. Today, students might continue to learn about the theory as a point of historical interest – to understand how our ideas about how the brain works have evolved and changed over time as researchers have learned more about how the brain operates. The important thing to remember if you take one of the many left brain/right brain quizzes that you will likely encounter online is that they are entirely for fun and you shouldn’t place much stock in your results. According to Anderson:

The neuroscience community has never accepted the idea of ‘left-dominant’ or ‘right-dominant’ personality types. Lesion studies don’t support it, and the truth is that it would be highly inefficient for one half of the brain to consistently be more active than the other.

We love simple solutions (see also 21 days to break a habit) Human society is built around categories, classifications and generalizations, and there’s something seductively simple about labeling yourself and others as either a logical left-brainer or a free-spirited right brainer. The problems start, however, when the left-brained/right-brained myth becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What research has yet to refute is the fact that the brain is remarkably malleable, even into late adulthood.

It has an amazing ability to reorganise itself by forming new connections between brain cells, allowing us to continually learn new things and modify our behavior. Let’s not underestimate our potential by allowing a simplistic myth to obscure the complexity of how our brains really work.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson, M. A., Lainhart, J. E., & Anderson, J. S. (2013). An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging.

Rogers, M. (2013).Researchers debunk myth of “right brain” and “left-brain” personality traits. University of Utah, Office of Public Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0071275

Some Non-Obvious Advice on Authentic Leadership

Be an Amazing Leader Every Day.Leadership is behaviour, not position.

The perceived wisdom about Authentic Leadership is confused and dull; many so-called ‘consultants’ and ‘gurus’ have tried to tell us the ‘right’ answer. The current plethora of articles on ‘Thought Leadership‘ is astonishing. I have read, researched and evaluated (ingested, digested, absorbed, assimilated and egested) a huge collection of material on Leadership (from different cultures, writers and traditions) and tried to distill this knowledge into a small droplet of wisdom.

I have a lot of time for Rand Fishkin’s original blogs (co-founder of Moz andInbound.org) and his thoughts on ‘thought leaders’,

‘I don’t particularly like the phrase “thought leader” or “thought leadership” for two reasons: 1) just *thinking* about something doesn’t make you a leader, nor does being a leader enable you to simply think about things AND 2) the term has pretentious and sometimes negative associations. When I hear people describe me that way, I have a viscerally uncomfortable reaction. I kinda wish the terminology would go away.’

Apart from some poor use of English, I think he is spot on. Leadership is not a theoretical concept. Tom Peters is one of my main leadership influencers. His clear observation, that:

the best leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders

seems to be one of his finest assertions. It is also not something that is assumed by a position, salary or access to executive facilities.I embrace the idea that ‘Leadership is Behaviour, not Position’ (possibly coined by Tim Longhurst and even he is not sure where he sourced it) and it sums up the concept of leadership nicely.

Peter Drucker conjured up a thousand images on leadership with a very astute observation:Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. The role of Managerand leader are such completely different, although people often use the terms interchangeably. Managers are the facilitators of their team members’ success. Leaders are the ones who take responsibility for making decisions and bringing change. Leaders are the ones who empower people to discover and use their greatest potential. People are the ones to choose their leader.

If you do a standard Google search on the topic of Leadership, the termauthenticity jumps up and is everywhere. Value Leadership and thought leadership gets more attention when researchers want to explain the effectiveness of management. Isn’t authenticity a principle that anyone with clear conviction and focus intuitively operates from? The question arises whether authenticity in the context of leadership should be invisible. As a leader you should always behave in a manner that is consistent with your beliefs. Authentic Leadership does not come from your title or from the size of your bonus or salary. This form of leadership comes from your inner being and the person that you are. Consider the words of Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre in the Harvard Business Review article:

‘…too many leadership experts still fail to distinguish between the practice of leadership and the exercise of bureaucratic power. In order to engage in a conversation about leadership, you have to assume you have no power — that you aren’t ‘in charge’ of anything and that you can’t sanction those who are unwilling to do your bidding. If, given this starting point, you can mobilise others and accomplish amazing things, then you’re a leader. If you can’t, well then, you’re a bureaucrat.’

The roots of Authentic Leadership come from ancient Greek philosophy that focuses on the development of core, or virtues.. Ancient Greek philosophers stressed authenticity as an important state through an emphasis on being in control of one’s own life and the ubiquitous admonition: know thyself. Authentic leadership as we know it today evolved from the history of these terms. Recently, authentic leadership has garnered more attention among scholars and practitioners because of publications from many Gurus and led by Harvard professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George. The past decade has seen a surge in publications about authentic leadership, producing new models, definitions, and theories.

The ancient Greek traditions have reminders for those seeking leadership excellence. They spoke of Leadership having 4 pillars:

  • Prudence (fair-mindedness, wisdom, seeing all possible courses of action),
  • Temperance (being emotionally balanced and in control),
  • Justice (being fair in dealings with others), and
  • Fortitude (courage to do the right thing).

In my opinion, the greatest leaders are those who lead primarily by their example. The most effective form of leadership is born out of the sincere desire and proven ability to make a positive contribution. Those who lead best are those for whom leadership itself is not the primary aim. Most leaders want to get the best out of their team. Instead of telling your team members what to do, show it to them by your own example.The greatest leaders are those who lead not only with their words and ideas. They don’t ask others to do what they are unwilling to do themselves. Instead, they lead by example.Lt. Col. Hal Moore is a great example of this. Famously depicted by Mel Gibson in the movie, We Were Soldiers, Lt. Moore told his troops, before leaving for Vietnam,

‘We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God: that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I’ll be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together, so help me God.’

For leaders to grow they have to know that their followers are following them each and every moment. Practice what you preach, and the results will astonish you. Be an amazing leader every day. When conditions are tough, when chances to give up are very big, you should be the one who faces obstacles with confidence and determination towards success. Be sure, that they will do the same and stand by your side. By showing personal values, moral behaviour and ethics a manager earns trustworthiness for effective interpersonal relationships. These are the foundation for working together within a company and for employees to reach common goals.

My distillation process for all this ancient and modern knowledge is well underway (having taken a lifetime so far); the result is a small drop of wisdom that contains some non-obvious advice about Authentic Leadership. It is my passion to try to live these mantras every day:

  • More Self-Awareness: The knowledge of self allows leaders to lead from their heart. This is a prerequisite for being an authentic leader; know your own strengths, limitations and values. Knowing what you stand for and what you value is critical. Self-awareness is needed in order to develop the other components of Authentic Leadership. Business is about people; leadership is about people. The best leaders wear their hearts on their sleeves and are not afraid to show their vulnerability. They genuinely care about other people and spend their days developing the people around them. Try to exude passion in all your do.
  • More Authenticity: You have to speak your own truth. This involves being honest and straightforward in dealing with others. An Authentic Leader does not play games or have a hidden agenda. You know where you stand with an authentic leader.In business today, we frequently ‘swallow our truth’. We say things to please others and to look good in front of the crowd or play out their own drama. Authentic Leaders are very different. They consistently talk their truth. They would never betray themselves by using words that are not aligned with who they are. Speaking truth is simply about being clear, being honest and being, yes, authentic.
  • More Dreamers: It starts with the courage to dream. Einstein said that, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ So true. When we dream we have to be open. An effective Authentic Leader solicits opposing viewpoints and considers all options before choosing a course of action. But it is from our imaginations that great things are born. Authentic Leaders dare to dream impossible dreams. They see what everyone else sees and then dream up new possibilities. They spend a lot of time with their eyes closed creating blueprints and fantasies that lead to better products, better services, better workplaces and deeper value.
  • More Doing the Right Thing: An Authentic Leader is courageous andhas an ethical core. She or he knows the right thing to do and is driven by a concern for ethics and fairness.It takes a lot of courage to go against the crowd. It takes a lot of courage to be a visionary. It takes a lot of inner strength to do what you think is right even though it may not be easy. We live in a world where so many people walk the path of least resistance. Authentic Leadership is all about taking the road less traveled and doing, not what is easy, but what is right. Try also the path of Mudita and celebrate success in others.


I believe that these patterns of behaviour are associated with the concept of great leadership. But it is not a secret that more talking and less action has nothing to do with effectiveness. What peoplesee and witness affects them significantly more than what they just hear. It is interesting to review other sources on Leadership; a previous post on Mudita (the concept of celebrating success in others) was taken from the values of Buddhism. These are also known as the 8 Paths to overcome suffering and they can apply equally, I believe, to Authentic Leadership:

  • Right, skilful view (right knowledge, understanding mainly your own intentions)
  • Right, skilful thought (free from ill will, cruelty and untruthfulness)
  • Right, skilful speech (no lying, no harsh or abusive language, no idle chatter, no gossip or threatening
  • Right behaviour, skilful actions (no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, and no drinking intoxicants, so self control, not obstructing the law)
  • Right, skilful livelihood (no selling of weapons, liquor, poison, slaves or livestock, no bribery or fraud; in general earning a living that doesn’t create suffering or harm to oneself, others and the environment)
  • Right, skilful efforts (avoiding and overcoming unwholesome states of mind while developing and maintaining wholesome states of mind; in general no greed, hatred and illusions, not wanting too much, no laziness)
  • Right, skilful mindfulness (the unbiased observation of all phenomena in order to perceive them without emotional or intellectual distortions; in general to understand how our mind works)
  • Right, skillful concentration (complete focus on a single object).

Lots of excellent content within this tradition and while the detail and judgemental elements are sometimes frustrating, there is merit in the execution of this form of Authentic Leadership. Becoming an Authentic Leader is not easy and no human being is ever perfect. No leader can ever be the perfect leader. Every single one of us is a work in progress. Authentic leaders commit themselves to Excellence(always) in everything that they do. They are constantly pushing the envelope and raising their standards. They do not seek perfection and have the wisdom to know the difference. It takes a great deal of self-reflection, getting to know oneself and the courage to do the right thing.

Behave consistently. Deeds, not words, best show your authenticity.

Be Amazing Every Day.