It’s Your Brain – Not You with Dr. Dan Radecki
Our issue this month is about brain science and understanding our own brain and yes, it does work in mysterious ways.
“The operating principle of our brain places us in safety first. If our brain does not feel safe, it can’t enjoy what we are doing,” according to our special guest, brain science expert and friend Dan Radecki. Dan’s new book, Psychological Safetyoffers a refreshing model to cut right to the essence of where our challenge of fear or stress is created. When we understand what drives discomfort we can take risks and see the possibilities in a new light.
I met Dan years ago and vividly recall his refreshing approach to a complicated topic - the science of our brain. I felt relieved to know we could do something about not only understanding our brain but improving our ability to reduce stress and uncertainty. The impact stretches to our own happiness as well as our relationships with others on our teams or at home. Recently I attended a session Dan held in Orange County to take his work in the science of the brain into a discussion of inclusion and diversity in the workplace. He shared more about where this research has taken him in working with leaders and organizations. Here is Dan’s take on his journey.
Sherry: How did psychological safety become your focus?
Dan: I was studying as a psych undergrad and graduate – studying the brain – and my thesis was on the impact that stress has on our brain and behavior. In animal studies we saw how stress impacts behavior and today our stress is quite different from the fight and flight era of early man. But it is what we internally generate that drives stress today. Psych safety was part of my work years ago. Taking it further, given that we are in a world of technology explosion and constant connection with online social media, Google published a study in 2015 affirming how psychological safety is a critical factor for high performance.
Sherry: What prompted you to start the Academy of Brain-based leadership?
Dan: My journey in education started at the Neuroleadership Institute. In 2009 we created curriculum on how to build better leaders with an understanding of brain science. We built ABL 5 years ago with the goal of extending that work to the mainstream with a community of practitioners. Our plan was to be a repository of knowledge and now almost 11 years later we are educating, certifying professionals in over 50 countries and getting the message out. The educational programs are global and I am surprised and delighted with the expanding reach and interest.
Sherry: How “brain conscious” are we today? What is your vision for heightening this consciousness?
Dan: We are not brain conscious today – it is getting worse. We are on auto pilot too often. Whether we are on the phone, on line or driving and on phone, we don’t think, we react. Our emotional brain is in high drive so it makes it hard to be objective about our world. If we are self-aware, and realize that there is a need for autonomy, then we can manage to this. I see there is a growing acceptance and understanding about the brain and our safety model. It is being introduced into companies and teams and influencing how our leaders deal with the world around them.
Sherry: Has this research changed you? How so?
Dan:I think it is making me more focused on how I come across to others and what I need to do in the moment. It allows me to more effectively re-appraise what is happening and realize it is not me, it is my brain. Only then, I can adapt, pause or determine what is motivating me to take an action or respond is a certain way.
Sherry: What and how do you recommend new leaders learn about the SAFETY model?
Dan: This is a competency that can be developed for new leaders and I recommend our web site for research, tools and an assessment to gauge where they are in the five key elements. Those are security, autonomy, fairness, esteem, trust and factors unique to each of us. Read more about these key elements in Dan’s book.
Sherry: Any advice for early career professionals who are navigating new roles and cultures in their companies today?
Dan: I suggest an approach with early careerists that introduce the brain safety model and - “it’s not you, it’s your brain.” How are you making decisions? Brains don’t like change, rather than manage the stress, at the moment it happens – I recommend that you work to build brain resilience now. It is a practice that incorporates self-awareness, mindfulness, and how our brain braking systems work.
Sherry: How are start-ups managing the higher reasoning brain?
Dan: Leaders in a start-up manage risk and move quickly. If there is a failure, the idea of rapid change and failing quickly is part of the moving fast game plan. I see Silicon Valley entrepreneurs use their higher brain to look more astutely at growth rather than risk.
Thank you Dan! You mention that the writing of the book took a tribe of important people in your life. Leonie Hull, co-founder of the Academy of Brain Based Leadership, Jennifer McCusker, Head of Global Learning and OD from Activision Blizzard and others who supported your work brought wonderful insights and experiences. To find out more about building better brains, check out Dan’s site and learn more about the assessment.
More About Dan
Dr. Dan Radecki is Co-founder at the Academy of Brain-based Leadership (ABL), which offers a scientifically validated, brain-based approach for future-oriented leaders and organizations interested in optimizing their performance, relationships and health. He also serves as Executive Director of Research and Development at Allergan Inc., where he is a Global Leader for drug development programs. Dan holds a Bachelors in Psychology, Masters in Biopsychology and PhD in Neuroscience.
Working as a leader in the corporate world allows Dan the unique perspective on how our knowledge of brain functioning can aid leaders in maximizing their results as well as the results of their teams. With this unique perspective from roles in both the leadership and neuroscientific world, in 2009 Dan created the content for the educational arm of the NeuroLeadership Institute and served as the lead professor and advisor for the Master of Science program in the Neuroscience of Leadership. This was the first university-accredited program ever developed to incorporate cutting edge neuroscience research into an optimal model of leadership.