Our brain has two hemispheres that are programmed and defined to do different jobs. The two hemispheres are our left brain and right brain. The left brain is responsible for things such as strategy, thinking, detail and a lot of the practical things we do as humans. The right brain is where we experience emotion, feelings, and the ability to see the big picture; this is also where we develop empathy.
There is an irony that has emerged for some well educated executives. The irony is that all through our childhood and into our adult life, we are broadly taught using the left thinking side of our brain. Let’s just explore this for a moment. As children we were taught structures such as the alphabet, our times tables, mathematical equations and formulas. Then when it came to examinations, we were instructed to study, learn verbatim, and whilst in the exam situation, to regurgitate this into answers. This is all left brain thinking.
Therefore I surmise that it’s not surprising that the students who had a more dominant left side of their brain achieved the best results. These same individuals were also awarded the better college places, repeated the regurgitation and as a result had better degrees and ultimately secured more senior positions. These more senior roles allow decision making in business at a level where often the right-brained dominant leaders are less apparent.
Since empathy is right brain thinking, this could be why some leaders still show little empathy. One hypothesis is that they have been working their left brain for so long, it may be more dominant than their right side, and that the emotional side of understanding people is thus harder to grasp than that of naturally dominant right brain thinkers.
It’s also true that some people who leave school with no qualifications and no apparent chances have become some of the most successful entrepreneurs. Where opportunity played into their path during their adult life, they could fully explore and utilize their right brain thinking. Having a clear dollop of empathy in their Leadership Cake would almost be a surety.