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Cognitive Development

This is the continuous development of an inner disposition and aspiration for excellence in service to something greater than oneself that exhibits itself through purposeful, principled and disciplined dedication to outward actions that embody the highest ideals expressed in the Navy ethic and core values.

Article Synopsis

The Focused Leader

Approximate length: 25 minutes

In the above-referenced article, author, Daniel Goleman connects a leader’s excellence to the extent in which he is able to focus his attention. The author states that focused mind typically means tuning out distractions, but in this article, it means something more. He makes the case for leaders to deliberately direct their attention to self, others, and the wider world.

Focus on self, the author states, is the first pillar of emotional intelligence, and means that a leader is able to be authentic, or the same with others as he is to himself. He is self-aware, aware of how others view him, and is able to practice open awareness. More than just being in tune with his gut instinct, which can sometimes be wrong, a successful leader relies on a range of emotions, analytics, and past experience. He is also able to observe selective attention, self-regulation, and cognitive control.

Focus on others, according to the author, includes the second and third pillars of emotional intelligence, which are the foundation of empathy and ability to build social relationships. The author describes a triad of empathy, but emphasizes cognitive empathy, the ability to understand another person’s perspective, and empathetic concern, the ability to sense what another person needs from you. The author claims that cognitive empathy stems from self-awareness. Empathetic concern requires a balance of between taking time to understand how others are thinking and feeling without getting bogged down. The author states that empathy can’t occur when the mind is preoccupied.

Finally, focus on the wider world involves a different type of skill—that of a visionary, who pictures how current decisions will impact the future. The author differentiates a leader who exploits current advantages, which is the status quo, versus a leader who explores the future, which is more challenging. In order for innovation to occur, the author recommends to reduce stress and practice cognitive selection, which is alternating between deep concentration and free thought, keeping an open mind. He says that leaders who excel in analyzing systems and organizational trends often tend to lack empathy.

The author concludes with saying the basis for most leadership skills is focused attention, and the skills covered in this article collectively reflect a balanced leader—exhibiting emotional, organization, and strategic intelligence. He warns against getting caught up in information overload, saying that leaders need to be able to direct their full range of attention to when and where it is needed. Learning to master attention, according to the author, will bring proper focus to the leader, and ultimately to the organization itself.

Guiding Questions

The Focused Leader

  1. How does the author initially define focused attention in relation to leadership?
  2. According to the author how does focused attention on self, including self-awareness, authenticity, open awareness, and cognitive control, make a leader a better leader?
  3. According to the author, what are the benefits of learning how to meditate?
  4. How does an effective leader practice cognitive empathy and balance empathetic concern?
  5. As leaders become more senior, why do their personal relationships suffer, according to the author?
  6. According to the author, how is innovative thinking important to focused leadership? What are some strategies leaders can use to cultivate innovating thinking?
  7. What are some of the stumbling blocks, the author mentions, to losing a wider focus?
  8. Why do you think the author makes the case that focused attention is the basis for most leadership skills, including emotional, organizational, and strategic intelligence?
  9. How can a leader manage information overload effectively?

Full Article/Reference

The Focused Leader

Goleman, Daniel. "The Focused Leader." Harvard Business Review, December 2013. Accessed 15 June 2018.

Article Synopsis

What Combat Leaders Need to Know About Neuroscience

Approximate length: 30 minutes

In the above-referenced article, the author looks at the merit of studying how the brain and nervous system function to better prepare military leaders to make effective decisions. The author initially describes "brain basics" and two specific areas of the brain, namely, the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. Under threat, the limbic system, made up of four subsystems, is initially engaged.

Emulating raw emotion and the "flight or fight," the limbic system often reflexively responds. Physiologically, this minimizes blood flow and glucose to other areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, where more rationale, abstract, and complex thought and decision making occurs. In order for military leaders to make effective, real-time decisions on the battlefield, the author makes the case they must learn how to muffle their limbic systems while amplifying and fully engaging their prefrontal cortex.

The author defines the levels of military leadership he is referring to in this article, ranging from the platoon leader and platoon sergeant to the company-level commander and battalion-level commander. He offers several strategies to control the effect of emotional energy and improve cognition. As part of this, the author emphasizes the importance of isolating an effective decision-making environment, outside of the tactical situation.

Additionally, the author says that often the most effective decisions are "out of the box," where military leaders apply what they know to unfamiliar contexts. He outlines a model by author David Rock, Your Brain at Work, of five basic mental processes military leaders should follow for cognitive battle decision-making. To these five, he adds a sixth called personalizing, in which he encourages leaders to maintain their own personality and apply their own unique set of expertise to the situation.

The author explains that it is incumbent upon all military leaders to develop their own repertoire or "database of professional knowledge that will assist them in stressful situations." Finally, the author reiterates that this process of engaging the rationale mind in the heat of battle is difficult and possibly one of the most sophisticated processes that humans can perform. He states that "knowing how to think could be a combat leader’s most valuable tool."

Guiding Questions

What Combat Leaders Need to Know About Neuroscience

  1. Given the many suggestions the author provides to military leaders to help make better decisions and to perform real-time planning on the battlefield, which recommendation(s) most resonated with you? Why?
  2. How has your military training and professional development activities adequately prepared you to be effective in real-time decision-making on the battlefield?
  3. What are ways you think may improve your ability to make effective decisions and perform effective planning under stressful and life-endangering situations?

Full Article/Reference

What Combat Leaders Need to Know About Neuroscience

Freakley, Benjamin C. "What Combat Leaders Need to Know About Neuroscience." The Military Leader, 1 December 2015. Accessed 13 June 2018.