Leadership Skills / Career Development / Industrial Training / Workforce Development

Help your brain be more productive

Tom Moriarty says work with nature, not against it, to improve retention of new data and information.

By Tom Moriarty

I am an asset management consultant, specializing in driving excellence within the operation and maintenance phase of plant activities, and leadership is critical to organizational performance. For that reason, I’ve been delivering workshops titled “Getting Traction Through Productive Leadership©.” Over the past several months I’ve also been working on a book on the same subject. It should be published sometime in 2018.

The definition of productive leadership is:
“A leader, provided with resources and guidance, using his or her roles, attributes, and skills applied through personal and position power to influence others to efficiently and effectively achieve goals.”

I’ll grant you that it is a pretty wordy definition. An important point is that Productive Leadership cannot be attained simply by attending a class on leadership skills. Productive Leadership is a system. Leaders cannot be expected to perform at a high level if they don’t have resources, guidance, and an understanding of objectives and goals. When a leader has sufficient resources, guidance, and goals, he or she can be held accountable to learn and apply:

  • The functions of his or her roles (technician, coach, manager, systems thinker and visionary), with appropriate time allocated for each
  • The attributes of a good leader: consistency, attentiveness, respectfulness, assertiveness, and the ability to motivate
  • Leadership skills (time management, communication, delegation, correction of nonconforming behaviors, etc.)
  • His or sources of power (the seven types of position and personal power) in proper applications of each

Often, leadership training covers only leadership skills. But even when the training covers roles, attributes, and sources of power, trainees don’t get full value from the workshop. To get value, our brains need to process new information and consolidate it into long-term memories. Studies have shown that one-time exposure to new information results in only a 10%–20% retention rate. If you don’t retain information, you won’t apply it, and if you don’t apply it, you’ll get a poor return on investment (ROI).

While doing research for my book, I read Brain Rules, a 2014 book by John Medina, who has thoughtfully posted a series of short videos as a companion to the book.

Medina presents 12 brain “rules” that are based on published, peer-reviewed research. Among the rules are several that relate directly to how we convert new information to memories: attention (rule 6), memory (rule 7), sensory integration (rule 8), and vision (rule 9).

The attention rule basically says we don’t pay attention to boring things: Learning should be interactive and interesting, or else we’ll tune out. The important aspect of the memory rule is that we must use repetitive, spaced learning to consolidate a memory. We can retain a new piece of information for about 30 seconds but lose it quickly. Being exposed to the information again within 1–2 hours and then at spaced intervals every couple of days will consolidate a memory. The sensory integration rule says that new information is more persistent when we engage more of our senses. Finally, the vision rule states that vision is by far the most effective sense for conveying and retaining information.

Applying the Brain Rules techniques is working with nature, not against it. To test these concepts, we developed a smartphone app called Lead In© (now available in both Apple and Android app stores). The app includes pop-up messages as reminders of key concepts from Productive Leadership. There are helpful reminders for empowering people, correcting behaviors, and giving positive recognition, etc. 

The Lead In© app keeps leadership information handy. Pop-ups help with spaced interval exposure. Because messages vibrate, produce an audible “ding,” require swiping, and engage vision, we leverage sensory integration and vision rules. Please try the app and let me know what you think.

Productive leadership is a system. Roles, skills, attributes, and power sources need to be consolidated into memories. It’s best to do so by working with nature.