Alan Watkins writes on the science of coherent leadership which encompasses a wide range of areas brought together to help individuals in business increase their developmental levels and be more personally effective. Alan is an honorary senior lecturer in neuroscience and psychological medicine at Imperial College, London and originally qualified as a physician. Alan worked with the Great Britain rowing squad prior to the London Olympics and provides continued guidance to the coaches in advance of Rio 2016. He is the founder and CEO of Complete Coherence.

Most people understand that our behaviour directly impacts the results we get.

In dynamic and complex environments, there are some critical behaviours that enable us to collaborate better, develop higher levels of cross-functional alignment and build more trusting relationships.

These behaviours, critical to driving performance, include the ability to think flexibly, to be empathetic and to create coherence within a team.

However these behaviours are, unfortunately, often rare in individuals, and are also incredibly hard to develop.

So what can be done? To change behaviour, we need to understand what is driving our behaviour. Affecting what drives behaviour will have a positive knock on effect to our performance as we become able to think flexibly, be empathetic, and create coherence within a team.

To change behaviour, we need to understand what is driving our behaviour.

A person’s behaviour is just the tip of the iceberg.

Everything people say and do – their behaviour – is profoundly affected by what’s going on below the water line.

Behaviour is not an isolated phenomenon. Trying to change behaviour without considering what affects it, is usually a fruitless mission and won’t alter behaviour sustainably.

The predators we face in the boardroom require more sophisticated behaviour than a fight or flight response.

This is why valuable behaviours often stay rare and underdeveloped, and so much leadership development fails to deliver on its promises.

Behaviour is affected by our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, and all of this is ultimately affected by our physiology.

Therefore sustainable change in behaviour begins with a person’s physiology; specifically the messages that are being received by our prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is the executive part of the brain that determines our responses. If your physiology is in chaos then your prefrontal cortex will shut down, inhibiting your decision making skills and your behaviour.

Behaviour is not an isolated phenomenon.

This may sound like a cruel trick, but in a prehistoric era such prefrontal cortex shutdown would have saved your life.

When faced with a predator the body doesn’t want the brain to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of different courses of action, the body wants the brain to shut down and either attack or run – prefrontal cortex shutdown determines your fight or flight response.      

In 2016 the predators we face in the boardroom require more sophisticated behaviour than a fight or flight response.

Therefore we need to learn to control the messages our body is sending to our brain. The most effective way to do this is through controlling your breathing.

A rhythmic breathing pattern will create coherence, instead of chaos, and this coherence will resonate throughout your body, preventing frontal cortex shutdown and enabling you to behave in a more sophisticated way.

Achieving biological coherence is the way to sustainably change the way you behave, and ultimately develop who you are as an individual.

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