Mystic and neuroscientific approaches to leadership, self-knowledge, and emotional intelligence are explored at IMD.

Imagine a moment when you smiled with happiness. What were you touching, tasting, smelling, hearing? The more thorough your remembrance, the more you will feel that warmth rekindle, and, as IMD participants learned from Leadership professors, the more you will reinforce associated neural pathways. This reinforcement applies equally to more intense or negative emotions, which can lead to overstimulation of the brain’s emotional centers, carrying stress hormones to the rest of the body. While stress can be useful for rapid threat responses, prolonged stress can bring exhaustion, pain, and bad judgement.

It is in part with these phenomena in mind that IMD steers its MBA participants’ attention towards self-awareness and the qualitative aspects of leadership. “Emotional intelligence” – awareness and control of emotions – is needed both to effectively interact in teams and to manage our selves.  Merely responding to the concerns of stakeholders can be insufficient; an effective leader must channel empathy to respond with emotions. And neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to be trained and guided – implies that inner emotional regulation is needed for physical and mental health, as well as self-mastery.

The legend of Parsifal, as depicted by Arthur Hacker in 1884; this legendary knight’s search for the Holy Grail is one archetypal Jungian narrative used to frame and guide psychic analysis.

MBA participants also approached this theme experientially via ongoing “personal development electives” with Jungian analysts. With their analysts, they increase awareness of unconscious psychic elements and harmonize them with consciousness, seeking meaning and balance. The personal unconscious – like Jung’s shared collective unconscious – can be explored via dreams, histories, and creative expressions like drawings; self-realization, or individuation, is an ongoing process. By the telling of my fellow MBA participants, these techniques – however mystical – have helped them become more self-confident and balanced, better prepared for stresses ranging from personal tragedies to academic pressures to the practical challenges of the coronavirus lockdown.

Studying the mystical and neurological aspects of emotional intelligence reinforces lessons learned earlier in the IMD MBA program regarding effective communication, presentation, and negotiation tactics. Emotional brain pathways are physically faster than rational pathways; external stimuli reach the amygdala before the cerebral cortex. Thus, “amygdala hijacking” can lead to emotions dominating our thinking, presenting us with judgments and action plans. Accordingly, an audience will rarely remember what you say, but will always remember how you made them feel. Effective persuasion and propaganda hinge upon this principle. Thus, both to communicate effectively with others, and to maximize our individual independence of thought, it is important for us to regulate, soothe, and channel emotions.


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