The Value of Leadership using Your Whole Brain


The Value of Leadership using Your Whole Brain

Every so often, we see a larger-than-life example of what happens when someone is not working from their whole brain and without knowledge of their Striving Style. Such is the case with Oprah’s OWN network and the current challenges the network, as well as Oprah herself as a leader, are experiencing. Rumors about how the network is failing to thrive and speculation about what Oprah hasn’t done and should be doing seem to be everywhere. However, few comments that I have seen have analyzed the impact of her personality and leadership style on her current state of affairs.

Looking through the lens of how her brain is organized and how she favors using her right rational brain (Performer Striving Style), we can understand her current leadership challenges along with her innate motivation to keep achieving greater levels of recognition as a learder of consciousness.

Right Rational Brain Leadership

This part of the brain envisions and imagines the way they believe the world can be and people who favor this brain quadrant set out to inspire and lead others toward the achievement of their vision. True to the Performer Striving Style, Oprah envisioned a network that would serve to raise people’s awareness and consciousness: A network that would have both heart and soul. Her vision inspired people to join her to bring her vision for OWN to life. This became this Performers next big challenge and she set about to make it happen without getting sufficiently into the details or doing reality testing around how much the network would depend on her and for how long.

Like other Performer Style leaders, Oprah over-reached and imagined that she could both wind down her popular long-running TV show while getting OWN off the ground at the same time. Split between the two demanding roles, she could not give the network what it needed at the inception. She also imagined that her people were capable of what she needed them to be and what they told her was possible. She had faith that these people both shared her vision and could bring her vision into reality without her having to be involved at a micro level.  

Underestimated the Reality of the Enterprise

In her attempt to leave the confines of her role as talk show host extraordinaire, she inadvertently created a business with a voracious need of her energy and attention. Out of the frying pan and into the fire! Starting a business is always a challenge and the second year of any entrepreneurial endeavor is often the make-it or break-it year. Oprah didn’t envision having to be involved in the actual structuring or day-to-day running of OWN and was already off pursuing other things before the network could thrive on its own without her. Again, this is consistent with the Performer Style—individuals who powerfully envision what is possible, but don’t accurately measure the time and effort required.

In addition, armed with a deep awareness and understanding of her Striving Style (how her brain is organized and what her predominant need is), Oprah would have understood that more involvement and work was necessary in order to align her vision and mandate for OWN to meet the needs of her audience. Although it is her calling to raise consciousness and bring hope and inspiration to the world, she is often ahead of her time. Giving birth to an enterprise that is not aligned to mainstream consciousness requires a different skill set and, therefore demands more of Oprah and her time than she could ever imagine. Launching this endeavor pulls her down to a level of structuring and decision-making that would not meet her Performer need, nor is it the best use of her many talents.

The Need to "Lead Out"

Performer Style leaders do their best work when they are able to “lead out” (vision, strategy, inspirational leadership) rather than “lead in” (tactical planning, systems development and maintenance, and performance management). Because they lead from their right-brain, getting involved in the left-brain activities of planning, structuring and defining causes them to get de-motivated, easily distracted, and disconnected from their feelings. They may show their distress in their bodies (weight gain, headaches,) or use alcohol or food to manage their moods.

As a Performer, Oprah needs a lot of approval and recognition for what she is doing. Making a career change was a good move, but her motivation for creating OWN may have come more from her desire to not disappoint anyone than from her authentic self. It is perhaps time for Oprah to move away from her role as entrepreneur, media mogul and TV host into her own place as a leader of consciousness and to redefine herself for the world as the leader she is meant to be. Otherwise, she will be confined to spend more time nursing her young enterprise, rather than leaving it to people that she imagines are capable of making her vision into a reality. And like other Performers, she will be stretched so thin and so far removed from her people that she doesn’t get the support that she needs to be successful.

Putting Knowledge to Work

When a leader has the awareness of how their brain is organized, they have insight into the potential gaps between what they want to do and what their employees or the organization they lead needs them to do. If these two things are not aligned, they can end up with a gap that will significantly interfere with the growth of the business, fulfilment of potential and employee satisfaction. Ultimately, they get pulled back into dealing with the very thing that they were avoiding because, like Oprah, their brain is not wired to feel successful when they are doing those tasks. 


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