Resilience and Leadership: How Neuroscience Can Help You Become A Better Arts and Culture Leader

Teams have to manage the ups and downs of each workday and of course need a leader to make those ups and downs a little less stormy. We’ve certainly all learned a lot this last year, but what struck me the most was the agility, adaptability - and of course resilience arts, culture and heritage leaders and their teams have shown. 

Leading teams during times of turmoil and crisis - and leading them out of it again - can feel a bit like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded, with your hands tied behind your back. 

But recent studies in neuroscience have shown that there are some cognitive skills you can use to help your teams through any situation. 


Face The Fears: Engage Your Survival Brain

It is easy to think the best way forward when times are challenging is to become the cheerleader for your team. While positivity is most certainly important, addressing your teams insecurities and fears - whatever they are, is what helps keep teams moving forward and buoyed. It is like going scuba diving without ever having a diving lesson. If you don’t know what to do when things go wrong - they will go wrong terribly. 

Helping your team engage their “survival brain” ensures they are ready for anything and won’t let their “what if” thinking take over which is a surefire way to sabotage success and stall your team. A great example of this preparedness is the work The Arts Working Group have done on toolkits. These are all about getting ready and getting prepared.

Inspiration and motivation are great - and needed - but don’t be afraid to face fears with your team - all together and individually. This will help grow confidence in your team and help them overcome obstacles together. 

Get Emotional and Logical: Sooth Your Emotional Brain and Activate Your Logical Brain

When your team is dealing with challenges it is also important to remember the bigger picture. Talk to your team about their vision, goals and hopes. This engages the emotional brain and helps ease latent fears. But that of course is not all. 

Research has shown that the survival brain and emotional brain are the two most decision-driven parts of the brain. People most often make decisions using either their emotional brain or their survival brain if they are overactive. So don’t forget facts, data, timelines and logistics. This activates the brain’s logical side and can help get your team thinking clearly. 


Things Will Go Wrong

The reality as we all know is that s&*$ happens. Things go wrong - it is just a part of life. The difference between a leader and a follower is that leaders understand that failure is part of the journey - an inevitable part of the journey. 

Your job as a leader is to help your team through it. The real trick is getting your team out of survival mode as quickly as possible. Pay attention to how your team responds to verbal and non-verbal cues. What inspires? What bores? What fills them with fear? Understanding this and responding appropriately will only help your team be stronger. 

What’s really interesting is that arts and culture leaders seem to do all of these things naturally. I think that is why the arts, culture and heritage sector has been resilient and adaptable over this last year and half.  And why there is so much to look forward to in the future. The arts and culture has proven they can handle uncertainty and challenges - and it most definitely is in our head.