Issue Number 10: Leadership and Mirror Neurons

In addition to the anecdotal evidence that organizations reflect the example of their leaders, there may now be scientific evidence to explain how this works.

Neuroscientists have found that “mirror neurons,” which are distributed throughout our brains, enable us to learn by observing. They are also used to detect and mimic someone’s emotions, and in so doing, create a shared experience.

A mirror neuron “fires” both when a person acts and when he or she observes an action performed by someone else. The neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other person, just as though the observer were performing the act. It can also result in shared actions. That may be what is happening to these lions. As I watched them, one of them noticed something interesting and the others began mirroring the first lion’s posture, until all of them were posing alike.

Some scientists consider mirror neurons one of the most important recent findings in neuroscience. Understanding the role of mirror neurons may be important in understanding the actions of others, developing empathy and learning new skills.

Most people want to align themselves with the leader. Some do this by copying his or her behavior. They might dress like the leader, mimic gestures or tone of voice, and model their attitudes and values after those of the leader. They may even spend so much time copying the leader they lose sight of themselves, and that can affect the contributions they might make.

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