Pilots, surgeons, F1 drivers and astronauts regularly use simulation exercises to prepare them for challenging situations. But new research suggests that simulations can also help business leaders think more clearly under stress and make effective decisions in volatile and uncertain situations.
The Research centered around participants on the Ashridge program, ‘The Leadership Experience: Leading on the Edge’ – an experiential program designed to accelerate the development of high potential managers.
The participants, who were aged 26-55, took part in simulated, challenging Board-level experiences, such as dealing with conflict, handling difficult conversations and managing unexpected crises. They were continually monitored over two days, during these critical incidents but also while they were sleeping. The heart rate monitors were subsequently analysed and combined with other data collected through psychometric tests to give an insight into people’s physiological reactions to a variety of scenarios. Learning uptake was also measured immediately after the program and then at one and six month intervals.
How we respond under pressure
The results showed a strong correlation between increased heart rate during high impact, life-like simulations and the degree of learning reported by participants.
Neurobiologically, when a stressful situation is perceived as a challenge, the brain and body become moderately aroused, optimizing brain functions such as decision-making, learning and memory formation. But if a situation is perceived as a threat or problem, we become over-aroused and prepare for retreat, reducing cognitive functioning. A situation is perceived as a ‘challenge’ or a ‘threat’ depending on whether we believe we have the personal resources and skills to deal with it.
At times of high stress, leaders need to make the best decisions possible, but this is when they are most likely to be cognitively impaired through panic and where judgments, decision-making and thinking can be hampered. Emotions like fear, anxiety, stress and anger narrow our focus and inhibit our concentration. When we are stressed or scared, for instance, we struggle to think clearly, co-ordinate well with others and take in new information.
Implications for Learning and Development
The findings have significant implications for the way development programs for leaders of the future are designed and delivered. They show that experiential learning, or simulated experiences which effectively mimic the stress of leadership, can help better prepare managers for similar situations at work.
If managers are given the chance to deal with emotive situations and try something different in a safe environment, they will think and react more appropriately when they re-enter the workplace. It is a powerful way to increase resourcefulness in the future and to provide high impact, life-changing learning.
The Hercules Academy can make you aware of and improve your potential personal energy in order to cope with these challenges in a way that all problems are converted into……. Herculean Challenges and dealt with accordingly !
Your Herculean coach, Serge