Imagery of Regent people and campus

Leadership Expert Motivates ELS Crowd

By Amanda Morad | April 29, 2014

Dr. Henry Cloud
Photo by Alex Perry

Dr. Henry Cloud, best-selling author and leadership expert, charmed a crowd of 430 at Regent University's Executive Leadership Series luncheon on Tuesday, April 29. With wit, science and an arsenal of anecdotes from his years as a leadership consultant and clinical psychologist, Cloud focused his talk on the need for leaders to connect with their people.

"Leaders of every organization, no matter how big or small, are doing the same thing: they start with a vision, engage talent and execute a strategy," he explained. "But if all leaders are doing the same thing, why do some get great results and others don't?"

Though the answer is a mix of psychology, sociology and neuroscience, according to Cloud, it's simple. "The leaders who get results lead people in ways their brains can actually follow them," he said. "There's not one right plan to make a business successful. The key is getting people to work the plan."

According to Cloud, a business' success or failure rests heavily on the leader's ability to create and manage a team. "You're in charge," he reminded the crowd. "Whatever is going on in your team, you're either creating or allowing."

To help leaders better manage their teams, Cloud draws on his expertise in psychology. He explained what it takes for the brain to accomplish a goal. "To move from A to Z, the brain must first attend to what is relevant to make the goal happen. Then, it has to inhibit everything else. Third, it has to keep a working memory of the entire process."

With this in mind, Cloud explained that multi-tasking is a myth. While task switching is possible, simultaneously working to accomplish two goals at once is not. In essence, "if everything is important to the brain, nothing is important," he said.

"Leaders must help identify those things that are important; they figure out what to attend to, what to shut out, and help keep those two priorities in front of their team," Cloud explained. Leaders serve as the "brain" of the organization.

This "brain" is not only in control of priorities, but of the organization's culture. "Boundaries that leaders set have to establish a positive emotional climate," Cloud said. "The brain runs on chemicals like cars run on fuel—the input has to be clean."

Differentiating between the upper brain that controls productivity, creativity, motivation and achievement, and the lower brain, which controls reaction and mandates survival under threat, Cloud emphasized the importance of a positive emotional climate.

"If you want to protect your productivity, you have to protect your people," he said. "Sometimes it's not building the positive emotional climate that's most difficult but doing the hard things required to protect it."

Protecting the emotional climate of an organization means that relationships must be a key priority for leaders. "The brain works on three things: oxygen, glucose and relationships," said Cloud. Though it's difficult to think about the physiological implications of something intangible like love, Cloud explained that it's as vital to human thriving as food and water.

"When people feel connected and supported, it triggers a physiological result, kick starting the brain," he said. "You will never lead anyone who does not feel connected to you."

With this in mind, Cloud noted that the most successful organizations are those where trust is highest. That applies not only to employees trusting their leaders, but leaders trusting their employees. "We are designed for self-control," he said. "People need to know what they can control and be trusted to take ownership of it."

In closing, he charged business leaders to protect their people and foster a positive emotional climate: "Help people keep the main thing the main thing, help them stay positive, help them connect, and help them know how important their contribution is to the organization."

Cloud has written more than 20 books, including the bestseller Boundaries, which sold over two million copies. In 2009, Integrity was identified as "must read" by several outlets, and in 2011, Necessary Endings was called "the most important book you read all year."

Held each month, ELS brings together businessmen and women in Hampton Roads to hear from business and leadership experts. Join Regent at the final ELS luncheon of the 2013-2014 season on Wednesday, May 14, with renowned etiquette and customer service expert, Joy Weaver.


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