“When Business, Neuroscience, Philosophy and Psychology meet”

by Didier Marlier on Friday June 8th, 2012

What do US contemporary business writer, Patrick Lencioni, XXIst century most famous neuroscientist, Portuguese Professor Antonio Damasio, Ancient Greece philosopher Aristotle, and Chilean born psychologist and mathematician Marcial Losada have in common, apart from the fact that we often quote them in our work?

Lencioni came up with the observation (see article on our blog) that teams that were focused on business results could only do it because they consciously cultivate their “Trust” in each other. Lencioni’s logic goes as follows:

  • Trust happens in a team when its members can “progress uncovered” in their discussion, meaning that they can simply “be themselves”, offering ideas and suggestions without fear of being ostracized or ridiculed by their colleagues or significant members of the group. Trust means that team members may admit temporary incompetence, seek help, challenge and support; They can be vulnerable. In short, the culture of the team encourages people to “do and be their best” instead of conforming to a precooked model.
  • When there is Trust, people will let surface and address conflict in a positive and constructive way. Ego contests, fear of loosing face are absent in such cultures. Diverging opinions are met with interest and curiosity. Challenge is seen as a sign of engagement instead of characteristic of “the usual trouble makers”. Such teams show a high capacity to explore.
  • If the team has addressed its internal conflicts instead of avoiding them to drift into collusion, commitment to the decisions taken in collegiality will be strong. Intelligent people do not necessarily need their ideas to be sustained. But they need to see that respect has been paid to their thoughts.
  • When commitment is there, accountability follows, even though the decision wasn’t the one I would have made to start with. In Switzerland, where I live, our government is composed not by members of the winning party but by a not really democratic alchemy of seven representatives of the main political parties ranging from left to xenophobic and toxic nationalists. The latest party members appeared to brake the commitment and accountability unspoken rules and were punished by the voters in recent election… People did not admit that, after discussions behind closed doors, the representatives of such a party would break down publicly the consensus he should have stuck to when speaking publicly.
  • When those four pillars exist, then the focus on results can truly and authentically be there, as a consequence of the rest.

As recently shared, Prof. Antonio Damasio’s indirect contribution to business was to demonstrate that logic and emotions are two essential drivers in helping people migrating from intention to action. Whereas our rationale acts as a powerful filter about what to do or not, our emotions are what prompts us to act. Any leader intending to engage their followers into profound change would be well inspired to remember this…

Aristotle’s Logos, Ethos and Pathos are central to our intervention philosophy and book. Centuries before Damasio demonstrated it through neurosciences, Alexander the Great’s mentor, knew that the way he would need to engage people through Logos (rationale, logic and clarity). He was also aware that his own actions as a leader would be scrutinized by his followers. He therefore invented the concept of Ethos, which has become in modern leadership literature, “Walk the Talk”. Finally, he intuited that emotions should be linked to the two other agendas. He called this Pathos, or emotionally engaging people into action. Ledoux (another neuroscientist) reckons that the fastest way to enter people’s Pathos is via stories, metaphors, symbols and gestures.

This brings us back to Marcial Losada, the Chilean psychologist and mathematician, quoted several times here. Re-reading some of his articles, I came to the conclusion that the verified result of his work with 60 teams of executives, when he was teaching at the University of Michigan brings it all together:

  • Everything in a team starts with Ethos. Behaviours may be “toxic” or “positive”. This parallels Aristotle’s Ethos or Lencioni’s Trust.
  • Behaviours define an emotional space (Pathos) that can be very negative (obsessed, positional or oppositional, these are our words, Losada talks about “fixed point”), neutral or disengaged (called “limit cycle” by Losada) or “flourishing”.
  • I let you guess which one of the three emotional spaces grants the best strategic climate for taking the best decisions? (Logos)


I find fascinating that such various fields of knowledge as Business, Neuroscience, Philosophy or Psychology, at very different time of mankind History came with such aligned concepts. The logic of the articulation of the intellectual, behavioural and emotional agendas is compelling to me. I would like to encourage you to observe your next Management Team meeting under this angle and find if behaviours truly contribute to create the emotional space which will, in turn, determine the quality of your team’s intellectual output.

Have a good week, mine will be between Munich and Paris, Didier

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