Photo of Keiron Sparrowhawk

The recent MBA Tuesday Club event has not only marked the Golden Anniversary of the Association of MBA (AMBA) and the launch of the New Westminster MBA programme, but also tackled a very important topic of cognitive leadership skills.

Keiron Sparrowhawk a successful businessman and entrepreneur, currently CEO and founder of MyCognition was the key speaker. Keiron is also a Westminster MBA alumnus, who’s newly written book, ‘Executive Function’, found its place on the programme’s reading list, after his support in helping to shape the New Westminster MBA programme, which prepares its participants to work for, with and on Boards.

The talk focused on the ways in which the cognitive power of leaders can be measured, assessed and profiled. For someone like me, who explores positive psychology and positive interventions in organisations, it was refreshing to hear about this different approach: cognitions being looked upon from a positive perspective, rather than from the usual maladaptive scenarios. Indeed, Keiron stressed that cognitive health isn’t just about ‘negative’ states like dementia, but ‘positive’ attributes, such as leadership. Linking the notion of cognitive health and cognitive function with effective leadership was truly intriguing.

Keiron commenced his presentation with provocative questions: are you fit to lead? Do you lead to the best of your ability? Are you being led properly by people? He outlined the importance of cognition and claimed that leadership and cognitive health are not static.

So, what are these cognitive skills and how do they shape leaders? Also, what are the role of the evolutionary processes, and the plasticity of our brains? Can we sustain our early-age curiosity, and maintain our wisdom, acquired much later in life?

Keiron confirmed that both are needed for effective leadership. Leadership is not a new phenomena – it only changed its form with times – from tribal to business leaders (with many in between). He proposed that leadership is about serving others.

He then elaborated on different aspects of the measuring tool which his team has developed – MyCQ. The idea behind the tool is to raise awareness about the importance of cognitive health for aspiring leaders. The tool is simple to administer online and it assesses whether leaders are cognitively fit to lead. It measures five domains and it helps to address deficit gaps in some areas

What are cognitive skills photo

The five domains:

1) THE COACH – measures focus and concentration on the given task (and in turn, productivity). It also measures attention to others – their concerns, ideas or problems, which is interlinked with the capacity for listening and coaching. However, with a lack of focus and attention, comes easy distraction and not being in control of workload.

2) THE JUDGE – measures the processing speed and the coordination of thinking with physical tasks. It also looks into the verbal fluency and articulation and the level of quick decisiveness and assessments of situations.

3) THE CURATOR (based on episodic memory) – measures attributions (positive or negative) that we assign to our life experiences, connectedness between various patterns, learning curves and the level of alignment with organisational vision and values.

4) THE HERO (based on working memory) – measures problem solving and decision making processes; retrieval, comprehension, manipulation and use of data. It also looks at resilience levels since resilience tends to reduce stress. Some negative aspects of a lack of decision making capacity might be a paralysis of analysis and un-clarity of thought, which might lead to many projects or initiatives remaining unfinished.
5) THE PILOT – measures executive function and planning/organising. It is the key cognitive skill in terms of strategic thinking and planning. It is based on generation of challenging ideas and has a change orientation. It also measures the capacity for being creative and thinking about the implications of our own actions. Some of the distinct deficits within the executive function appear to be difficulties with motivating and driving others, initiating activities and being unable to cope with change.

In Summary

This was an insightful presentation about cognitive skills and their impact on leadership. It raised the curiosity from the audience and the questions prompted interesting discussion about political leadership of Obama and Trump. Some concerns associated with the situational leadership in a crisis were raised, when the role of episodic memory happens to be crucial. My queries addressed the capacity of this tool to incorporate in its measurement also contextual factors, such as emotional and social elements, since humans are not only cognitive beings. An interesting proposition was made (as part of the answer), that executive function serves as a surrogate of emotional intelligence. It would appear that genetics, society and life-style are influencing our cognition, but the question still remains, to what degree.

Keiron provided us with some free takeaways, such as sharpening thinking, delegating when lacking in strength and hiring people cognitively fitter than us. He also left us with plenty of ‘food for thought’, as he verified that his tool is not about beliefs, but about behaviours. In the same vein, Kellie Vincent, the MBA Director, closed this thought provoking event, and opened up the social networking part, by summarising the importance of our Mindset, Behaviours and Active collaborations.

You can watch the full video from the MBA Tuesday Club now:


You can find out more and register for the next MBA Tuesday Club here

Photo of Zorica PatelMany thanks for this insightful blog to Zorica Patel.
Zorica is a Senior Lecturer in the HRM Department. She teaches a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules at Westminster Business School. In addition to her academic work, Zorica has a substantial interest in personal and professional development and she has obtained training in areas such as executive coaching. She has achieved the status of Chartered Occupational Psychologist in April 2011 (admitted as Chartered member in July 2012) and joined the Register of Coaching Psychologists in September 2012.

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