How to be a good manager & the qualities of a good leader

The Brain, Self Sabotage and Leadership


I was listening to a CEO the other day relaying some behavioural problems from one of his directors, which was causing a down turn in productivity. Not good, but why on earth would someone begin to sabotage themselves and their position within a company?

Perhaps the answer comes from Jeff Hawkins who suggests that the brain is a pattern recognition machine through his memory-prediction framework theory. It would appear that the brain, according to the researcher, is a “future predicting state machine, similar in principle to feed-forward error-correcting state machines.”


So, what has this got to do with self-sabotaging behaviour in the work place?


Well, the CEO has some big plans for the future of the organisation and he hasn’t shared this with anyone else, yet. The brain of his director maybe picking up on this pattern breach, at a below conscious level, subsequently creating a lack of certainty within the director. This could lead to performance problems, as the brain is a state dependant machine, which Hawkins suggests governs the behaviour of an organism.  Brains require moment-to-moment updates of patterns that are predictable and therefore the system is able to perform effectively with less stress.

The answer to self sabotage, therefore, lies with the CEO clarifying where the company is going, which will allow all employees and stake holders to build patterns of certainty about their immediate futures. Without the ability to predict the future the brain has to expend more resources, in order to survive the on going situation. If this uncertainty persists a person’s behaviour could be impacted as the brain raises an error response, which Hedden, Garbrielli (2006) propose will cause one to concentrate on the error response instead of focusing on one’s goals.


How to overcome self-sabotage?


So, the simplest way to overcome self-sabotage in this instance is to share your strategy. Allow your people to know where you are heading and what that means for them too.

And the CEO has reported back to me that, after sharing his thoughts with the management team, they were all able to open up and pool ideas, together. The tensions that had been within the team, evaporated and the ‘troublesome’ director actually had some valid points that were incorporated into future plans.



Hawkins, J. & Blakeslee, S. (2004). On Intelligence.Times Books.
Hedden, T., & Gabrieli, J. D. e. (2006). The ebb and flow of attention in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 9,863-865.