Neuroscientists and psychologists are beginning to learn what happens at moments of choice inside the human mind (the locus of mental activity) and the brain (the physical organ associated with that activity). If you understand these dynamics and how they affect you and those around you, you can set a course toward more effective patterns of thinking and action. You can replicate those beneficial patterns, at a larger scale, in your organization. Over time, this practice can help you take on a quality of strategic leadership: inspiring others, helping organizations transcend their limits, and navigating enterprises toward lofty, beneficial goals.

For example, consider the case of a human resources director for a regional professional services organization, a linchpin in its local economy. (We have permission to tell this story, but we cannot use the real name of the company or the individual.) “Natalie,” who is in her 40s, reported directly to the CEO. When the firm hit a long stretch of dwindling revenues, Natalie had ideas for turning things around, but she wasn’t included in strategic conversations. Instead, all personnel issues — including sexual harassment cases, bullying claims, and layoffs — were delegated to her. One year, she had to move the firm’s financial accounting staff offshore. About 30 local people lost their jobs. It was a painful but necessary decision that allowed the firm to survive.

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Stress took its toll. For years, Natalie worked 70 hours or more per week. Her marriage was on the rocks, she came to work anxious, and she lost the ability to hide her chronic irritation. As a result, her performance reviews slipped. She felt herself panicking: If this goes on much longer, I won’t be able to cope, and I’m going to lose my job.

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