IPNB and Leadership

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership



Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) is an interdisciplinary attempt to unify all branches of science to define what the human “mind” actually is. The science disciplines involved include Anthropology, Biology (developmental, evolution, genetics, zoology), Cognitive Science, Computer Science, Developmental Psychopathology, Linguistics, Neuroscience (affective, cognitive, developmental, social), Mathematics, Mental Health, Physics, Psychiatry, Psychology (cognitive, developmental, evolutionary, experimental, of religion, social, attachment theory, memory), Sociology and Systems Theory (chaos and complexity theory). Now that’s ambitious! Here is what they have so far:

The mind is an embodied and relational emergent process that regulates the flow of energy and information.
— Dr. Daniel Siegel, IPNB

Consensus Building?

What is interesting to me is that this definition of mind is agreed to by many. Still, indeed, not all scientists agree that the mind is recognized as a “relational emergent process,” and they also acknowledge that it is embodied. In the image I’ve drawn, “Brain” comprises the whole of the central nervous system (there are neurons, axons, and nerves throughout our body.)

The relationship part is what’s critical here. What this definition means by “relationship” is the external exchange of energy and information between human beings. Information is energy with recognizable symbolic patterns. As you speak to me, the energy (sound waves) which your “mind/brain” caused your body to create reaches my eardrums and is converted to electrochemical energy in my brain. That energy contains information with symbolic significance to me (words), which my brain then converts to images that I use to develop meaning and perhaps take action.

Integration is the Essence

The point, to me, is that the integration of all three aspects — mind, brain, and relationship — is the essence of what we as leaders must comprehend to be effective leaders. That is to say; we aspire to enhance the relational aspect of the external energy flow between our team members. I believe this then is the “scientific” explanation for the statement, “I am 100% responsible for what gets heard.”

The hypothesis presented by IPNB explains much of the work, frustration, and mystery around human interaction — and thus helps explain our role in leadership. It explains, if you will, how humans might achieve (or not) a “meeting of the minds” between individuals.

It works for me to find a solid hypothesis, based in science, to explain my world. If, after time, that hypothesis rises to the level of scientific theory, then all the better. For now, my working hypothesis for modeling human interaction and leadership function is the intriguing and complex work being done in Interpersonal Neurobiology. Once we work through the complexity, we can develop more simplistic “rules” of leadership engagement. That should be fun!