Human beings are driven by routine and pattern, and it is the same for leaders. We develop our own leadership style, patterns, and behaviours from a variety of sources. It might be based on what we have become used to over time from the leadership style of someone who has led us in the past. It could also be from different training and development we have completed.

What this does is create a neural pathway in the way we see leadership and having a better understanding of how this works will help you avoid potential pitfalls in the future.

Imagine this field without the path. If you were asked to cross it, you would find your way slowly through, treading down a trail. If you were then asked to cross it again, it is likely you would take the same route because it would be slightly easier to follow your first trail. If you were to cross it over and over again, you end up with a path similar to the picture.

Our brains work in exactly the same way. As we are faced with challenges, problems, or situations, we plot our way through them. If we are then faced with the same issue, it is almost certain we will respond in the same way because a) it is slightly easier now we know more about what we are doing, and b) we know it will get a result – i.e. we will get to the other side.

While that is useful at times (we don’t have to relearn how to ride a bike or tie our shoelaces each day) there are times when our own neural pathways and ‘way of doing things’ can get in our way.

One thing we can be sure of is that, as leaders, very few of us came into March with the neural pathway to manage teams of people working from home, or on furlough leave, or homeschooling their children, all in a lockdown situation.

It requires us to consider the rest of the field. What other routes are there for me to get to the other side? How else could I approach this situation? How best can I serve my people/family/friends through this challenging time?

The ability for us to be open-minded, willing to learn, adaptable and receptive to new ideas and concepts is key to both our happiness and success through this period, and it will mean we will come out the other side of the restrictions in a better place.

An analogy that always comes to mind is Blockbuster (for those of a certain age that used to be a video rental store). Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix in its early stages. At the time most of Blockbuster’s revenue came from late returns or added on consumable sales in the shops. They couldn’t see how a streaming service could make any money based on their business model and their own neural pathway of how the industry looked. As a result, they turned down the offer and the rest, as they say, is history.

In sport, the leaders take a different approach to how leaders in business tackle their role. A leader in a sports team will spend roughly 70% of their time on individual and team development. Getting the players to the right physical and mental place is more important to the success of the team, and the happiness of the individuals, than any other tasks they must get done.

In business, this is mostly reversed. Most leaders have other work to do, some output to generate or tasks to complete that takes up 70% of their time. With the remaining 30%, they then manage the team. This is my insight from working with a number of companies across the UK.

Now is a good time to stick a pin in that neural pathway and find one that better serves us, our companies, and our people. It will take effort, energy, and focus – as well as a skill set that we might not have right now. But it will pay dividends in the long run.

Take some time and think about you and your own neural pathways, your own routines, and patterns. Which ones are serving you well and which would benefit being replaced, albeit temporarily, to have the time and energy to best serve your people as well as yourself?