Home All Leaders of the Future

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

Follow the LeaderThink about the leaders you’ve followed in the past:

  • Which one has had the most positive influence in your life?
  • What three words best describe what this person contributes to your life?

Understanding true leadership can be quite mind-boggling. In a recent study bringing more clarity on this complex topic, Gallup interviewed over 10,000 people and asked them the two questions you’ve just answered.

I’ll share the results of their study in a moment, but first, let’s look at how the modern world has evolved in the past couple decades. Before we can understand what makes a good leader great, we must understand the followers’ perspective.

Left Brain

The modern era has been largely shaped by left-brain thinking. The left brain is mainly a logical and rational thinker. It’s the one who loves to know the facts and analyze the stats. It is comfortable with if-then reasoning and step-by step processes. It sees the world through binary lenses – things are either black or white, on or off, adequate or not.

This thinking style has led to large progress in our businesses and economy. From cost-reducing procedures to time-saving strategies, left-brain thinking has brought us material abundance.

Functional toothpaste

Value-added Toothpaste

Value-added Toothpaste

With abundance comes choice and consumers are no longer happy with functionality alone. We now want a value-added experience. For example, if you can choose between any bland-looking toothpaste tube versus one that may be thirty cents more expensive, but that comes in an attractive package, that fights tartar, plaque and gingivitis, that is doctor-recommended and that promises to whiten your teeth and give you a fresher breath when you wake up in the morning, which one would you pick?

So left brain thinking has brought us abundance, and with it, we are looking for beauty, emotion, meaning, quality of life. In other words, we want the right-brain stuff.

Right Brain

The right brain is the creative part of us. This one sees the forest rather than the trees. It loves art and understands human emotions. It is intuitive. It pursues connection and higher values. Once discredited as overly touchy-feely, it is now in high demand.

Daniel Pink, influential author of bestseller A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, predicts right-brain skills to be the driving force shaping our future economy. As consumer demand changes, supply adapts, which further reinforces change in demand and so on. To keep up with all the change, job descriptions are evolving too.

Let’s go back to the toothpaste example. Some job analysts say that workers involved with the research, production, packaging, and marketing of the branded toothpaste have more creative assignments than workers involved with the generic brand. Since most consumers are more sensitive to all the added benefits of the second branded option than they are to the thirty cents increase in price, over time demand for the cheaper brand will decline, and its producers will have to adapt to the new market conditions – and recruit more creative employees.

Workers of the new economy are no longer those who can manipulate massive quantities of information. This job is increasingly delegated to computers. For proof, raise your hand if you plan to use TurboTax or any other software to file your 2008 declaration.  See? Rather, the skills of the future are those that come from the right side of the brain.


Nurturing the right brainWe have come a long way since Ford’s all black Model T, and the consequences are not only felt in manufacturing plants, but more importantly on the job market. The Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas examined employment trends for the last decade and found that the fastest growing job categories are those that require people skills and emotional intelligence.

So change is coming. To be successful, business leaders need to nurture the right-brain abilities of their staff. It seems that those who can move away from the purely factual leadership style that characterized the information age will flourish and lead the future. Just as it seems that those who hold-on tight to the Model T philosophy won’t.

It is now time to reveal the results of Gallup’s study. The over 10,000 surveyed employees came up with a clear answer. The most influential leaders of their lives were those who built trust, stability, compassion, and hope.  They were the right-brain oriented ones.




Pink, D.H. (2005). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  NY: Riverhead Books.

Pink, Daniel (2010). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Trade. (Added later)

Gallup Inc. & The Gallup Poll (2008).  Why People Follow. Washington, DC: Gallup Press.

Rath, T. & Conchie, B. (2009). Strengths-Based Leadership. New York: Gallup Press. (Added later)

Shaar, M.-J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press. (Added later)


Leadership, functional toothpaste, value-added toothpaste, nurturing the right brain.
Toothpaste (Value Added Toothpaste) courtesy of sarah.mckenzie11

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Andrea 23 January 2009 - 2:05 pm

I think there will always be a need for both left and right brained workers. Right brained skills are becoming increasingly important, but we still need the people who are good with facts and figures.

Doli 23 January 2009 - 3:46 pm

I agree that young people today seem to be more right brain style workers, but i also beleive that they depend enormously on the older perhaps more left brain workers in order to achieve success. What will happen when the left brain workers retire? I believe that a successful company should have a balance of both. What I believe to be important is that these two types of workers know the value of team work. I think a good leader sorrounds himself with both and encourages and motivates each worker to want to be the best that he can be.

Marie-Josee Salvas 23 January 2009 - 5:33 pm

I really don’t think being right versus left brain oriented has to do with age. Just like hand preference, there are baby boomers that are lefties and there are Generation Xers that are lefties.

I do think however that the right brain orientation has been discredited as overly touchy-feely in the past and that it is time for it to reclaim its valor. The left brain thinking enabled us to do quite a bit of progress, and that’s fantastic. Wouldn’t it be equally interesting to see what kind of progress we achieve by developing the right side of the brain as much as we have the left hemisphere?

Doli, you mention that good leaders encourage and motivate each worker to be the best they can be. I totally agree with you here – and doing so is a right hemisphere function!

Makes sense?


Joanne Cavanaugh 23 January 2009 - 9:10 pm

You have written a very compelling and thought-provoking article. When I think of the leaders whom have had the most impact on me, I would definitely characterize them as right-brained. I agree with Doli that both left- and right-brained people are needed in the workplace. However, it does seem like computers are better equipped to handle left-brain activities. I was very interested in this topic and read a book in the mid-eighties called “The Right Brain” by Thomas Blakeslee. If I remember correctly, people dominated by their right brain are a very small percentage of the population (though the book is old, I doubt that the population has changed that much). If this is true, and the majority of people are left-brained, and many of their skills can be replaced more easily by computer, then it would seem to follow that right-brained people(both natural and developed) will become more valuable, especially as the Gallup poll suggests that these are the leaders valued most by employees.

Senia 30 January 2009 - 4:11 am


I think your side-by-side toothpaste example is so fun! As a well-informed toothpaste consumer, I’ve definitely gone for the marketing many times.

Your article makes me think of who was the most influential leader in my life. I come up with three men and one woman. What do they have in common? Drive, challenge, a certain hardness (of certainty and belief), and a belief in what’s right. I think these are similar to stability and compassion. Definitely stability and stability in thought. It’s nice to think of what makes them so effective.


Val 24 November 2009 - 3:07 am

In your article, you stated that right-brained abilities need to be nurtured. How would someone go about doing that? Would that require diversity courses to teach someone about different people and cultures, or art classes to help with creativity. Is it something that actually can be changed or is it inherent?

Marie-Josee Salvas Shaar 24 November 2009 - 11:24 am

Hi Val!

Today’s business world tends to heavily rely on numbers and logic, and dismiss everything else as overly touchy-feely. Right-brain abilities are therefore under-valued and under-developed, and so the very first step in nurturing these skills is to recognize their importance.

Now if you’d like to develop your right brain, yes, taking an arts or a dance class is helpful. Here are other strategies issued from Daniel Pink’s book:
– Read a design magazine
– Carry a mini notebook with you, and make note of designs you like or that are helpful, versus those that are flawed
– Pick a photo, and write a short story around it
– Listen to the Great symphonies (really listen)
– Draw
– Keep a metaphor log
– Create an inspiration board
– Get together with a peer working in a different department, and really find out what it’s like to be in their shoes
– Take an acting class
– Volunteer
– Participate in a laughter club
– Don’t look at the captions that go with your morning cartoon, and try to invent a story around the drawings
– Give gratitude
– Take a day off
– Dedicate your work to someone or to a cause.

That’s already a long list, and Pink’s book has many more ideas to suggest! Hope you enjoy them!




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