Neuroleadership: Lead Smarter, Not Harder

Neuroleadership, coined by Dr. David Rock in 1996, is an emerging field that applies neuroscience (the study of the nervous system including the brain) to leadership methods.  This helps leaders strengthen relationships, increase productivity, and support effective change.  What makes neuroleadership so innovative is that it provides solutions that are backed by hard science.  In other words, what we just assumed worked or didn’t work in leading others can now be validated through research.


Strengthen Relationships


Successful leaders continually strive to improve employee motivation and trust. Through the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners, a brain scanner that measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow, researchers are able see the effect that a stimulus has on a person.

For example, research in neuroleadership has shown that when people feel socially excluded in groups, it provokes similar reactions in the brain that registers physical pain.  With this finding, employee motivation and trust is no longer a ‘nice to have’ hypothesis, but a ‘need to have’ construct.  Leaders can proactively structure environments and activities to limit such a response.  This is why team building exercises and office retreats are essential for optimized organizational performance.


Increase Productivity


Research postulates that the human brain requires unfocused time to spur creativeness and innovation.  Findings of this nature reveal why it is important to provide employees with protected time to work on a project of their choice that advances the organization’s mission or vision. Consider establishing “technology free” blocks of time when phones and email are turned off or having a “no meeting zone”, a time frame that is protected from ad hoc meetings.  This will yield more than an improved bottom line, but also build a workplace that stands out as a desirable place to recruit and/or retain staff.


Support Effective Change


Do you know why 70% of change initiatives fail? Research backed by neuroscience explains that people fear change because our brain perceives it as a threat.  Since the brain is hardwired to help us survive, this perceived threat causes a paroxysm of negative emotions that causes the brain and body to go into fight mode, and perhaps, in some cases, flight mode.  To counter this, leaders need to reduce employee stress and anxiety by focusing on the positive aspects of the proposed change.  Asking questions and actively listening to employees’ concerns will enhance the brain’s ability to adjust its response to the change and perceive it as non-threatening.


People fear change because our brain perceives it as a threat. Click To Tweet


Final Thoughts

Applications from neuroleadership builds flexible and effectual leaders.  Using neuroscience as a catalyst to transform organizations is a powerful tool. Whenever leaders wish to strengthen relationships, increase productivity or support effective change, they now can refer to the scientific drivers to justify their assessments and evaluations. Brain research helps to connect the dots between human interaction and effective leadership practices.  As the mapping of the human brain continues, we can expect to learn more about how the brain functions and how leaders can integrate this knowledge in order to effectively lead people, teams and organizations.








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