The Power of Neuroleadership


neuroleadership, coaching



Everything seems to be getting a neuro prefix these days – neuroscience, neuroeconomics, neuromarketing – so what about neuroleadership?

Well, Neuroleadership certainly isn’t common business parlance as yet, in fact it’s pretty early days, but preeminent neuroscientists such as Dr David Rock are leading the way with his Institute of Neuroleadership, a global research organisation offering educational programmes grounded in neuroscience to transform leadership effectiveness. Clients include American Express, Starbucks and Disney to name but a few.

So what is it?

What is Neuroleadership?

Neuroleadership is brain-based leadership.  In the same way that marketeers look at what drives human behaviour in order to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions, neuroleadership looks at what drives human behaviour in order to maximise peoples’ potential, engagement and performance at work.

And what drives peoples’ behaviour?  Their brain.

Ultimately behaviour is the physical manifestation of the biology in our brain and the biology we help create in other peoples’ brains. It’s our intrapersonal and interpersonal reactions in the brain, if you like.   Whilst this might seem blindingly obvious, it’s something we rarely stop to think about, let alone act upon.

The Importance of Emotions

Another interesting fact we now know from neuroscience, and which a number of us in business might like to refute, is that emotions play a vital role.  They are the basis of our drives, motivation and hence behaviour.

E-motions are our Energy in Motion.

As the famous neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux highlighted in his seminal book ‘The Emotional Brain’ the “low road” (where emotions lie) is the fast road, the “high road” (where rational thought and logic occur) is the slow road.  We feel an emotion far more quickly than we can come to a rational thought process.

Or as the psychologist Jonathan Haidt said so succinctly in 2001:

The emotional tail wags the rational dog.”

Much as we all love to think we’re eminently rational and logical human beings, the reality is that emotions rule the roost!

The Biology of Emotions

When we feel a positive emotion such as joy or trust we stimulate the production of hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine.  This fires up the reward system in our brains and gives us positive energy – strong towards motivation – and we power through our work delivering to an excellent standard.

When we experience a negative emotion such as fear or anger we stimulate the production of hormones such as cortisol (the stress hormone).  This fires up the survival system in our brains and produces negative energy, the source of away from motivation, and we can struggle to achieve even basic tasks let alone complex ones.

There is a biological reason behind this. The flood of cortisol actually blocks the neural pathways to the pre frontal cortex or the executive brain as it’s sometimes called; the part of the brain which allows us to plan, prioritise, rationalise, judge, empathise and much much more.  Without access to this part of the brain we literally can’t function at this higher level.

So what does that mean for business leaders?

How To Maximise Potential

It means that in order to maximise the potential of their people, leaders need to be generating positive emotions in themselves, their teams and the business at large.

But how?

By understanding the primary wants and needs of themselves and the individuals in their team, because:

When our wants and needs are satisfied we feel positive emotions.

When our wants and needs are threatened we feel negative emotions.

A simple evolutionary and instinctive process which can have far-reaching consequences for leaders with little understanding or knowlege of it.

The Challenge

The challenge is that we are all totally unique.  There isn’t one brain in the whole world that will be exactly the same as another one.

Our brains are shaped by our personal life experiences, the meanings we have attributed to those experiences and the memories we have laid down as a result.   They reflect every personal interaction we’ve ever had in our lives – with our primary caregivers in our early years, our teachers, mentors, friends, work colleagues, partners, children etc – and the way they’ve behaved, the messages they’ve consciously or unconsciously given us, the values they’ve espoused and so on.

All of these life experiences determine the strength of the neural pathways in our brain, our ability to access certain parts of our brain and how well connected they are.  It is essentially who we are today.

The Good News

The good news is twofold.

  1. Depending on the literature you read, there are typically 4 or 5 core human needs that drive us. The neuroscientist David Rock talks about 5 core social needs:
  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness (Belonging)
  • Fairness

The relative importance of these needs will differ by individual and the context they’re in but at least there are only 5!

For more information on the SCARF model please see my blog at

  1. The brain is neuroplastic (another neuro!) not hardwired as we used to believe.

The structure of the brain literally changes through repeated mental experience thus we can grow, learn and adapt throughout our lives. It means anyone can change if they want to and are prepared to make the time and effort.  Good news for leaders, employees and coaches alike!

Thus great leadership isn’t easy.  It’s actually incredibly complex because the people you lead are as complex and unique as their individual brains.  It takes a great deal of application to be an outstanding leader.  However the emergent field of neuroleadership gives you hard scientific evidence as to why it’s important, a useful framework by which to navigate the complexity and new, insightful tools to help you create a positive working environment, more engaged people, higher levels of motivation and thus ultimately exceptional performance.  In other words, your best chance yet of getting it right!

For more information on Neuroleadership Coaching either for individuals or for teams please call Theresa on 07740 030677 or e-mail her at


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