Neuroscience for Leadership

Neuroscience tips for improved leadership

by Dr Tara Swart

Most of us get paid to use our brains, yet there is often a lack of understanding about how our brain works and how we can use it to its full potential. Knowing simple facts about how your brain functions can help you train your mind and improve how you work, both personally and as part a team. It is often presumed that good leadership is inherent, a quality which we are born with. Neuroscience supports the idea that leaders can be born and are then made by developing favourable brain pathways. There has been a lot of work done in the application of neuroscience to business, and I cover the subject in depth in my book Neuroscience for Leadership. The following are a few small science-backed tips that may help you begin to realise your potential for great leadership.

The ability to adapt is crucial to effective longevity in business.
With an ever-changing business environment, as well as ongoing stress and pressure, leaders must be constantly open to re-examining and changing their habits. Encouraging our brain’s neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to adapt by creating new neural pathways) will teach our brains new behaviours, whilst weakening the old habits we no longer need.

As a leader, it is vital to lead by example – if you are stressed this will affect your whole team.
Cortisol, the “stress” hormone, is contagious so reducing your cortisol levels is crucial to calm not only yourself, but those around you. In the long term, this can be done through practicing mindfulness meditation, which will thicken the folds in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with higher executive functions, such as flexible thinking, impulse control and reasonable decision-making. If you aware of your stress rising, for a quick fix, deep abdominal breathing can reduce cortisol production and increase oxygen flow to the brain.

In contrast oxytocin, the bonding hormone, will help you develop trust and good communication with others. These qualities are crucial to leading an effective team, which will thrive long-term, as well as building new business connections. Developing a trusting work environment will help encourage learning, bonding and creativity. Oxytocin can be released through simple, physical interactions, such as good eye contact and handshaking as well as through successful communication. Productive meetings, a motivational speech or team bonding sessions will all help boost oxytocin between colleagues.

Good leadership is often all about confidence – whether it be your own or instilling confidence in others.
Higher levels of testosterone are linked to an increase in confidence. Testosterone also has a positive effect on risk taking and competitiveness, important when engaging with potential business contacts and staying one step ahead of your competitors. The connection between the mind and the body means that simply standing tall and acting with assurance can boost your testosterone levels and reduce your cortisol levels (stress). In the same way hunching and making yourself small will have the opposite effect. Having positive and open body language will not only come across well, but will make you feel more confident.

Even being able to examine your current habits and implementing small changes like these will help you harness your brain’s full potential for leadership and gain a competitive edge in the work environment.

Dr Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, leadership coach, award-winning author and a medical doctor. She works with leaders all over the world to help them achieve mental resilience and peak brain performance, improving their ability to manage stress, regulate emotions and retain information.

Business Results Group is delighted to once again host Dr Swart who is visiting South Africa to present on Neuroscience for Leadership in Johannesburg on the 25th May 2017. For more information, click HERE 

Tara 2017 Attend the Event