Neuroleadership: Combining Neuroscience and Organizational Skills

Neuroleadership is a novel approach that, contrary to what many may believe, promotes a warmer and more humane kind of leadership. The goal is for each of its members to make important contributions to the organization concerned.
Neuroleadership: Combining Neuroscience and Organizational Skills

Last update: 28 January, 2022

Neuroleadership is a concept in which neuroscience and organizational practices are linked. Its goal is to improve leadership effectiveness based on a thorough understanding of how the human brain works. It tackles the brains of leaders, but also workers and even consumers.

Work activities acquire a new meaning if you look at them from a neuroscience perspective. In fact, neuroleadership focuses on finding new perspectives for aspects such as decision making, collaboration and teamwork, emotion regulation, problem-solving, and change processes.

All of these activities can be approached differently if they’re interpreted from the knowledge provided by neuroscience. However, understanding the brain at work has nothing to do with trying to manipulate it. What’s sought is to create the conditions for everything to work better.

Neuroleadership is a science-based discipline that focuses not only on the mental processes of the individual but also on how they influence and are influenced by the environment. It references the leadership and team management part from a neuroscientific perspective.”

-Santiago Vitola-

enlightened brain

The principles of neuroleadership

The first time the concept of neuroleadership was mentioned was in 2005 in a Harvard University publication entitled Harvard Business Review. One year later, the theories and principles of this new tool were collated by David Rock and Jeffrey Swartz in their article, The Neuroscience of Leadership.

Based on what they proposed, these are the principles of neuroleadership:

  • Every brain is unique. Therefore, processes with a tendency to standardize or homogenize people aren’t helpful. Indeed, each individual demonstrates their own particularities.
  • Reward systems are key. Positive reinforcement techniques are much more effective than sanctions or punishment.
  • There are no acts without emotions. The greatest motivation for action is emotion. In fact, the brain reacts much faster to an emotional stimulus. This affects the openness to learning and motivation.
  • Information influences expectations and behavior. The lack or excess of information, as well as the lack of clarity, are aspects that significantly modify people’s expectations and behavior.
  • The mind is programmed to cooperate. The willingness to interact with others in search of consensual solutions to complex problems is innate.
  • Experience determines behavior. Past events continue to mark the way of acting until there are other experiences that determine a new course.

The advantages of neuroleadership

The first to benefit from neuroleadership are leaders themselves. That’s because they’re able to adapt their management styles to more effective parameters. Furthermore, this perspective broadens their own views and allows them to better understand the difficulties and potentials of the people they guide.

This tool also makes it possible to improve the level of satisfaction among workers. Hence, greater cohesion is achieved in teams, and conflict is reduced. Motivation and a sense of belonging are also increased.

In addition, neuroleadership facilitates the processes of change and learning. It reduces the uncertainty and stress that are often present when someone is faced with a new situation. With this tool, a more comprehensive adaptation is achieved.

Leader with a team

Its applications

There are many specific situations in which the principles of neuroleadership can be applied. Here are some of them:

  • Delivery dates. When these are pressing, the brain reacts with stress and becomes less efficient. The ideal is to make this aspect more flexible. However, if this isn’t possible, to compensate for stress with positive stimuli.
  • Positive leadership. In this approach, great importance is given to the leader’s own and others’ emotions. There’s evidence that this often leads to better decisions and greater efficiency in work teams.
  • Qualitative evaluations. Workers feel far more motivated when they’re evaluated in a more comprehensive way, than by being seen as merely having met their expectations. Therefore, neuroleadership promotes these more subjective and warmer evaluations.
  • Global motivation. Money isn’t the only incentive for people to work. As a matter of fact, a cooperative and inclusive environment can often be even more motivating than money. On the other hand, exclusion and rejection can cause the same effects as physical pain.

Neuroleadership is based on a more realistic understanding of the human being and is grounded in scientific knowledge. It’s a novel tool, but one that promises to occupy a very prominent place in organizations in the immediate future.

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