How to Apply Neuroscience to Become A Better Leader

By Jared Atchison,
business.com writer
|
Sep 14, 2020
Image Credit: julief514/Getty Images

There are a number of neuroscience techniques you can implement to improve your leadership skills.

As a leader, you're only as good as your brain. Your ability to weigh information, take measured risks, and lead change in the organization depends on the quality of your thinking. The human brain is a complex organ, but we still know enough about it to optimize its working. 

Today, neuroscience has emerged from the melding of psychology with neurobiology. The study of the brain offers powerful insights that can help you develop into a more effective leader. 

In this post, we’ll look at some common-sense information alongside basic brain hygiene factors that can help us become strong leaders. Let’s get started.

What's interesting is that several of the techniques mentioned below will resonate with the advice given by typical self-help books and coaches. Only now, there are studies and scientific backing that show why and how things like visualization work. Here’s are some proven ways to improve your leadership skills by leveraging your brain in the best way possible.

Leverage neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is essentially a scientific way to say that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Many people believe that past a certain age, a person is "set in their ways" and can't learn new things. But today, we know that the brain is ‘plastic’ or capable of changing. The brain can form new neural connections and change entrenched beliefs and habits, although with some difficulty. 

Understanding this is invaluable because we can pursue new skills, grow our businesses in different markets, or learn to use new technologies. The ability to grow makes organizational change possible, a process that is widely recognized as being difficult for any leader to carry out. The problem arises when such changes create discomfort, something that we'll look at in the next point. 

Be aware of resistance

As leaders, we can change our brains to learn new concepts, adopt new technologies and techniques, and pivot whenever needed. But it doesn't mean that it's easy. When attempting to create change in an organization, both leaders and employees experience resistance to change.

Our brains are geared to keep us safe. When we find stability and enter into a routine, we're in a safe zone. Creating change such as picking up new skills, merging teams, or working with a new tool takes us out of our "safe" routines. And our reptilian brain, concerned with protecting us, will generate resistance to change. 

Resistance appears as severe discomfort, procrastination, stress, and virtually anything that keeps you from moving forward. The solution to this is to engage your rational thinking. 

Being aware of resistance and understanding that it’s from your primitive brain's desire to survive will take you out of its clutches. 

Once you're aware of the way your mind works, you can continue to push forward with your new goals regardless of the discomfort and stress you feel. Over time, the changes will feel like the new normal and you will have made positive changes in life and at work. 

Leverage the influence of mirroring

It's a common understanding that we often pick up on signals of another person’s state of mind. Turns out, there's neuroscientific backing to this too. Mirror neurons in our brain make us feel what other people feel, such as happiness, pain, and a range of other emotions. These neurons enable us to feel empathy which us to support each other in a group or at an interpersonal level.

As a leader, your team will consciously, and at a less conscious level, get emotional cues from your behavior. This affects your workplace culture and general approach to problem-solving. So, managing your own attitudes to conflict and adversity will powerfully impact how other people behave in the same situations. 

Similarly, you can garner a positive work mindset and enhance creativity by adopting behaviors that highlight trust, purpose, and openness to innovation. 

Positive mentoring matters

Research shows that when a person receives positive and supportive mentoring, it activates parts of the brain associated with resilience, lower stress levels, and the ability to plan for the future. While negative mentoring builds stress and keeps you from taking risks and planning for your business’s future which is essential to leadership. 

The influence of a mentor who offers advice, support, and validation cannot be overstated. Of more than half a million small businesses that start every year, only half survive the first five years. But 70% of mentored businesses last more than five years. 

It's clear that mentoring matters for your business success and growth as a leader. Having a good mentor and even mentoring others creates social interactions that boost mental health and resilience. 

Our brains are wired to thrive on social approval and a sense of belongingness. Mentoring can help you offer support to your team and can help you on your own journey as a leader. So, it's important to deliberately nurture mentoring relationships as part of your leadership strategy. 

Practice good brain hygiene

Optimizing your brain means that you need to care for it through self-care activities. Most of the suggestions here are common-sense and will create a better lifestyle for you. However, these changes will have a direct impact on how well your brain functions over time. Use the following tips to create immediate and long-term benefits for your brain.

  • Avoid stress: True, it's easier said than done but practicing emotional regulation and changing your responses to stressors is vital. Stress leads to the production of cortisol in the body which reduces your brain's functioning. We've all been in a place where we're stuck and unable to think because of how stressed we are. One of the first things you need to do is to identify and remove stressors from your life or learn to manage your responses to them. 
  • Sleep well: It's important to have at least seven t hours of sleep a day for optimal brain functioning. As a leader, you may be tempted to stay up later and wake up earlier to get more done. But less sleep makes you less effective. Take the time to sleep well and improve the quality of your work while awake. 
  • Exercise regularly: Both cardiovascular and resilience training play important roles in optimizing your brain functioning. Over time, exercise has positive effects and shows a delay in the aging process.
  • Eat and drink well: Even though the brain is small, it consumes a great deal of energy. So, some 30% of the fuel you eat goes to the brain. Taking risks, making extra decisions, doing creative and uncomfortable things use up energy. Fuel your brain with healthy fats. Also, drink plenty of water a day as a dehydrated brain will not perform well.
  • Practice meditation and deep breathing: Meditation helps with emotional regulation and when paired with taking deep breaths, will increase the intake of oxygen in the body. More oxygen to the brain helps it function better and helps you think clearly.

Practices like these will go a long way to help your brain work at an optimal level. 

Leadership is a largely mental activity that makes your brain the most important asset you have. Caring for it and understanding how it works will help you make the best this unique and powerful asset. 

Use the tips mentioned in this post to enhance your brain functioning. With the right attitude and basic healthy lifestyle changes, you'll feel greater mental clarity that will help you grow your business. 

Co-Founder of WPForms, one of the largest WordPress contact form plugins in the market. I have been programming for over a decade and enjoy creating plugins that help people create powerful web designs without touching code.
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