A Foundation for NeuroLeadership

Neuroleadership is about applying research findings from neuroscience, behavioral science, and psychology to leadership. Specifically, understanding how the brain works is a science-based way for leaders to improve results.

One really cool thing about the human brain is that the structure and biochemistry of the brain is incredibly consistent from one person to the next. However, the brain is also why we are unique: the different ways we think and behave. Thus, the brain is the supreme example of “the devil is in the details.” Specifically, at a macro-level, we all have neurons that are activated by neurotransmitters, five lobes in the cerebral cortex that are each mapped to the same set of functions (shown below by the diagram of the brain on the left-hand side), a limbic system for emotions (shown in the brain cross-section below on the right-hand side), a sub-cortex to retrieve habits and skills, and a brain stem for core bodily functions like breathing. It is at a micro-level of the brain that explains why we think and behave differently. Somewhere between the macro- and micro-levels are predictable patterns of thinking and behavior. In fact, as neuroscientists understand more about how the human brain works, more and more of how we think and behave will be understood and predictable.

Lobes and Limbic System with Insular Lobe

Adapted from: https://www.brightfocus.org/alzheimers/infographic/brain-anatomy-and-limbic-system

As a scientific field of study, neuroscience and neuroleadership are relatively new compared to my field of study, chemical engineering. For example, neuroscience is about 60 years behind chemical engineering: the American Institute of Chemical Engineers which was founded in 1908 (http://aiche.engin.umich.edu/about-us/history) while the Society for Neuroscience was founded in 1969 (https://www.sfn.org/about/history-of-sfn). Neuroleadership is about 100 years behind chemical engineering: Dr. David Rock coined the term “neuroleadership” in 2007 (https://web.archive.org/web/20071114173817).

I don’t think it’s possible to learn a subject without mental models as a foundation. Because the brain has such a dominant contribution to both neuroscience and leadership, it is very important to have a mental model of the brain as a basis for learning the foundations of neuroleadership. Because neuroleadership and neuroscience are such new fields of study, a mental model provides a way to refine and improve understanding as new findings emerge over time. Just like when you are studying any subject, the more of a master you become on the subject, the more refined and accurate your mental models for the subject become and the more likely you are to reach accurate predictions based on those mental models. To learn more and construct your own mental model of the brain, check out these resources: “How Your Brain Works” by Craig Freudenrich and Robynne Boyd (https://science.howstuffworks.com/human-brain), “Introduction to Neuroimaging” by Janaina Mourao-Miranda (http://www0.cs.ucl.ac.uk/), and “Your Brain at Work” by David R. Rock (https://your-brain-at-work.com/).