Neuroleadership is a scientifically-derived brain-based approach that takes the mystery out of the imagery, thinking and behaviours that define contemporary leadership.
Leadership in the 21st century
For years leadership was thought to be a privileged restricted to the few, granted by social status, power or perhaps personality (eg Great Man and Trait theories). Leadership was associated with the personal right, ability and conviction to make decisions and wield power, at times without regard to the fortunes or well-being of others. Strong leadership was associated with tough decisions, sacrifice (mostly of others) and entirely rational decision-making unencumbered by “weak” emotional considerations such as empathy and compassion. Leadership was rational, strong and uncompromising, with the leader the focus and the hero.
Today, leadership is defined differently. Leadership is less about what one can achieve for oneself, and more about what one can achieve for and with others. Modern leadership is about sacrificing self for others, and through leading by example and respect rather than by decree and power. Most of all, leadership is defined by the word itself – if one is to lead, others must follow – in other words there can be no leadership without followship.
In the past those with power were able to be “leaders” by coercing others into following, with social, physical or economic punishment the alternative. Today, much of that coercive power has diminished, and so leaders can only act in that role if others grant it to them – today we are not forced, but choose to follow.
Leadership is an emotional connection
The choice to follow occurs where people and groups feel (often subconsciously) they are more likely to be happier, safer, more successful and more socially fulfilled by supporting, taking direction, complying and conforming. At an even deeper level, the choice to follow is linked to the satisfaction of basic motivational needs (Grawe, 2007). This means that in order for an identity to lead, as an individual or as a brand, one must be able to create perceptions in others that they can best satisfy their own needs through such an association, at whatever context and depth of followship that they feel is beneficial for them – that this is largely subconscious makes it no less effective.
Neurobiology and neurochemistry in particular tell us that not only is this true, it is supported by human brain design and functionality, especially through the magic of our brain’s wonderfully powerful mirror neurons, making the connection/leadership/followship condition a natural human sociological phenomenon. Although the rationality may be complex and the thought processes subconscious, the basic motivations, biological and chemical processes are predictable and simple – and common to all people with “normal” brain function. For that reason, the social relationships that define leadership and followship can be predicted, designed and enacted – and so taught, learned and put into practice much more broadly, simply and successfully than most believe.
These same neurochemical and neurobiological principles also tell us that leadership is not as much a rational connection (although it can certainly be that too) as an emotional one – personally and socially, nurtured by our evolutionary survival as a highly interdependent, collaborative social species. This tells us that followers choose to follow, individually and as a part of a social group, because they feel they are better off for having done so. In contemporary contexts this is more likely to be for the satisfaction of higher order needs rather than the basic survival needs that engendered followship in the past.
A deeper and broader concept of leadership
Due to advances in our understanding of brain function over the past decade, it is now the case that the likely or proven success of any other leadership style or theory can be tested against the basic principles of neuroleadership. Simon Sinek’s “Start with why” (Sinek, 2009) is founded in the tenets of emotional leadership, and his popular talk “Why good leaders make you feel safe” (TED, 2014) is entirely consistent with our shared neuropsychological needs for self-esteem protection and pain avoidance. Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles (Goleman, 2000), and the evidence-based research on their relative effectiveness, can be similarly linked to the satisfaction of motivational needs, as can be the underlying foundation of “Primal Leadership” (Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee, 2013). The results of the extensive research conducted by Kouzes and Posner (2007) are similarly consistent, as is contemporary research conducted in Australia (Insync, 2012).
Other leading leadership practices, such as situational leadership (Hersey and Blanchard, 1977), and level 5 leadership (Collins, 2005) are also relevant because of their, albeit unintentional, neuropsychological soundness. The difference is that neuroleadership looks beyond philosophy, anecdotes and theories to incorporate the fundamental brain-based principles that underpin the success or failure of any leadership behaviour, allowing for superior in-depth understanding and more comprehensive implementation and application. Unlike the many other (perhaps limited) leadership theories, this allows neuroleadership to extend what leadership can, at its best be – a holistic approach to leading not only employees, but also customers, supporters and others – and, perhaps most crucially, self.
Neuroleadership training is available by arrangement, and can be tailored to the requirements of organisations and the unique needs of attendee groups. Neuroleadership training will also be available ONLINE from late October 2017 – if you’d like to be one of the first to access it, contact us to register your interest.
- Grawe, K. (2007) Neuropsychotherapy; New York, NY, Psychology Press
- Sinek, S. (2009) Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action; New York NY, Penguin
- Sinek, S. (2014) Why good leaders make you feel safe; http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel_safe?language=en
- Goleman, D. (2000) Leadership that gets results; Boston MA, Harvard Business Review
- Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. and McKee, A. (2013) Primal leadership; Boston MA, Harvard Business Review Press
- Kouzes, M. K. and Posner, B. Z. (2007) The leadership challenge; San Francisco CA, Jossey-Bass
- Insync Surveys (2012) The 7 organisational habits that drive performance, Melbourne VIC, Insync Surveys
- Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. H. (1977) Management of Organizational Behavior 3rd Edition– Utilizing Human Resources. New Jersey/Prentice Hall.
- Collins, J. (2005) Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve; Boston MA, Harvard Business Review