Transformation Solutions Blog

Understanding Neuroscience is Important for Leadership

October 24th, 2019

Neuroscience is the study of how the nervous system, and brain, works.  Why should we as leaders and HR practitioners be interested in Neuroscience?  Because work has changed, but our brains have not.  We think we are still out on the savannah, and for our brains the goal is all about survival.  To survive our brains need to do one of two things (1) avoid threats, and (2) seek out rewards.  We move away from threat and towards reward.  A “threat” doesn’t have to be someone about to hit you, and a “reward” doesn’t have to be a raise or bonus.  Of the two a threat is far more important – after all we can go without food or water for a while, but if the rattlesnake bites us, that’s the end.

Not too long ago, the conventional view of an effective leader was one who got results, boosted the bottom line, and generally forced productivity out of his/her employees.  When it comes to human behavior, most organizations are at least a decade behind the science. The notion that employees are lucky to have a job and that they should just do what they are told is still prevalent among leaders and managers.  As we now know, many of these management practices result in low employee motivation, turnover, lack of trust, and ultimately hit the bottom line. Neuroscience gives us new insights into leadership behaviors that foster high performance.


We’ve all been exposed to the stereotype that we are unable to learn new skills later in life.  Well, that isn’t actually true.  A common misconception was that the adult brain was frozen at around the age of 18. The discovery of neuroplasticity revealed that the brain continues to remake itself every day, forming new neural pathways, pruning out unused pathways, and rerouting existing pathways in response to new experiences and stimuli. Habits are grooved into our brains, but these habits can be rewired.  Neuroplasticity has huge implications for coaching as it makes retraining your brain a reality.

Today a company’s survival and success are dependent upon it’s people’s ability to innovate, adapt, and collaborate.  Our brains have been expertly trained to be constantly on the lookout for threats and rewards.  These reactions happen at an unconscious level, so we seldom put a label on why we act the way we do.  Neuroscience provides hard science to what we refer to as soft skills.

Understanding how to create a workplace and business processes that optimize brain performance to it’s fullest potential so we can out-think and out-perform others could be a way to future-proof your business.