What is Brain-Friendly Leadership?

In our last blog, we explored what a ‘brain-friendly’ election campaign might look like. This generated some interesting commentary around the use of the term ‘brain-friendly’ and a question about what this term means?

At NeuroCapability, we use the term ‘brain-friendly’ to describe practices and approaches where attention is consciously paid to the key organising principle of the brain (ie: to minimise threat and maximise reward).

Leaders who adopt brain-friendly practices and approaches understand the importance of managing threat and reward responses for self and in their interactions with others.

Brain-friendly leaders appreciate the brain is a social organ and the implications of this for collaborating with and influencing others. They understand the brain finds change hard, so they have a range of strategies that support them to focus attention to support new neural wiring in the brain.

In addition, brain-friendly leaders understand that emotions are contagious so they have developed effective habits to notice and manage their own limbic arousal to threat and reward responses. They appreciate their pre-frontal cortex and know how to take care of it to support good decision making and thinking, and they understand how easily we are distracted and that multi-tasking is bad for performance.

If we were observing a leader using ‘brain-friendly’ practices we might see them doing some of the following:

  • supporting staff to do the thinking rather than thinking for them
  • looking for opportunities to create certainty and a sense of autonomy for their staff
  • minimising potential distractions for themselves and their staff (emails are checked at agreed times, phones are off during meetings)
  • noticing and labeling emotions and feelings to dampen down their limbic response
  • focusing attention on solutions rather than problems
  • being curious and asking insight finding questions – “Do you have a hunch about…?” “What is the most outrageous thing you could do in this situation?”

How would you define brain-friendly? What practices do you think demonstrate a brain-friendly approach?


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