Neuroscience has revealed better ways for leaders to connect and engage employees. It helps us unravel the physiology of leadership effectiveness and gives us a better understanding of the interconnectedness of the brain and behavior.

It used to be that the conventional definition of an effective leader was one who got results, boosted bottom-line and forced productivity. HR, leaders and staff know this led to costly challenges in retention, trust, engagement and profitability. No one happy and everyone super stressed out.

Today, with a window into neuroscience, we have much more insight as to how to improve leadership effectiveness, motivate, inspire creativity and build trusting and high-performing teams.

For example did you know, there is a physical connection in the brain associated with Trust, an emotion that is increasingly cited as a critical leadership trait? The brain actually determines trust within milliseconds of meeting a person. Oxytocin (stimulated in a positive social connection) is released in the brain which makes you more receptive and feel trust towards another person.

Important for leaders, is the fact that the brain continually updates its determination based on:

  1. Gestures (55%)
  2. Tone of voice (38%)
  3. And content of what is said (7%) (in this order).

This means trust can be built even if it’s not there presently!

Another interesting fact…when managers offer feedback to subordinates, whether positive or negative, an emotional reaction is triggered in the brain that controls survival (STRESS, fight or flight). Feedback just doesn’t work. 

Ever witnessed someone in a meeting be ignored, ostracized or humiliated? Neuroscience has shown that social pain, such as being ignored, ostracized or humiliated triggers the same area of the brain as physical pain. (VanDerwalk, n.d.)

I’ll leave you with this fact:
A positive relationship between managers and employees triggers an areas of the brain that activates openness to new ideas and a more social orientation to others (Boyatzis, 2011). This lowers inhibitions, inspires creativity and increases the positive mood around the office.

By connecting hard science to leadership, these findings help us understand why some employment and leadership practices are more effective than others.

What this means: This means a leader can build trust even where it is lacking by following these few guidelines:

Make people feel safe: The brain categorizes survival as its top priority, so make people feel safe instead of sending them into “survival” mode.

Demonstrate fairness: The Brain seeks fairness and will react to perceived injustices with anger and frustration (fight or flight). If you’re fair, the flight or fight reaction is minimized.

Be genuine and show trust: When we watch someone else, our brain activates (mirror neurons) in the same way as if it is happening to us. In other words, If a leader distrusts the person they are talking to, the other person will pick up on it and mirror that distrust back. (Meacham 20130) So, show trust and trust will be mirrored back.