Exercise, get more sleep and prioritize quiet time: what neuroscience teaches us about leadership

Neuroscience makes it clear that the pre-frontal cortex has a critical role in carrying out the brain’s executive functions. These include managing thought processes, making decisions, planning and executing, and being flexible to sudden change. Understanding what the human brain needs to function at its optimal capacity will help leaders enhance their effectiveness by optimizing their physical, emotional, and mental capabilities.

Thankfully, you don’t need a degree in neuroscience to take advantage of the leadership benefits this research provides.

Neurozone, an analytics company for neuroscience and leadership, has identified 10 areas leaders can address to enhance their performance, including:

Exercise to stimulate the formation of new brain cells to enhance memory and creative problem solving, and reduce chronic stress;

7 to 9 hours of sleep to consolidate memory in the hippocampus;

Silent time to purposefully allow thoughts without reacting to them; also, to enhance the ability to focus and promote brain cell formation;

Collective creativity, or the ability to problem-solve and thrive as a group, to reduce chronic stress in the amygdala and hypothalamus;

Learning to build new knowledge in the hippocampus through neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change through deliberate practice).

In addition to optimizing leaders’ executive functions, neuroscience helps us understand the emotional needs of employees by revealing their chemical responses to different leaders and situations. For example, when oxytocin is released in the brain, employees are more engaged in their work, and are more willing to act in the company’s interests.

Tara Swart, author of Neuroscience for Leadership, reveals that there are eight basic human emotions. These eight emotions lie on a spectrum ranging from “Survival” (where cortisol, or the hormone associated with stress, is released) to “Attachment” (where oxytocin, the hormone associated with trust, is released). (image credit: Tara Swart, Neuroscience for Leadership).

By understanding how our brains react to different situations and people, leaders can have a better understanding of how to communicate with and manage their teams. By helping employees feel more secure, you can positively impact your company’s growth and development.