Using Chemistry To Unlock The Secrets Of Leadership And The Brain

Silvia Damiano
2 min read

Effective communication is essential for great leaders, yet many simply don’t have the skills to inspire, persuade and engage those they lead. Learning how brain chemistry affects leadership styles can help unlock this capability.

Human Conversation Is Much More Than Just Information Exchange

I recently interviewed Judith Glaser, author of ‘Conversational Intelligence’ and Chairman of the Creating WE Institute for my upcoming 2018 for my upcoming 2018 documentary Make Me A Leader.

Judith studies conversations and the many levels of interactions they contain. There’s much more going on than just information flow and body language. Her research shows what’s happening at a cellular and neurochemical level. We discussed how chemistry affects the dynamics between humans and how leaders can harness this.  

Each of us has our own version of reality. Whilst we all exist in the same sphere, our individual realities are very different. 

Our ability to reach the next level of personal development depends on the quality of relationships and conversations we have. As humans, we need to connect heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind. As leaders, it’s important that we give space to others to allow for conversations and realities to be different. 

What Happens When Tensions Are High?

Judith has worked across the world and observed the same negative results. When companies are stressed, tensions rise and people start to blame and judge each other. Pressure on leaders inevitably increases. 

Physiologically, this activates the release of a stress hormone Cortisol. This shuts down our prefrontal cortex, or executive part of our brain. We lose the ability to think rationally, to empathise with others and to create alternative solutions. In other words, stress creates in us the least helpful biological conditions for us to think, problem solve, communicate and lead.

Using Chemistry As A Leadership Weapon

Leaders first need to be aware that there’s a problem. Understanding the effect that Cortisol has on our mind and body helps us to begin to counter its effects. Other chemicals, such as Oxytocin, have a positive effect on our brains and bodies. 

Oxytocin helps us to feel connected even in stressful situations. It enables us to slow down our bodies and also to become more attuned to how others are feeling and behaving. Intentionally creating habits and routines that encourage Oxytocin production (such as mindfulness, meditation, exercise, sleep and nutrition), rather than Cortisol, can drastically change our business environment.

As leaders, it vital that we understand and act on this information – both for ourselves and those we lead. 

“Leaders are doing things to activate a person’s ability to go well beyond what they ever envisioned. That’s what good leadership is all about.” 

Judith Glaser

Humans have extraordinary potential. Increasing our ability as leaders to have great conversations is a great starting point. 

Originally posted on: 10 October 2017
Last updated on: 18 February 2024

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Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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