Re-wire your brain to be a wiser leader


Dr Renata Schoeman | Leadership Lecturer and renowned Psychiatrist | University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) | | |

By understanding the neuroscientific principles underlying leadership, interventions can be developed to optimise the performance of leaders, their teams, and organisations.

We are wired to adapt and biologically endowed with the ability to dust our “foolish corners” and become wiser leaders. Gone are the days of defining an effective leader as the one who got results, boosted the bottom line, and generally forced productivity out of his or her employees.

There has been a movement towards acknowledging the importance of understanding and applying the biology of the brain to leadership practices: from decision-making, emotional and social intelligence, and change management processes.

By managing the key concepts one can change how you behave, and think as a leader and ultimately re-wire your brain.


Having a clear understanding of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions is an important factor in achieving success as a leader.

Until you develop self-awareness you will have difficulty to understand other people and how they perceive you, and to change your attitude and your responses to them in the moment.

The steps:
• Invest in personality assessments
• Build a culture of feedback
• Make reflection and journaling a daily practice


It’s the brain’s ability to rewire and remodel itself.

This is especially active in the cognitive parts of our brain where thinking, planning, and decision making occur, as well as consciousness. Our emotions influence our thoughts and behaviour, but we can also learn to use these to change our emotional responses. Leaders engage in deliberate decision-making processes to solve problems, but also to shape their social and organisational environments.

More people than ever are being paid to think, instead of just doing routine tasks. Our brains are “wired” for different decision-making processes, it has biological limits, and as humans we are prone to “errors”.

Emotional and social intelligence

Recognising and regulating the emotions of self and others.

Research has shown that the effectiveness of leaders is twice more dependent on social and emotional intelligence than on (classical) intelligence and skill (task expertise).

Understanding that humans are all hard-wired to either “approach” (that what interests us, or make us feel safe), or to “withdraw” from threat (fight/flight) are crucial if we want to empower and optimise our teams.

Stress management

Anxiety is a natural condition of life: without it, we will have no drive to create, perform or execute.

However anxiety can become uncontained and, if not managed, turn into pathological anxiety which can cause emotional, cognitive, social, physical and impaired concentration problems, however, if we utilise our “nervous energy”, it can be a very powerful motivating force to perform, to reach deadlines, and not to be complacent with the status quo.

Leaders who pay attention to and develop the “roots” of their personal health are resilient enough to handle the pressures of relentless change and uncertainty, without becoming arrogant, developing burnout, or more serious mental and physical problems.




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