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How HR Can Help Managers To Succeed: A Neuroscience Approach


Leadership isn't an innate trait, but rather, a skill that can be fostered and developed. The human resources (HR) team, along with seasoned leadership coaches, play a pivotal role in this evolution. In a synergistic collaboration, HR teams leverage their understanding of company culture and personnel, while leadership coaches bring to the table their expert insights and personalized approaches.


Together, they significantly amplify their influence when it comes to aiding managers in navigating their path to success.


Particularly, HR's role in identifying suitable coaches and arranging for regular interaction can pave the way for structured growth and development for managers. Leadership coaches, with their rich experience and custom-tailored strategies, can act as catalysts, accelerating the manager's journey towards becoming an effective leader.


Interestingly, the power of this combined approach is greatly enhanced when it integrates findings from the field of neuroscience. These insights offer an understanding of how our brains work, thereby enabling the development of strategies that align with our innate tendencies, thus ensuring a higher likelihood of success. Let's delve into how HR, in collaboration with leadership coaches, can leverage neuroscience to help managers succeed.


The Neuroscience Behind Leadership

Numerous studies in neuroscience have pointed to the existence of "mirror neurons" in our brains, which allow us to learn through imitation. This insight can be highly beneficial for HR teams and leadership coaches in developing training programs for managers. By providing opportunities for managers to observe successful leadership behavior in action, they can model their behavior accordingly.


In a practical setting, HR can pair managers with experienced executive coaches, who with their deep understanding of leadership dynamics and personal growth strategies, can play an instrumental role in offering feedback, and acting as a catalyst in the managers’ development.


As these managers interact with their coaches, their mirror neurons fire up, aiding them in assimilating successful leadership traits. The insights gained from such a collaboration can create a robust framework that fosters rapid growth and skills development. Through this, managers are provided with a well-rounded, neuroscientifically informed pathway to success.


Emotional Intelligence and The Brain

Another key leadership trait rooted in neuroscience is emotional intelligence (EQ), which largely stems from the prefrontal cortex - a part of the brain responsible for empathy, understanding others' perspectives, and managing our own emotions. Managers with a high EQ are better equipped to handle the challenges of leadership.


To enhance EQ, Brighter Leaders integrate mindfulness exercises into a manager's routine, such as deep-breathing exercises, meditation, or reflective journaling. Brighter Leaders’ coaches, with their expertise in personal development, can guide managers in implementing and maintaining these practices, adapting them to each individual's needs and circumstances.


These practices have been proven to lower stress levels, allowing the prefrontal cortex to function optimally, thereby improving EQ. The hands-on approach of leadership coaches can ensure that these exercises are not just theoretically understood, but practically applied and consistently performed, which will significantly enhance their effectiveness.


Moreover, leadership coaches can provide regular feedback and fine-tuning advice to the managers, thus facilitating a more personal and adaptive journey towards improved emotional intelligence.


The Power of Neuroplasticity

The brain's ability to change and adapt, known as neuroplasticity, is another neuroscience principle that Brighter Leaders harness. With repeated exposure to specific scenarios and training, the brain rewires itself to respond more effectively to those situations.

Let's say your company is adopting a new digital tool. Instead of a one-off training session, HR could schedule multiple, smaller sessions. This repeated exposure will enable managers to better grasp the tool's functionality, as each session reinforces the neural pathways related to the task.


Exercises that use neuroscience’s findings to increase Self-Awareness

Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness, a form of meditation, has been shown to enhance self-awareness by fostering an increased focus on one's current state of mind and body. A simple exercise involves sitting in a quiet space and focusing solely on one's breathing.


When the mind starts to wander, gently bring the focus back to the breath. Neuroscience research has shown that regular practice of mindfulness meditation can alter the structure of the brain, specifically the insula, which is associated with self-awareness.

Over time, mindfulness can help individuals become more aware of their thought patterns, reactions, and emotions, enhancing their self-awareness and ability to manage their responses more effectively.


Journaling: Writing about one's thoughts and feelings has been found to improve self-awareness and emotional processing. In the context of neuroscience, the act of writing involves the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is involved in problem-solving and managing emotions.

An effective journaling exercise might involve writing about a challenging situation at work, detailing the feelings it brought up, and exploring possible reasons behind those feelings. Over time, this practice can help managers gain a better understanding of their emotional responses and decision-making patterns, leading to greater self-awareness.


The Need for Rest

Lastly, neuroscience teaches us that rest is crucial for the brain's functioning. Prolonged stress can lead to decreased productivity and impaired decision-making. Both HR and leadership coaches can play significant roles in encouraging managers to prioritize rest and work-life balance, thus minimizing the risk of burnout.


For instance, HR could establish a "no after-hours email" policy or encourage managers to take regular "brain breaks" during the workday. Meanwhile, leadership coaches can assist in this process by helping managers develop personal strategies to manage their workload effectively, ensuring they can disconnect outside work hours and maintain a healthy balance.


Leadership coaches can also help managers recognize the signs of excessive stress and provide techniques for coping. They can work with managers to create personalized routines that ensure enough rest and recovery time, contributing to overall well-being. This dual approach not only supports the manager's well-being but also sets a positive example for their team, fostering a healthier and more productive work environment.


Practical Exercise: Observation and Reflection

This exercise leverages the concept of mirror neurons and the brain's ability to change through neuroplasticity.

  1. Identify Successful Leaders: identify several leaders whom you admire for their leadership style. These could be within your own organization, from a different industry, or even historical figures. Focus on a diverse group of leaders to gain a wide range of insights.

  2. Study Leadership Behavior: then study these leaders - their decision-making process, communication style, conflict resolution approach, etc. This could be through reading about them, watching their interviews or speeches, or observing them in action in the workplace. The goal is to understand what makes these individuals successful leaders.

  3. Reflect and Document: Following this, reflect on your observations and document them. Write down the traits, behaviors, or decisions that stood out to them and why you believe these aspects contribute to effective leadership.

  4. Emulate: The next step is to emulate these observed behaviors. Identify opportunities in your daily work where you can apply these traits. This could range from how you conduct a meeting, how you handle a difficult conversation, or how you make a complex decision.

  5. Mindful Review: At the end of each day, set aside time for mindfulness meditation focused on your experiences emulating these behaviors. Reflect on your feelings, the reactions you observed, and any challenges you faced.

  6. Regular Journaling: document these reflections in a journal. Over time, this will help you identify patterns, understand progress, and become more aware of you leadership style.


This exercise, if performed consistently, can help managers assimilate successful leadership traits, enhance emotional intelligence, and enable you brain to adapt more effectively to different leadership scenarios.


Leadership is a journey, and neuroscience provides us with a roadmap to aid managers in navigating this path. By utilizing these neuroscience principles, HR working together with executive coaches can design training and coaching programs that not only enhance a manager's skill set but also cater to their brain's innate tendencies.


This symbiosis between neuroscience, HR and coaches not only ensures the success of managers but also fosters an environment of growth and learning within the organization.


In her book From Suffering to Surfing, How successful leaders make the leap, Lizzie Claesson provides a DIY coaching program for managers and employees that wish to develop their personal leadership.


In very short sections, perfect for busy leaders, this handbook is loaded with easy-to-do practical exercises that don't take much time but have a big impact. You can get your copy here.

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