The Neurobiology Behind Leadership
Published: 07 February 2016
Published: 07 February 2016
Nurse leaders are the people who, in any role, are able to ‘make things happen’. Leadership skills are what enable a nurse to advocate for their patient and ensure the best possible level of care is taking place. It also enables nurses to create a positive work environment, one that retains staff for a longer period of time. They build strong relationships across departments and with patients and their families.
All nurses need the ability to be good leaders.
Recent research shows that the actions of great leaders affect their own neurology and in turn affect the neurology of their followers.
In the Harvard Business Review Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis write that “the leader-follower dynamic is not a case of two (or more) independent brains reacting consciously or unconsciously to each other. Rather, the individual minds become, in a sense, fused into a single system.”
The following biological functions play a key role in this fusion of individual minds into one cohesive system:
These neurons occur throughout the brain and mimic, or mirror, the emotional behaviour of other people. For a leader, this means that the emotions they display are mirrored by those around them.
These cells allow us to make quick unconscious judgements, choose between instinctive responses and decide whether someone is trustworthy. Good leaders know to trust their gut feelings because these quick judgements, triggered by spindle cells, often prove to be accurate.
When two people interact, oscillators regulate the movement of their bodies so they move together in a harmonious way. You might notice that when in conversation with someone you unconsciously move into a similar position or pose to theirs; this is the effect of oscillators. When people move well together they are consciously or unconsciously attuned to each other.
Leaders who are aware of these biological factors can use them to their benefit. But, conscious attempts to copy these subconscious behaviours will most likely come across as forced. The best way to increase these biological functions is to work on your social intelligence.
In order to improve your social intelligence and increase your leadership skills, it is important to recognise the hallmarks of a socially intelligent leader. Goleman and Boyatzis list seven traits that are displayed by good leaders.
Ronald E. Riggio has these tips to offer on developing your social skills:
Nurse Leaders use a combination of many skills. Of these skills social intelligence stands out as the most essential one to master.
For some, charisma and charm that allow them to influence and persuade others come easily. For those of us who are less gifted, there are ways to improve our social skills. Developing these skills will enables us as nurses to become a valuable asset to any healthcare organisation.
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Janette Cooper is a registered nurse, currently working as a gastroenterology procedure nurse at Noarlunga Hospital. She has a Bachelor of Nursing, a Graduate Certificate in Health Service Management from Flinders University, and a certificate in Gastroenterology Nursing from The Queensland University of Technology. In 2012 she began a life coaching course with The Coaching Institute in Melbourne. It has allowed her to combine her two passions of nursing and personal development. She divides her time between gastroenterology nursing and promoting personal development and leadership by means of frequently published articles through Ausmed, leadership presentations and workshops and coaching health professionals wanting to develop their leadership potential. See Educator Profile