Neuroleadership and its HR applications

“Neuroleadership” is a term — penned by leadership consultant David Rock in 2006 — used to describe the application of findings made within the field of neuroscience to understanding decisions made in the management sphere.

For example, a study by Emory University researchers found that in managers, when asked to react to PowerPoint slides conveying ethical dilemmas, a region of the brain responsible for the formation of early memories was activated, “which could mean moral thinking is formed early in life,” wrote Businessweek’s Jena McGregor in an article titled “The Business Brain In Close-Up.”

Additionally, scientists discovered in the 1990s that the same mechanisms we use when thinking about other peoples’ feelings are activated when we engage in problem-solving activities — even those that are related to “math or anything analytical in nature,” according to an article by Rock, published by Fortune last year.

This knowledge may be relevant when analyzing leadership skills and decisions, as evidenced by the fact that “organizational environments have systems and processes that nudge people to think rationally rather than socially,” and could potentially be applied to any field in which management plays a key role, including human resources.

While it seems reasonable that gaining an understanding of the neuroscience behind peoples’ thought processes could enable human resource professionals to better support their organization’s employees and manage their own teams, the field of neuroleadership hasn’t gained much traction within the scientific community. It’s regarded by some as a fabrication of Rock’s — he happens to be a founding member of the NeuroLeadership Institute, which hosts annual, for-profit summits on the subject.

Regardless, understanding the ways in which employees learn, make decisions and respond to problem-solving opportunities will likely improve an HR manager’s ability to lead effectively and conduct beneficial HR process reengineering.

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