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The Neuroscience of Leadership Coaching

Aug 2015 -  Bloomsbury

Gender diversity and cross-cultural, cross-generational working in organisations has led to new challenges for leadership, which many companies are solving through executive coaching. This unique leadership coaching book is written by practitioners for practitioners and managers wanting to get the best from individuals in leadership roles. It brings together the authors experience as psychologists, neuroscientists and senior level executive coaches to analyse the neuroscience behind behavioural change. The authors present the latest views on leadership, executive coaching and an introduction to the basic concepts of how the brain works to enable managers and coaches to work more confidently, and with greater focus. A series of coaching case histories are accompanied by neuroscience commentaries that offer full explanations of how to select a coaching intervention that will engage different parts of the brain. The cases are categorised by the technique used and the area of the brain the tool accesses, making it easier to understand what type of coaching tool would be useful for a specific situation, and also what type of technique might be used to engage if the first approach is ineffective and how this might work differently at a neuroscientific level.


Metaphor, simile, analogy and the brain

Feb 2017 -  Changing English, 23 (4). pp. 362-373

Fox (1993) argues that the poetic function of language fulfils the human need to symbolize. Metaphor, simile and analogy provide examples of the ways in which symbolic language can be used creatively. The neural representations of these processes therefore provide a means to determine the neurological basis of creative language. Neuro-imaging has demonstrated that while metaphor, simile and analogy activate some areas of the brain in common, they also each activate different areas. This suggests that creative language has had sufficient evolutionary importance to be processed within more than one neural system. Additionally, the neuro-imaging data suggests that symbolic language activates areas beyond the language centres and therefore is encoded using sensorimotor representations. Here we will discuss the neural representations of metaphor, simile and analogy, and will reflect on the neural systems which have evolved to support symbolic language and how this understanding might be used to help develop skill in creative language.

Embodiment and performance

Jan 2017  - Changing English, 23 (4). pp. 326-333.


Evidence suggests that some cognitive processes are based on sensorimotor systems in the brain (embodied cognition). The premise of this is that 'Biological brains are first and foremost the control systems for biological bodies' (Clark 1998, 506). It has therefore been suggested that both online cognition (processing as we move through the world) and offline cognition (processing through reflection) might be body-based (Wilson 2002). We tested whether acting out, or thinking movements relevant to a poem would therefore improve memory for the poem. Here, we discuss the results of this study in relation to embodied cognition.


Reward and threat in the adolescent brain: implications for leadership

Jan 2017  -  Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 38 (4). pp. 530-548.


Purpose: As adults, our decision making processes involve a balance between taking and avoiding risk This requires a system of areas in the brain that includes (but is not limited to) the amygdala (threat detection and response), the ventral striatum (reward detection and response) and the prefrontal cortex (integration and regulation of emotions, planning and decision making). While the balance between these areas will differ between individuals, in general, adults are well equipped to integrate information about threat and reward, assess risks, and to use this to make decisions that fit the context. Statistics on, for instance, car crashes, binge drinking and contraceptive use indicate that adolescents and young adults take more risks (Steinberg, 2007) suggesting that their decision making processes are not fully developed until their early to mid-twenties. In order to explain this, researchers have found evidence to suggest that some elements of the decision making system develop faster than others (Ernst, Pine & Hardin, 2006). One hypothesis is that adolescents and young adults might be more sensitive to both reward and threat, and less able to regulate their response to this, than adults.
Potential developmental differences in the connectivity of the adolescent brain have implications for how we incorporate young adults into agile teams, and develop leadership skills in this age group. For instance, it is important to consider the role that experience of risk taking within a safe and structured environment has on development. While age is a useful proxy for development, the way that our brains connect up is not simply driven by the length of time we have been alive. What is as important is the role of appropriate experience in strengthening decision making pathways. Thus, designing environments in which adolescents can be exposed to making the decisions required of leaders and experiencing the consequences of their choices will increase neural connectivity.

Experiential learning as preparation for leadership: an exploration of the cognitive and physiological processes.

2017  -  Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 38 (4). pp. 513-529. ISSN 01

Purpose: The objective of the study was to explore whether challenging experiences on development programmes would simulate leadership challenges and therefore stimulate the body’s autonomic nervous system response. We also aimed to determine whether increase in autonomic arousal would be related to learning.
Findings: The research found significant correlations between change in heart rate (ΔHR) during critical incidents and perceived learning . The research also found a significant correlation between (ΔHR) and learning during a control event for individuals with ‘approach’ personalities.
Practical implications: The findings from the research help clarify the mechanisms involved in the effectiveness of experiential learning, and contribute to our understanding of the influence of personality type on perceived learning from experiential methodologies. Such understanding has implications for Business Schools and learning and development professionals, suggesting that development experiences that challenge leaders are likely to result in learning that is longer-lasting.
Originality/value: The research extends the literature regarding the value of learning through experience, the role of autonomic arousal on learning, and the impact of negative emotions on cognition. The research makes a unique contribution by exploring the impact of experience on arousal and learning in a simulated learning experience and over time, by demonstrating that simulated experiences induce emotional and physiological responses, and that these experiences are associated with increased learning.

Published Academic Neuroscience Literature:











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