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This is the secret to developing better leaders, according to brain science

Embedding neuroscience concepts into leadership learning is like learning to swim with the current instead of against it.

This is the secret to developing better leaders, according to brain science
[Photo: PM Images/Getty Images]

Leadership development approaches are constantly evolving—and one key emerging trend is the integration of neuroscience concepts into training programs. By leveraging the science of how the human brain learns, we can better advance future leaders toward desired outcomes.

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Today’s leaders also have higher expectations from their development programs than ever before. Gone are the days when passive learning through a PowerPoint presentation was considered enough. Thanks to neuroscience research, it’s now possible to deliver outcome-based leadership development with truly impressive results—because it’s built around how our brains are wired.

What are neuroscience and brain-based learning concepts, and how can we harness its power to help our leaders? Here’s what you need to know.

How brain-based learning delivers more intuitive learning

Through the field of neuroscience, we now understand in far greater detail how we can retain new knowledge and apply it in real-life scenarios. Unless fresh learnings are effectively applied, we can’t demonstrate the behavioral changes that we’re seeking. Traditional leadership programs often bypass the crucial stage of teaching learners how to turn knowledge into application through practice.

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That’s where brain-based learning concepts come in.

Neuroscience is the study of the biology behind thoughts, perceptions, emotions, motivations, decisions and actions. Understanding this correlation between the brain and behavior leads to successful habit-building in the workplace, because training is based on learning in a way that we intuitively understand and can more easily translate into action.

The benefits of brain-based learning vs. traditional training

When it comes to any kind of development, an ultimate objective is to see a positive change in behaviors.  Leadership development often involves in-person programs delivered through an aggregated session to attendees with a broad range of styles. But does this one-size-fits-all approach help leaders apply new knowledge to build their key competencies and modify their behavior consistently? Not usually.

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While classroom-style learning has a role and serves a purpose, it often stops there if leaders aren’t given the opportunity to put their skills into practice. Supplementing traditional training with a neuroscience-based learning program allows us to match good intentions with genuine implementation, which is proven to produce results.

Embedding neuroscience concepts into leadership learning is like learning to swim with the current instead of against it. It’s the difference between expending maximum effort yet still struggling to stay in the same spot versus harnessing the power of the water to maximize your potential. Which would you choose?

Habit-building leads to better outcomes

By offering training in a way that we learn best, brain-based learning helps leaders to build effective habits.  We know more than ever before about how habits are formed and can facilitate the process of reflective repetition to create lasting success.

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For example, an organization’s emerging leader program conducts an assessment to identify leadership strengths and development opportunities. After a traditional course on leadership skills, brain-based learning concepts are used to take the behaviors from the classroom back to the participants’ work life.

By practicing these new skills and behaviors regularly alongside a reflection on their learning, each participant masters their new, highly important skill set. This helps alleviate the age-old problem of classroom learning never leaving the classroom. In fact, brain-based leadership programs often feel so natural that learners often see measurable results quickly.

Embedding the concepts of neuroscience in digital coaching and development platforms like Vaya Group’s Vayability, makes it possible to create outcome-based programs where current and future leaders build effective, lifelong habits such as:

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  • Coaching, including empowering their teams and adapting to individual styles
  • Communication skills, such as listening with empathy and collaborating inclusively
  • Driving performance and managing priorities
  • Handling change, including adaptability, agility and resilience
  • Enterprise-wide thinking and leveraging a variety of data
  • Self-management skills, self-awareness and emotional regulation

Best practices for taking the next step

Ready to start incorporating brain-based learning concepts into your leadership development programs? These tips will give you an idea of where to start:

Make it personal

The best experiences and the greatest impacts come when learners can personally relate to the training or development program. Capitalize on this by focusing on opportunities to help learners connect to their passions, whether that’s their colleagues, their customers or something else. Facilitate reflection that links back to what matters throughout the learning process, and you’ll maximize both knowledge retention and application.

Make it social

For best results, leverage programs and training formats that require connection and collaboration. Learning in a peer-based, community-oriented format has long been proven to enhance the application of gained knowledge. This can be as simple as asking your attendees to share their learnings with each other.

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Make it easy

Align your training to your learners’ needs and meet them where they’re at. Make sure your training program is built from a base of brain-based learning concepts to leverage the processes that result in optimal learning. Facilitating reflective repetition will also help your leaders turn development goals into new habits over time.

The future of leadership is here

In addition to brain-based learning concepts, there are other exciting evolutions in the world of leadership development. For example, personalized learning, microlearning and gamification are just some of the other strategies that have recently emerged. With the right tools, leadership development can be easier, more fun, more sociable—and career-changing.


Tiffany Hiscock is a senior consultant at Vaya Group.

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This article originally appeared in SmartBrief and is reprinted with permission.


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