Transforming Leaders: Neuroscience in Practice

coaching leadership

I have been professionally coaching since 2002 and am continually looking for ways to increase my knowledge in relevant areas that are most valuable to my clients, which is why I selected the BrainFirst Training Institute's Applied Neuroscience Program to improve my competence in neuroscience for my coaching business. My mission is to move organizations and individuals forward by removing self-imposed barriers and transforming leaders who “fix” into leaders who coach.

What I found most helpful about the program concepts is how they ‘backed up’ techniques that I teach others on getting out of their own way. The science grounds the methods used in the coaching work I do, both as a coach and facilitator. I have listed below a few of the ways I integrated several of the program's concepts.

Individual Coaching Services

Meeting clients where they are mentally and emotionally has never been so crucial as it is today. The Applied Neuroscience Program provided resources that supported the concepts I was aware of previously, but lacked the library of organized, easy to understand, and solid research. When working one on one, the following two areas of focus have been extremely helpful in creating awareness and ownership of behaviors with clients.


Helping clients get out of their own way, by creating awareness around the role of neurochemistry and why they interact with the world as they do, is critical. The module on neurochemistry was beneficial in clarifying some of the hidden barriers that hinder our progress. Knowing that we generate neurochemicals through our actions and the environment we create is a powerful insight into the importance of our choices.

How we choose to interpret situations and what words we use with others can generate dopamine or cortisol, which has a significant impact on the individual. The effect has even a wider reach organization-wide when you consider the neurochemistry impact to reward and performance management system designs, culture, and accepted leadership styles.


The discussion on Neuroplasticity reinforced the concept that we can change the way our brain functions, by the experiences that we create in every area of our lives. Neuroplasticity puts the responsibility back on the individual to own their current state and create their next desired state.

Citing the evidence that changing your experience to improve the results you achieve aids the client discussion of owning all of your actions. If you are getting subpar results personally or professionally, it is time to adjust what experiences you are creating or allowing in your life.

Effective Leaders Coach Program

The Effective Leaders Coach (ELC) program is continuously evolving to stay relevant to today's leader and the 'new normal.' I integrated the Applied Neuroscience Program information on how the brain functions, into the ELC program, so that leaders can shorten the learning curve to realizing self-awareness and establishing relationships.

As humans, it is essential to understand our operating system so that we successfully lead ourselves before we can lead others effectively. The need for this understanding is why applied neuroscience was introduced in the program as participants learn how to integrate the International Coach Federation (ICF) competencies; Maintains Presence and Cultivates Trust and Safety into their role as a leader.

Using neuroscience evidence also gives additional credence to the self-care and communication techniques taught in the program. The following concepts complemented the ELC program nicely and were easy to integrate.

The Motivated Brain

Leaders don't know what leaders don't know. Creating awareness of the inner workings of our neurological design provides a window into the 'why' of many of our outcomes. The Motivated Brain takes self-awareness work to a deeper level, which is critical for anyone aspiring to develop solid coaching presence.

Frequently leaders experience frustration when others do not produce projected results or act as expected; this is often a consequence of the leader using motivation techniques that were modeled for them in past roles rather than techniques that put the brain first.

The Healthy Brain

Creating awareness of how we treat our physical body, and the impact that treatment has on our mental capacity, presents the opportunity for leaders to shift their perspective about how they work and live. Connecting brain health to our lifestyle choices gives leaders the opportunity to acknowledge which behaviors are not serving them and which promote prioritizing self-care.

Self-care has not risen to the top of the 'to-do' list for very many leaders. This lack of prioritization is typically not because of deliberate self-destruction but rather because of a steady stream of choices made for short term wins. Today's leader is reachable 24/7, and the personal-professional boundaries are blurred by the use of technology, the demands of the work, and the constant need to demonstrate value add.

"The lack of prioritization of self-care is typically not because of deliberate self-destruction, but rather because of a steady stream of choices made for short term wins"

Once leaders embrace self-care as a success strategy, and understand how it is linked to better results, working excessive hours or being available 24/7 will no longer be seen as a badge of honor, but as a barrier to success.

The Emotional Brain

The Emotional Brain content supports emotional intelligence work in the ELC program. It emphasizes the importance of understanding how our brains interpret our world and linked to learning how to become a more effective leader. The Applied Neuroscience Program provided deeper insights into how the brain's 'wiring' is related to many of our self-imposed barriers as well as techniques on how to overcome or enhance the current wiring system.

This new perspective allows participants not only to have a clearer understanding of how their brains operate, but just as importantly how the brains of those they lead operate. This insight enables the leader to inspire others in a more impactful way, ultimately creating long-lasting results.

In closing, the application of what we learn is where we get the most benefit from the knowledge we seek in educational programs. We were not issued a user manual on how to operate our brain upon arrival, but the more we learn from programs such as the BrainFirst Applied Neuroscience Program, the more effective we can choose to become.

About The Author

Kristine Conway, MS, PCC, is the president of Effective Focus, Inc., a professional development and change management organization specializing in emotional intelligence. She is also the author of Obligated No More, A journey to a guilt-free life, a book designed to help individuals rid themselves of self-imposed barriers to success.