I was instantly attracted to the book by the word “neuron” in the title. I am fascinated by all things brain science being applied to everyday life.

The 7 Secrets of Neuron Leadership takes you on a journey of self-discovery and ties together ancient Greek philosophy with modern-day neuroscience.

The book explores Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric – ethos, lagos, and pathos – and how these are tied to our three brains, a concept developed by Dr Paul McLean. Dr McLean proposed we have three brains – an emotional, instinctual and logical brain – which control the different elements of thinking:

  • The emotional brain, or mammalian brain, is involved with our emotions, love, excitement, appetite and the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
  • The instinctual brain includes the stem and cerebellum and is responsible for safety responses, harm avoidance, motor balance and survival instincts. This is sometimes referred to as our reptilian brain.
  • The logical brain resides in the neocortex area and takes up two-thirds of our brain mass. This is the most complex brain and is divided into two parts, the left cortex (rational, verbal and linear) and right cortex (artistic, musical and abstract). 

The book then explains how our responses to different situations trigger different parts of our brain and lead to our own unique personalities. In general, the book postulates that there are nine personality types based on the theory of the Enneagram. W Craig Reed then explores how personalities, neuroscience and the Enneagram are intertwined outlining how the three primary transmitters appear to be more involved with our personalities than others. The primary transmitters are:

  • Norepinephrine: (alertness and energy) regulates how quickly and how often a person thinks and solves problems
  • Dopamine: (attention, motivation, pleasure and reward) regulates how we behave
  • Serotonin: (obsessions and compulsions) regulates the “positive outlook”

To be a good leader requires persuasion and this is facilitated by effective communication. By laying the foundations of how the brain works, W Craig Reed goes on to show how we can use this science to understand someone else’s viewpoints, motivations and communication styles and better persuade them to embrace our vision or complete a task.

After understanding the foundations of how the brain works, the book uses the popular classic, The Wizard of Oz, to illustrate The 7 Secrets of Neuron Leadership. These secrets are broken down in an order of self-learning and are based on changing yourself, not trying to change your team. The biggest thing that resonated with me was the concept of mirror neurons – do what I do, not do what I say. To be an effective leader, you need to lead by example.

The seven secrets provide a step by step approach to self-awareness and self-improvement so that being a better leader becomes instinctual. The first secret touches on all three brains and each subsequent pair of secrets then focus on engaging different sections of the brain in an order so as to better connect and engage with your team.

Throughout the book, you embark on a journey of self-awareness and discovery, using practical and real-life examples to illustrate each point. Each secret-based chapter finishes with three steps to achieving the secret’s underlying principle based on policy, procedure and practice, and a practical leadership exercise.

Summary of the Secrets

Secret 1 – Dorothy’s Journey

The Principle of Prosperity: To prosper, you must love yourself by being humble and teachable

This secret is based on the premise of Dorothy’s journey through Oz, only to end up back in the same place. By the end of the journey, Kansas is still exactly the same but Dorothy’s perspective of the place has changed.

Dorothy was obviously not happy in her grey home, but she was also reluctant to leave because, after all, it was her home. In truth, it was not the dull house or grey land that Dorothy dreaded, it was the perception of the ordinary world that she had created between her own two ears. In truth, she was unhappy with herself.

This principle is about self-love as defined by the Greek work philautia, which is emotional, instinctual and logical all rolled into one. Embracing philautia requires creating an atmosphere of eudaimonia, a Greek word that refers to the state of being happy,healthy and prosperous.

To improve our own leadership abilities, we must be willing to undertake our own Hero’s Journey, like Dorothy did when she visited the land of Oz. We must also be ready to let go of the illusions we have that have previously plagued our journey.

To better learn how to love ourselves,
and become better leaders, we must be humble and teachable.

This principle is best summed up by these two words: be humble.

Secret 2 – Playful Toto

The Principle of Familiarity: Play to win by treating everyone like family

This principle teaches us that we must treat others, especially those we are privileged to lead, as if they are close family.

Advances in technology make it nearly impossible to unplug from the daily grind. We can’t seem to hide from a text or email or call. Some adults are so busy and stressed out that they have forgotten how to play and have fun with anyone, anywhere, anytime and with complete abandon.

The Greeks used the word ludus to describe a playful type of love, which is often exhibited between close family members and children while playing. Ludus love is also seen between adults when socialising, playing or competing in sport.

Leaders should embody and foster ludus love. This creates a team environment where people have an affection familiarity with each other and care enough about each other to perform at their best so as not to let down anyone else on the team.

Ludus love is emotional and appeals mostly to our emotional brain. The best way to exhibit this type of love is through visual, audio and tactile means, rather than written words.

This principle can be summed up by these two words: be playful.

Secret 3 – Generous Tinman

The Principle of Generosity: Give not to receive, but only to fill your heart with joy

This principle aligns with the Greek word agape, which refers to a selfless, unconditional type of love for everyone and everything. Agape love extends to all humankind, whether family or complete strangers.

I shall take the heart, for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.

Adopting this principle requires an understanding of, and desire to live by, the ancient Greek form of love called agape. This is an unconditional form of love, which requires loving without expectations. We must love the people we lead and serve as an example of how they should love each other.

We must treat team members like a close family of brothers and sisters who,alongside us, equally risk careers and livelihoods and reputations. We must show our love by laying down our time for those we lead.

Agape is emotional and is best expressed through visual, aural and tactile means,rather than through copy, graphs or numbers.

This principle can be summed up by these two words: be generous.

Secret 4 – Passionate Wizard

The Principle of Passion: Without passion and purpose, you are a ship without a rudder

This principle is related to the Greek form of love called eros, which is about passion, romance and a love of life and work. From a neuro psychological perspective, it is instinctual and carries overtones of curiosity and caution.

The Tinman, Lion and Scarecrow all believed they were flawed in someway. Their individual passion and purpose in life became their quest to fin the Wizard, who they believed could grant them what they lacked. Once they met the”Great and Terrible” Oz, they discovered … that none of them lacked a heart, brains or courage, they just thought they did. By showing compassion, Oz helped each of them attain their initial desires but then inspired them to raise their sights even higher.

As Eros is instinctual in nature, it appeals to our instinctual brain. Eros teaches us that attraction is far more powerful than promotion and requires a strong element of curiosity. Eros love entails narrowing your organisations,departmental, team and personal focus down to a single, clear and compelling purpose. This means focusing on passion and purpose, more than just profit. Team leaders need to select a team with great care to ensure they will embrace the firm’s passion and purpose.

This principle can be summed up by these two words: be passionate.

Secret 5 – Courageous Lion

The Principle of Courage: It takes courage to have integrity and be accountable

This secret is about the courage to be honest and open with ourselves and others, and to hold each other accountable.

For leaders, it takes more courage to be an example of compassion, understanding and patience than to be an uncaring whip-cracking task-orientated bully. When we lack courage, it is because our instinctual brain is in control and is blanketing our life with fear.

This principle relates to the Greek form of love called philia, which is an abiding friendship exhibited between brothers and sisters, colleagues and close friends. This type of love requires the courage to speak and act freely between peers, subordinates and superiors without fear of ridicule or reprimands.

This principle appeals to our instinctual brain and requires a level of integrity and trust between all members of a team. To embrace this, leaders must listen, inspire simplicity and humility, encourage equal participation and foster an environment of integrity and accountability.

This principle can be summed up by these two words: be courageous.

Secret 6 – Authoritative Wizard

The Principle of Authority: Tough love leaders are authoritative mentors, not authoritative dictators

The ancient Greeks practiced a form of love called storge, most often found in the authoritative relationship between parents and children.

Dutch children are the happiest, and perhaps the most well-adjusted in the world… Most Dutch parents have mastered the delicate balance between stifling domination and benign neglect. They refer to this as being authoritative rather than authoritarian.

Authoritative means having an air of authority, usually supported by a demeanor of confidence and underscored by knowledge and experience. A storge love is akin to the “tough love” that is difficult but necessary to help others learn and grow.

In practicing this type of love, we should not do for others what they can do for themselves. We should strive to be a confident authoritative leader rather than a dictator. Trust is earned,not demanded. Leaders who practice this principle have the courage to delegate, empower, let go and advise rather than micromanage.

This principle aligns mostly with ourlogical brain, which response best to written words, facts, figures and data.

This principle can be summed up by these two words: be authoritative.

Secret 7 – Wise Scarecrow

The Principle of Wisdom: Patience and dependability are the cornerstones of great leadership

This principle is based on the Greek word pragma, which is a mature and pragmatic “long-term” form of love. As a logical type of love, it connects with our logical brain. Unlike eros love, which is falling in love, pragma is about staying in love long-term.

  • Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth, the more experience you are sure to get.
  • Gaining wisdom requires patience, experience and the willingness to listen to input from others. For leaders, this principle emphasises the need to depend up on and praise the people on your team. Recruiters and hiring manages should use pragma love to evaluate the long-term team and cultural fit of candidates interviewed.
  • This principle can be summed up by these two words: be dependable.

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