Understanding how the brain works can make you a better manager

How do you teach someone to lead?

One technique currently gaining momentum is neuroleadership – simply put, a set of tools that can form new business habits in managers and team members.

Studies of the brain (neuroscience) has proven that we can continue to learn, adapt and improve ourselves in a relatively short space of time.

Neuroleadership training educates managers on the connection between the brain’s relationship between positive feedback and new habit formation. This approach can boost results considerably over time. It’s also a skill set that can help build much stronger relationships with clients.

Kristen Hansen is a business coach who specialises in teaching neuroleadership. Hansen says the key to managing teams is regular dedicated check-ins to measure progress, provide constructive feedback and tweak approaches. She draws on the science of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change – to drive lasting results improvement and sustained motivation.

“Coaching leadership is in some ways reinventing the wheel,” Hansen explains. Her style reorients traditional emphases in leadership, using small steps towards big change. “Neuroleadership coaching is more an ask approach than a tell approach,” she says.

Authentic conversations get to the heart of people's ability to change and be motivated to change.

Hansen enjoyed a successful career in sales management at some of Australia’s leading businesses including News Ltd., Fairfax and Pacific Dunlop before pursuing sales leadership coaching. Her training with Results Coaching Systems led her to specialise in neuroleadership. “I was fascinated,” Hansen says. “I recognised that there were many organisations and managers out there with great technical skills, but who found the concept of leadership to be soft, fluffy and not tangible. They weren’t really interested.” Hansen had found her passion, transforming managers into agile leaders of change and performance.

Hansen uses what she calls a GROW-WISE model to coach brain-based leadership skills to managers. She has added to the GROW acronym (Goal, Reality, Option, What next?) with WISE: Whole-brain goal setting, Insight, Stretch the subconscious, and Explore – using proven techniques to increase the likelihood of action.

Hansen recognised that a focus on someone’s current state can put that person into what she calls a “threat state” – and therefore resistant to change. She designed her coaching model with this in mind. “People are in their reality, and not where they want to be,” she explains. Her brain-based approach encourages teams and clients to look to the future and build towards what they aspire to.

Hansen believes authentic conversations and genuine understanding lead to deeper insights. The effect of these insights, she explains, will put those who use her techniques into what she calls a “reward state”. People are more likely to solidify new habits when they’re in a reward state, which engages the whole brain and gives purpose to actions that help them achieve their goals. “Authentic conversations get to the heart of people’s ability to change and be motivated to change,” she explains.

Hansen’s postgraduate studies in neuroleadership have focused on developing a framework that can harness the brain’s preference for the familiar and turn it into a system for behavioural change. She insists even the smallest of changes, pursued consistently, leads to enhanced results.

For example, if a financial planner wants to invest five hours per week to generate new business, in real terms that’s one hour each day. “You need to think about how you’re going to fit it in, and the emotions that get in the way,” Hansen says. “A bad Monday can put you off doing it again on Tuesday. But remembering it’s a numbers game is a good way to think. It’s motivating to know that Tuesday will bring you closer to a ‘yes’”, she says.

Managers who complete Hansen’s training are coached in how to use these skills in their teams. “It’s all about how to have far more effective conversations with potential and existing clients. We use a brain-based approach to understanding the client more fully in order to be able to provide holistic solutions,” she says.

Hansen uses an example from her own experience with a wealth manager. At their first meeting, she was asked how much money she wanted to retire with, and when she wanted to retire. “I said, ‘I have no idea how to answer either of those questions,’” Hansen laughs. “How would I know a number and when I’d like to have that number if I’d never seen a wealth manager before? It’s not really a way to build rapport.”

Instead, Hansen encourages understanding a client’s big picture outcomes. She uses a raft of techniques, both ones she’s developed and those adapted from other coaching styles. “What would your client like to see or achieve while in retirement? Do they want to feel content, to have the ability to explore, to feel safe and secure, or to feel wealthy?” Asking these questions, Hansen explains, “gets the whole-brain understanding of a client, rather than just the logical side. That builds a connection between people.” And you need that connection, she adds, in order to align with the client’s dreams and assist in achieving them.

Neuroleadership can change not only the way a person approaches their daily habits, but teaches them to help others make similar, positive changes. Small daily changes can lead to substantial gains in the long term

Neuroleadership tips for your business

4 simple ways to manage a team to deliver results: 

  1. Be sensitive to how each team member responds to a situation. Recognise that a person’s emotional state has huge consequences for their performance. For example, if the goal is to devote five hours a week to generating new business, it’s important to consider each individual’s emotional responses to delivering on this promise.
  2. Help people plan their actions. Using the new business example, you can assist team members in planning when to structure this initiative into their day. Concrete action plans have an increased chance of success.
  3. Ask more questions than you answer when someone approaches you for a solution. Use the insights you gain through the questions you ask to lead your client or team member to their own conclusions, rather than telling them what to do. 
  4. As a leader, pay attention to, and provide positive feedback on, the small developments made by people to form new personal habits. Have regular coaching conversations. These are separate from your work-in-progress meetings and should focus on the individual team member and what new habits they’re forming. 

Related products


Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

We bring you technical updates, financial insights and industry expertise.



Wider View of Wealth newsletter preview
Thank you for subscribing.
Please try again.

Simply fill out your details below:

By submitting this enquiry, I acknowledge that I have read the Macquarie Group privacy policy, and understand that Macquarie will use my personal information to contact me in relation to my enquiry, and for other general marketing purposes.

You can change your marketing preferences by telephoning Macquarie on 1800 806 310 or customising your preferences with the unsubscribe link included in our marketing communications. Please note that all of our calls are recorded. If you do not want your call to be recorded, please advise the Macquarie staff member.

Contact us

Monday to Friday 8am – 6pm (Sydney time)

1800 174 945

Home loans

Compare our home loan offering.

Get in touch

Speak to our leading team.

Additional information

Any information on this page in relation to mortgages has been prepared by Macquarie Securitisation Limited (MSL) Australian Credit Licence (ACL) 237863 ACN 003 297 336.

Unless stated otherwise, this information has been prepared by Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 AFSL and Australian Credit Licence 237502.

This information is provided for the use of licensed and accredited brokers and financial advisers only. In no circumstances is it to be used by a potential client for the purposes of making a decision about a financial product or class of products.