In the 2016 Snapshot for the Australian Workplace Dr. Lindsay MacMillan OAM revealed 35% of workers feel that poor leadership is the most stressful part of the job. While Deloitte’s Talent Edge Study 2020 ranked leadership as the most pressing concern in the current economy.

High levels of stress contribute to poorer cognition, reduced focus, increased errors, poor decisions, a silo mentality and increased levels of presenteeism and absenteeism.

With stress costing the Australian economy around $10 billion dollars each year, reducing workplace stress has to be at the forefront of every business leader’s agenda.

This is where an understanding of brain science can make such a difference, because the fundamentals for good leadership are deeply embedded in our physiology.

As humans we are hardwired to connect. Cognitive scientist Matt Lieberman believes our need to belong, to be part of a tribe, is as important as air, food and water to our survival. Human connection drives social cohesion and collaboration, which brain-savvy leaders recognise and use to increase leadership effectiveness.

According to Deloitte, 5 critical factors that influence retention include:

  1. Trust in the company.
  2. The availability of career opportunities.
  3. Fair exchange of reward for effort.
  4. Having the autonomy to do the work you’ve been hired for.
  5. Working in an environment that acknowledges and promotes success.

All of which relate to the social drivers of safety from the brain’s perspective.

To be a leader worth following start with,


Lead through the observable behaviours of authenticity, transparency, consistency, and fairness to establish trust and mutual respect.

Listen actively and deeply to others. Feeling heard or being acknowledged for an opinion or insight promotes contribution and collaboration.

Take time out to think. Reflection promotes greater understanding of the bigger picture and reduces the tendency to a knee-jerk reaction, the reactive type-one thinking that may blindside the slower type-two responsive thinking as outlined by Daniel Kahneman.

Court “buy-in” by revealing what’s in it for everyone by communicating a clear and bold vision for what you want the company to achieve.

Promoting a can-do attitude

Attitude is a choice. Promoting a collective mindset that is open to new ideas, sharing of knowledge and possibility thinking comes through the creation of an open-minded organisation led by a leader who embraces a having a go, and looks to succeed by doing things differently.


No one likes to second-guess what mood you will be in on any given day. Consistency in how you present reduces fear and uncertainty and promotes more useful and positive habits of workplace practice.


Be human.  A leader who knows they don’t have all the answers, but is willing to ask for input reveals they are secure and confident in their own abilities. This creates a culture of mutual respect. As  Sir Ken Robinson tells us,

 “The role of the creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.”


Using your brain’s natural plasticity as a life-long learner provides the cognitive advantage of adaptability in our rapidly changing world. In combination with the other factors, this is what contributes to make you the leader worth following.