How to be a better leader using three brains

How to be a better leader using three brains

Are you making the most of your three brains? Neuroscientists believe that as well as the brain in your head – the cephalic brain – you have two more: the gut brain (enteric) and the heart brain (cardiac). Each ‘brain’ has sensory neurons, motor neurons, ganglia, and neurotransmitters. They’re all true brains!  

All three can take in information, process it, store it, and access it when needed. The combined intelligence of your head, heart, and gut can help you be at your best, and improve your decision-making. The trick is knowing how to use each one. 

Three brains 

When faced with a major challenge or change, do you listen to all three brains? 

With three intelligences to choose from, you need to be present in a positive mindset to know when and how to use each one effectively. Listening to each one helps you to be your best self, and achieve sustainable positive impact for you, others, and our world. 

And it’s not easy, because each brain has its own advantages:

  1. Head brain: The most obvious one. It’s great for thinking, cognitive perception and making meaning of things. 
  1. Heart brain: It takes a lead on emotional processing, on values, and on our connection with others. 
  1. Gut brain: It’s designed to focus on our sense of self, on self-preservation, and mobilization.

You have these three brains, but there’s a good chance that you’re not always tuned in to what they’re telling you. You’re not alone. Lots of leaders are disconnected from their heart and gut brains.

Core leadership tools

Many leaders believe business decisions are best made using data and thoughtful analysis. They don’t listen to their gut instinct, and sometimes they disregard emotions. 

That’s understandable because your head brain is a great tool for data analysis. And if the challenges are more complex, you need other tools too – like your gut brain. And when people are involved, you need your heart brain. 

Extraordinary leaders know the three brains are core leadership tools. These tools are especially important during major challenges and changes. That’s because the old ways of doing things – and the old ways of thinking  – are no longer viable. Often there are no clear answers, or there are multiple answers to be weighed up. 

Under the weight of decision-making, productivity and quality can take a hit. Power dynamics can shift. Stress, self-doubt, frustration – even anger – can kick in across the organization, sending people into a negative mindset. 

When people have these negative emotions and thoughts (saboteurs) they move into the survivor part of their brain. In this mode, they’re not able to use their brains effectively and be at their best.

What sets extraordinary leaders apart is that they are smart, wise and empathic.  They’re mentally fit and able to recover faster from a negative to a positive mindset when challenges and change happen. In a positive mindset, they’re able to use all three intelligences to turn a challenge into an opportunity.

These leaders cycle back and forth between the heart, head, and gut brains:

  • The heart brain brings compassion, fuels the passion for change, and takes the leader’s values into account to keep them committed and moving forward. 
  • The gut brain provides the intuition and courage to take difficult actions and make major decisions (even when there’s insufficient information).
  • The head brain offers expertise in critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.

Getting the best from your three brains

There’s only one way to get the best from your brains. Practice mental fitness to ensure you’re recovering faster to a positive mindset. You notice and intercept the saboteurs, reset, and activate all three intelligences. You are constantly rewiring your neural networks from negative to positive. 

Resets or positive quotient (PQ) reps are easy enough to do: focus on one thing – breathing or one of your five senses – and let go of your thoughts. Research shows that a daily 15 minutes of resets/PQ reps helps  to improve your mental fitness, and your physical fitness too. It can help reduce high blood pressure, and make digestive processes function better.

Find resets that work for you and try to make them an easy part of your day. I like to start my day with a longer 30-minute reset. During the day, I try to do resets during the first 10 seconds of any routine, including showering, brushing my teeth, meetings, drinking, eating, and walking. 

As an executive leadership coach, I want to show up and perform at my best every day. I plan a reset right before every meeting. And if one meeting runs over into the next, I do a reset in the first minute of the meeting on the person i meet with.. I look at one thing (eyes) or listen to one thing (voice)  then let go of my thoughts.

This allows me to use my three intelligences during a coaching or facilitation session. In turn, that helps the leaders I work with to do the same,since energy is contagious. For example, before writing this article, I did a long PQ rep in the form of a 1-hour yoga class. The result?  It took less time to write, was more fun, and it was easier to find my flow.

The best leaders are mentally fit, they take at least 15 minutes every day to reset to a positive mindset. They know how and when to apply each of the three intelligences to achieve sustainable positive impact. They are smart, wise and empathic and in turn model and inspire their leadership team and the rest of their organization to be and perform at their best too. 

 Coaching can help you – and your leadership team – to be and perform at your best. So if you’re interested in a complementary 1-hour coaching session with me, get in touch via LinkedIn or my website,  

Further reading:

  • mBraining: Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff by Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka
  • Positive Intelligence: Why only 20% of teams and individuals achieve their true potential and how you achieve yours by Shirzad Chamine