Chemical Charisma: How Neurobiology Can Make You a Better Manager — Part I

Emotions can often be complex and hard to describe, but analyzing the neurobiological mechanisms behind them offers powerful insight. Managers and business leaders who come to grips with the way these natural chemical processes work can positively affect employee behaviors. They can excise unproductive management habits that feel right in their guts but that actually decrease productivity and morale.

What’s the secret to understanding how emotions work and how leaders can channel them for maximum productivity and employee happiness and satisfaction? New science suggests that it all comes down to three hormones:


When your body responds to stress or tries to overcome a challenge, it produces epinephrine (or adrenaline) along with norepinephrine (or noradrenaline). Together, these hormones quicken the heart rate, elevate blood pressure, dilate the pupils, release glucose energy and increase skeletal-muscular blood flow. They also can trigger anxiety and a sense of restlessness.

Adrenal-type hormones may be released in the workplace when we sense “danger,” or when we feel extremely motivated to finish a task – i.e. finish off our “prey” or escape from a metaphorical predator. When activated, these hormones cause us to ignore many of the considerations that hold us back and doggedly pursue our goals with extreme focus.


Dopamine triggers our brain’s natural “reward system.” When it’s released, we experience a natural high that includes positive feelings, camaraderie, optimism and a spike in sociability. On the other hand, the releasing of dopamine in the body can lead to a reduction of nervousness, fear and inhibitions.

We evolved the dopamine responses to reinforce behaviors that lead to desirable outcomes. When we are kind to others, and we enjoy the interactions, we can thank dopamine. We experience dopamine reactions most strongly when we have overcome a challenge – especially something nerve-wracking enough to trigger adrenaline. Succeeding in a social environment with a team backing you can make dopamine production all the more intense.

These dopamine-rich experiences help explain why we often seek out increasingly more difficult challenges and higher levels of achievement. The adrenal-based rush combined with the euphoric, but short-lived, effects of dopamine can strongly motivate individuals, as long as they are not anxious about embarrassment or the consequences of failure.

Improving your Leadership Skills Through Adrenaline and Dopamine

When employees see that their actions have positive outcomes, or when they overcome challenges, their “reward system” neuropsychology activates, reinforced by dopamine. If someone is close to achieving a goal that would produce dopamine, the employee may also produce adrenal hormones to boost motivation, intensify focus and diminish feelings of doubt or negativity.

These concepts lead to a deep message, but we’ll need to assess a third neurochemical in order to get to the bottom of it. Take a look at part II to get the rest of the story!

Also, if you want to discuss any of the concepts introduced, or if you need help fine-tuning your leadership skills in general, contact us at (01) (604) 576-4970, email me, or contact me using our on-site form.


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