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Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast for Brain Fact Friday and EPISODE #165 on “The Neuroscience of Leadership: Using Your Brain to Lead Others More Effectively” that was inspired by a conversation I had on the phone with our next guest, whose interview will be recorded today, and released over the weekend.  You will need to tune into our next episode to hear who he is, but I can say that he is with his 6th season with the NY Jets (football) and his 4th year teaching leadership at NYU which led him to our podcast. When speaking with him, he mentioned had found our episode #68[i] “The Neuroscience of Personal Change with Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” when he was looking for ideas for his leadership class at NYU and liked how we had added the brain science to Covey’s best-seller that has sold more than 25 million copies since its first publication. When we hung up, I thought about the fact that Covey’s book impacted so many people around the world, but since it was first published in 1989 he was missing something critical to our next generation of leaders: an understanding of the Leading Brain, which let me to think about our good friend Friederike Fabritius all the way back to EPISODE #27[ii] who wrote The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier for this week’s Brain Fact Friday.

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday, You Will Learn:

✔︎ Why Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is WRONG when it comes to Neuroscience.

✔︎ What IS the Neuroscience of Leadership?

✔︎ The Best Ways to Lead with the Brain in Mind in our Schools and Workplaces.

✔︎ How to Reach Peak Performance or Flow with our Work.

✔︎ What Too Much, or Too Little Stress Does to the Brain.

For those who are new here, I’m Andrea Samadi, author, and educator from Toronto, Canada, now in Arizona, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, our sports, and workplace environments. My vision for this podcast is to bring the experts to you, share their books, resources and ideas to help you to implement their proven strategies, and take the fear out of this new field of educational neuroscience. My hope is that this podcast will bridge the gap between the science, theory, and application of these ideas for improved results in your life.

Our next few interviews coming up are exciting for me, as they all demonstrate just how important and timely this understanding of the brain is for all of us to learn and apply whether we are a teacher in the classroom or using these ideas in a corporate environment, as an employee, or CEO in a leadership role, an understanding of how our brain works is critical these days. With each episode we release, connections are made to past episodes and the learning builds just like we were taking a course together. If you are new here, go back through the episodes and see if there are ones that catch your eye. Take notes and think about how you could best apply the strategies suggested in each episode. I promise you this will be life changing when we begin to live our lives with our brain in mind.

For this Week’s Brain Fact Friday, I’m going back to the first lesson I saw on The Leading Brain, by Friederike Fabritius that was published on YouTube Dec.11th, 2016[iii] where she explains why an understanding of the brain is important for a group of business leaders. She begins her presentation by quizzing the group to see what they know about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[iv] to see what they can remember about this model that is “a motivational theory in psychology comprising of a five-tier model of human needs”[v]  that begins with the need of food, water, sex, and sleep. Once these needs are met, we desire safety (and you can think about how important it is for our students to feel safe in our schools, or employees in the workplaces-without this safety, learning or new ideas cannot take place), and once we feel this safety, we start to form friendships/relationships, leading to our self-esteem and confidence to increase, which in turn leads to self-actualization, or the attainment of whatever our goals are.

But looking at how we operate through the lens of neuroscience, Maslow’s Model is completely incorrect.

For this week’s Brain Fact Friday, did you know that there’s a new model in Neuroscience, that replaces Maslow’s Model, explaining Social Cognitive Neuroscience where “without relationships, we cannot survive” (Friederike Fabritius) and that “connectedness regulates and rewards us.” (Dr. Bruce Perry).

Friederike explains that Maslow’s tier of Love/Belonging or friendship, family, and sexual intimacy are 3rd in his chosen ranks,  but when we look at how the brain operates, this is the #1 most important tier, that’s more important than food and water and she offers a new model of Social Cognitive Neuroscience that explains how without relationships, we cannot survive.

I thought about our upcoming interview with Dr. Bruce Perry (next month) on his book written with Oprah What Happened to You and he talks about how “connectedness regulates and rewards us” with his Filling our Rewards Bucket concept where he noted that “many people found it harder to fill up during the COVID-19 pandemic; people reported more anxiety and depression, and many people used some of the less healthy forms of reward (like drugs/alcohol) to fill that void”[vi] so understanding this new model of Social Cognitive Neuroscience can help us all to lead more effectively in our schools and workplaces.  We will dive deeper into Dr. Bruce Perry’s model with our interview, but you can see from the image in the show notes that explains how the brain processes information from the bottom up, and that regulation must occur before any reasoning or reflecting can take place in the upper regions of the brain (or prefrontal cortex).

IMAGE SOURCE: Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Network.

So why is this so important for us to understand as leaders (in our workplaces or schools?) It’s because if we are not regulated, it will shut down our executive functions in our prefrontal cortex and we won’t be operating at our highest levels.

How to Lead with the Brain in Mind?

It Begins with Putting Relationships First: Scrap Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and start thinking of Dr. Bruce Perry’s upside-down triangle where he puts regulation at the bottom. Everything should begin with building relationships to make our students feel safe/regulated in the classroom, or our employees feel safe/regulated in our corporate spaces. If you are working in the classroom, go back to the very beginning of this podcast and visit the episode with Greg Wolcott,[vii] the author of Significant 72: Unleashing the Power of Relationship’s in Today’s Schools for ideas and resources that you can use right away. You can also access many free ideas and resources directly from his website

If you are working in the corporate environment, there is no one better than Simon Sinek to inspire leadership, starting with his book Start With Why, which challenges assumptions about how great leaders and great companies inspire people, but also his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. I met Simon in 2014 where we traded books and I keep my signed copy of Leaders Eat Last on my desk to remind me of this ancient yet powerful principle.

After Simon Sinek wrote his first book, and began travelling the world, he noticed that very few people said “I love my job” and he wanted to do something to inspire this in organizations around the world since he was able to inspire millions with his Start With Why book. When he travelled around the globe, he noticed that “some teams were able to trust each other so deeply, they would literally put their lives on the line for each other. Other teams, no matter what incentives were offered, were doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure” (Leaders Eat Last Front Cover Flap) and the answer became clear to him with a discussion of a Marine Corps General who said “Officers eat last” and Sinek witnessed the most junior Marines eating first, while Senior Marines waited at the back of the line. Think about this from Maslow’s point of view, that biologically, we need food and shelter first, but when we operate with the brain in mind, we suspend our need for this urge, and put relationships first, stepping back and modeling “Leaders Eat Last.”

Andrea Samadi with Simon Sinek in 2014 (Infusionsoft Conference). 

Putting it into Action

Have you ever noticed this principle in play? I have, and I will never forget it. It was back when I was working at a school in the West End of Toronto (Emery CI) and the PE teacher organized a canoe trip up North for students. I went on the trip as a chaperone, not realizing how cold it was to sleep outside in the spring time, I remember almost dying in my tent at night and in the morning when the group began cooking meals, I sat back, and watched the students, wondering if anyone else was frozen to death like I was, and I noticed one young boy from Viet Nam, who sat back from the group when food was being served. He let everyone pass him in line, and I asked him why he didn’t grab a plate and some food, and he shook his head and said, “I eat last” and I remember it being profound to me that he sat back, and waited, while all others rushed forward to eat.  He had learned in his culture the importance of not giving in to his immediate needs, which we all know leads to future success in life with the famous Stanford Marshmallow experiment. I wish I could find this young man and see where he ended up, but I don’t really need to. I know he’s leading somewhere.

To review this week’s Brain Fact Friday, that explains a new model in Neuroscience, that replaces Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, explaining that “without relationships, we cannot survive” (Friederike Fabritius) and that “connectedness regulates and rewards us.” (Dr. Bruce Perry) I hope we can all begin to think with our brain in mind, on the ways we can help others in our schools or workplaces to feel more connected. Only then can we begin to work towards our goals, or self-actualization.

Next Steps:

Only once our basic needs of building and maintaining strong relationships are met, can we move towards your goals with this safety net in place.

In our podcast #27 with Friederike Fabritius, we covered the DNA of success or peak performance which is that brain state where we lose the presence of time and are the most productive. She mentioned the importance of having fun with your work, releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, having just enough fear or a challenge to release the neurotransmitter noradrenaline and that with these two factors, focus will occur, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine will be released. These three factors must be in place for peak performance to occur and when we hit this level of performance, it’s important that we are able to manage our distractions so that we can stay here for as long as possible for those higher levels of productivity.

We must be careful on our quest towards our goals that we keep the right balance with our stress levels. Too little stress, we go into a state of under-arousal where we are under challenged and could be bored with our work, and too much stress leads us to over-arousal where we are prone to work burn-out and depression. This state depletes the serotonin in the brain and we begin to see threats where are none. The more you go into work burn-out, the more negative you become, so keeping the balance of peak performance where you experience flow (lose track of time with your work) and alternate this time with rest/recovery is important for your mental and physical well-being.

To conclude this week’s Brain Fact Friday, I hope that you can see how old models like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs have become outdated when we begin to operate with our brain in mind, and that we can apply the most current brain science to anything we are doing, like I did with Covey’s 7 Habits book. Once we know how our brain works, we can then work backwards and change what we are doing so that it works with our brain in mind.

Do you see how can you use this NEW Social Cognitive Model in your school or workplace? How can you put relationships first to regulate your students and co-workers? Go back and look at Greg Wolcott’s episode for those working in the classroom, and for those in the corporate world, read Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last for some new ideas.

I will see you over the weekend with our episode #166 that will take our understanding of leadership into the pro sports world and then next week, will speak with independent researcher John Harmon on how our actions, thoughts and intentions all map out in the brain, especially while under pressure.

Have a good weekend!


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[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #68 “The Neuroscience of Personal Change with Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

[ii] The Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #27 with Friederike Fabritius on “The Recipe for Achieving Peak Performance”

[iii] Friederike Fabritius “Neuroleadership: A New Approach” YouTube Published Dec. 11th, 2016

[iv] Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

[v] Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

[vi] What Happened to You by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Published April 27, 2021

[vii]The Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #7 with Greg Wolcott on “Building Relationships in Today’s Classrooms”