Neuroscience and the Three Brains of Leadership

By Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka

Grant Soosalu

Marvin Oka


Recent Neuroscience findings have uncovered that we have complex and functional neural networks – or ‘brains’- in our heart and gut, giving scientific credence to the growing body of leadership literature showing how the world’s best companies are guided by leaders who can tap into the intelligence of their head, heart and guts. Combining these Neuroscience findings with behavioural modelling research conducted by the authors, a number of key insights have been found about the roles of the heart and gut brains for adaptive and generative leadership.

In the increasingly complex and volatile social and business environments (VUCA) that organisations operate in, leaders who are unable to tap into and harness the full intuitive and innate intelligence of their multiple brains (head, heart and gut brains aligned together) are at a distinct disadvantage. A new field of leadership development is emerging, known as mBIT (multiple brain integration techniques) and it provides organisational leaders with practical methods for aligning and integrating their head, heart and gut brains for increased levels of emergent wisdom in their decision-making, and for developing an expanded core identity as an authentic leader

Despite the abundant variety of leadership models available today, persistent issues still remain common to many organisations such as:

  • Employee engagement
  • Execution on strategy
  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Cultivating a performance culture
  • Maintaining market and community relevance
  • Brand relevance and having a compelling and authentic brand story
  • Delivering quality customer experience

Employee engagement – Our challenge for the 21st century

Professor Wilmar Schaufeli 
Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at Utrecht University
and distinguished Research Professor at KU Leuven


Guest speaker at the Distinguished Lecture series hosted by the


DCU Leadership and Talent Institute and Irish Times Executive Jobs.


Professor Schaufeli’s presentation revealed some important and relevant findings for HR professionals:

How to increase engagement

Practices such as coaching, mindfulness, training and career management training have been found to help individuals. Within teams, caring leadership, team redesign and team level collaborative job crafting have proven effective. Overall within organisations, performance management, quality improvement and leadership development are good practices to implement.

The typical organizational response to these and other frequent issues is to call for a ‘step change’ in the forms of ‘innovation’ (in strategy product or service) or ‘transformation’ (business, culture or process). Otherwise the response is a call for an increase in leadership itself and a subsequent pursuit of new leadership models that hopefully happen to catch the interest of the organization’s senior managers.

While all of these responses and approaches are useful to a point, any real whole-system change that is both sustainable and wise requires leaders who are authentically connected deeply within themselves, to their staff, and to the communities they touch. In other words, this requires wise leaders who are integrated across their head, heart and gut brains; leaders who are neurologically integrated. By aligning their conscious and unconscious intuitive abilities, they are able to harness the innate wisdom of their head, heart and gut intelligences for powerful and generative decision-making.

Dr David Dotlich

In their popular leadership book, ‘Head, Heart & Guts– How the World’s Best Companies Develop Complete Leaders’, leadership mavens David Dotlich, Peter Cairo and Stephen Rhinesmith make the case that leaders who operate only from the head are what they consider ‘incomplete leaders’. To truly thrive and lead successfully in today’s complex social and business environments, ‘whole leaders’ must learn to tap into the innate intelligence of their head, heart and guts.

Martin Linsky

Backing this up, in a recent TEDx presentation, Marty Linsky, co-author of several books on adaptive leadership along with Ronald Heifetz, explicitly states that “technical leadership is from the head, and adaptive leadership is from heart and gut”

Generative Wisdom and Generative Leadership

Adaptive and generative leadership requires integration across all three brains to bring the greatest possible intelligence to bear in the organization. It also requires the multiple brains be aligned through their Highest Expressions so that generative wisdom emerges in the leader’s actions, decisions and ways of being.

Generative wisdom is wisdom that is enacted; it is wisdom that is inculcated and behaviourally practiced in the way the leader lives their life. And for wisdom to be generative it needs to be creative, compassionate and courageous.

Generative wisdom is a wisdom that is holistic and transformational. It continually transforms who you are, how you see the world and how you relate to it. In essence, generative wisdom is about continually emerging your highest sense of self through the pragmatics of daily living. And for leaders, this includes the way you are leading your organization, your industry, and the wider communities you impact.

The latest findings in Neuroscience show we have three functioning brains in our head, heart and gut respectively. Using these findings as the basis for further behavioural modelling research, we have discovered patterns of competencies that are foundational to adaptive and generative leadership. We have also developed a body of techniques and processes for aligning and harnessing the wisdom of the three brains which we call ‘multiple brain integration techniques’, or mBIT for short.

mBIT provides leaders with a range of simple and pragmatic tools and methods for engaging and developing the head, heart and gut intelligences of every individual and team within an organization.

Trainers in the UK & Ireland specialising in leadership development and mBIT Decision Making can be found here