See if you can get your brain wrapped around this one.

Two researchers have written a book that claims there is a neuroscience to leadership, one that allows managers to move from "good" to "great" by retraining our thought patterns, nurturing emotions, and training yourself to respond with empathy.

Dr. Nikolaos Dimitriadis is a management consultant, speaker, and director of a The University of Sheffield International Faculty--City College in South East Europe. Dr. Alexandros Psychogios is an associate professor at Hull University Business School in the UK and a popular speaker and consultant. Their book,  Neuroscience for Leaders, debuted last month and presents a novel new approach.

The idea is based on the view in neuroscience that the brain is primarily "a social organ" and that a great leader views the role as one of empathy.

The researchers say great leaders can learn to understand emotions in the workplace, to become more aware of behavioral changes and create an environment that relies on empathy with employees. The core concept is to learn from every interaction, deciding which emotions to evoke in a given situation. For example, a great leader would learn how to build trust within a team rather than relying on older techniques of instilling fear or only providing top-level analysis of a situation.

"Emotions have evolved to serve us and all of them provide real value for leadership," says Dr. Dimitriadis, speaking for both researchers. "The person, the situation and the preferred outcome will determine which emotion, or set of emotions, will help the most. Emotions are the secret weapon of great leaders."

The techniques they describe are directly opposed to the common leadership technique of spreadsheet-based decision-making, an older leadership model that says by purely intellectual decisions you can lead effectively.  

"A healthy brain is always emotional," says Dr. Psychogios. "Great leaders understand that the brain is a social organ. The emotional brain is crucial for guiding our decisions and behaviors and it is always on duty. Instead of suppressing, ignoring and even loathing it, it would be more productive for leaders to accept it, understand it and embrace it."

Dr. Dimitriadis says the current leadership model so often used in companies is to attempt to be 100% rational at all times, but that state of mind is considered psychotic.

He argues that empathy is talked about in companies but rarely practiced in management. Managers desire to lead with more emotion, but scanning through spreadsheets and charts all day, responding to stress by becoming more analytical, and overemphasizing certain emotions--such as happiness or fear of failure--make leaders only partially effective.

The researchers say a better approach, which they call Brain Adaptive Leadership, is a sign of great leadership because it encourages empathy and emotional connection.

"The thoughts we make, the tasks that we preoccupy our brain with, the way we deal with biases, the people we spend most of our day with, the physical environment at work, being aware of our emotional styles, and finding the right purpose for us and for our team are a few of the important elements in our model," says Dr. Psychogios, who explained that the leadership models used in the past do not match up with current understanding of behavioral and brain sciences. There is a better understanding today about how emotions drive business decisions.

The book quotes over 200 scientific papers that show how the technique described in their book have replaced the more data-driven and analytical approach to leadership. Part of the neuroscience they describe is learning to adapt and emphasize the emotional side of leadership as it relates to all company interactions, rather than trying to remove them or nullify them.

They argue that empathy in leadership creates stronger connections within teams, a higher confidence level, and better long-term business outcomes for everyone involved. It's a novel approach, one that fits with modern brain science like a glove.

Published on: Jun 3, 2016
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