Neuro-hormones a managers’ help or hindrance

I would like to invite you to watch a video of a lecture given by Simon Sinek. (the link is at the bottom of this blog). The video is entitled “why leaders eat last”, and is based on his last book. In the video, he explains in a very inspirational manner how our neuro-hormones can influence our leadership style. But he also illustrates how we can use these neuro-hormones to become better leaders. First and foremost, it is an appeal to become a manager who takes good care of his people and provides a safe working environment.

I have made a summary of this video, and I have added remarks drawn from my personal experience with neuro-leadership.

Two groups of hormones

In the video, two types of neuro-hormones are distinguished: the ego hormones and social hormones. With the first type, you don’t need other people. You can produce this hormone all by yourself. The risk this type of hormone bears is that it is highly addictive and it makes you egotistical.
The second group of neuro-hormones, the social hormones, effect interconnection. In order to produce these hormones, you need other people.

Ego hormones

Endorphins temper pain. In general, your body produces endorphins through pain and stress. Major physical activity also causes the body to feel ‘pain’, whereupon the body reacts by producing endorphins. We all know this from the world of sports. If an athlete exerts himself over longer periods of time, he will produce endorphins so he won’t experience as much pain. It can even produce a type of “high” at times, it produces a nice rush, which can become addictive. Endorphins are also produced when you are in love. It reduces fear. When you laugh a lot, you produce endorphins. Finally,  endorphins are essential to survive, they boost your stamina.


The second ego hormone is called dopamine. Dopamine is also called “happiness hormone” or “pleasure substance”, which should come as no surprise as dopamine plays a predominant role in your brain with respect to the reward system. Once the brain produces a certain amount of dopamine, this gives you a wonderful sensation of joy and pleasure, the reward after physical exercise or eating certain foods. It is produced in particular when you have attained a certain goal, for instance when you have finalized your to-do list. The book “Getting things done” by David Allen is a tribute to dopamine. You are capable of getting something done, so this releases dopamine into your system.

The ego hormones have to disadvantages. Firstly, they are addictive. Secondly, they promote individualism. In companies where these hormones are rampant, there is much competition, individual accomplishments are the rule and people are goal orientated. Numbers count!

Simon Sinek adds a little sidestep by explaining why we are all so addicted to our smartphone. It’s because of dopamine. For many of us, the first thing we do when we wake up is to check our phone because then, in Simon’s view, a bit of dopamine is produced!

Social hormones

In addition to ego-hormones, there are also the social neuro-hormones serotonin and oxytocin.

These hormones are produced only when you work with others or are in the company of others.


Serotonin is the leadership hormone. It is activated when we take care of others because if we take care of others, others will take care of us. It’s all about recognition of and appreciation by others. With higher serotonin levels, trust grows.

Serotonin also promotes interconnectedness between people, you want to make the others proud.

For leadership, a higher level of serotonin means that there is mutual trust within a team, therefore the team works together better and produces a better product.

In companies embodying this leadership culture, the managers are generous, set the tone and, to speak in military terms, ‘eat last’. Within these companies, leadership is not considered a status but as responsibility. These leaders feel responsible for the wellbeing of the co-workers and the company as a whole.


Oxytocin is called the hug hormone or love hormone. It’s level increases upon physical contact such as shaking hands or physical touch. Interaction with another person is enough to produce this hormone, for instance when you ask a colleague whether you can assist them with anything. This hormone promotes the feeling of love and trust.

I mentor many companies, and I couldn’t help but notice that in many companies communication is only done by e-mail. Even people sitting next to each other interact through e-mail. This is such a waste!! Paying your colleagues just a little attention can make a great difference. It may cost some time and energy, but you will be getting so much in return! Increased oxytocin produces creativity, interconnectedness, a healthier life! Oxytocin also makes you feel you belong.


Towards the end of his lecture, Simon discusses yet another hormone, the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a survival hormone which, unfortunately, is also produced when you experience stress. If you don’t have a sense of security in your workplace, you produce cortisol. This hormone makes you paranoid. Your heartbeat soars and you start to worry. Even your immune system deteriorates. More cortisol means less oxytocin production. Unfortunately, some managers don’t create a safe environment, so that employees produce cortisol and their performance is compromised.


In company with little mutual trust, people are merely surviving. Managers in the Netherlands, take care of your employees and ensure that the working environment is safe, so performance is up, people go to work happy and will feel proud of the company they work for!

Simon Sinek: Why Leaders Eat Last from 99U on Vimeo.

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