The ground-breaking view of neurosciences on leadership and trust

Our world needs leaders who are experts in developing and nurturing trust. Nowadays, we are much more aware of how important the concept of trust in the workplace is. We need to work and live in an environment where we feel secure. Although through the years, a great many books have been written about leadership and trust, I am convinced that neurosciences offer new perspectives.

Building trust

It takes our brain just a few milliseconds to decide whether we trust or mistrust someone. This first judgment stands until new information changes our perception of this person. The fact is that the brain is continually evaluating others based on attitude, appearance, behaviour, voice, content of interaction, and many other aspects. As this is an extremely rapid process, it is often very complicated to pinpoint why you trust someone, or not.

Oxytocin: the neurotransmitter of trust

Scientific research has documented the existence of a substance called oxytocin. Oxytocin helps the brain feel secure with strangers. Childbirth is one of the times that the production of this hormone is very high, which explains the sudden boost in the mother-child relationship when a child is born.

Oxytocin can also play a major role in the development of trust in the workplace. There too, new relationships are formed, comparable to the new mother-child relationship. Establishing new relationships goes hand in hand with the increase of trust, or mistrust. Research shows that oxytocin reduces the activity of the amygdala, and the amygdala is the centre of fear and anxiety.

What is it a manager can do? What is the role of the manager?

Now that you know how the brain works, you can easily influence trust in a positive way. It is a subject I have written about extensively in my book “leadership, from power to strength.

  • Make the other person feel safe. The brain has survival as a top priority. When a person eliminates or reduces unsafe elements, this makes others feel he can be trusted. Threats can involve not only physical threats but also anxiety about the future, change of status, et cetera.
  • Demonstrate honesty. Deceit is an approach that sets off the alarm bell of the brain. Practicing what you preach promotes a feeling of security. Saying one thing and doing the other creates insecurity which triggers an instinctive response of the brain.
  • Giving attention. When you are having a conversation, are you always fully attentive to the other, or do your thoughts wander? Do you really look the other in the eye? Is your attention focused on the other? Releasing oxytocin requires paying attention and looking each other in the eye. It’s crucial to really listen to what the other has to say. Make sure that when you talk to someone, you show a real interest in their motivation.
  • Have meals together. Research shows that if you eat together, oxytocin levels increase. So managers, share a meal with your co-workers, or even better, cook them a meal every once in a while.
  • Be aware of mirror neurons. When we look at someone, in our brain as well as in the brain of the other person, similar parts are activated. This is done by mirror neurons. No matter how peaceful someone may appear, when he experiences anger, we experience the same emotion! So you cannot imitate trust. Our brain will see through imitation straight away. It’s not enough to just say “you can trust me”, a brain has to experience this trust. That why during my coaching sessions, we will be spending a lot of time and attention to interiorizing what is essential to you.


I am a great fan of hugging, and I understand more and more why this is the case. Touching is making contact and when you make contact, you produce oxytocin. It makes you feel good and then interconnectedness will flourish.

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