Why Some Human Brains Become Leaders, While Others Followers?

The human brain is a biological pattern making machine. At birth, a baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons, roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way. These billions of neurons in human brain have extraordinary capacity to construct and weave strings of useful information patterns which gets ever more complex as cognitive thought process increases. These neural patterns help the brain to recognize, organize, store and retrieve information patterns when needed. It has been noticed that leaders engage in activities which provide the time, space and structure to facilitate the construction of such neural patterns. People who are open minded to experience new concepts or procedures and who are exposed to more rich information sources such as print, television, news media, internet, seminars and interactive conferences — are able to build more rich and dense neural networks and hence reveal themselves as natural leaders. On the other hand, people who are averse to new models, metaphors, information, concepts or interactive discussions, remain as followers.

Human intelligence is reflective in nature. Reflection is the ability of the brain to consciously manipulate the given information and rehearse options prior to action. When guessing well is the game and pressure is on the brain, people who display reflective intelligence and foresight in thought and action, have distinct advantage as leaders. Such people have higher survival instinct and more mindful disposition. The brain of such people spontaneously responds to problems and obstacles by retrieving and contemplating information which is relevant to action options. Journal writing, meditation, case study analysis and investigative learning enhance reflective intelligence by many folds. People with leadership qualities have been found to be doing these activities more often than others who remain followers.

Reflective intelligence of human brain has also been found to increase by provoking deliberate critical and creative thinking. Provoking critical analysis and creative thinking engages natural ability of the human brain to detect relationships between seemingly unrelated objects, link seemingly unrelated information into useful revelation, and create innovative products with new information. While people with leadership tendencies have been extensively found to be in indulging in lateral & critical thinking, innovative inventions, and analyzing errors in positions by interactive discussions, followers have often been found to tread the beaten path and avoiding social interacting on controversial positions.

A capacity for reflective intelligence does not translate into intelligent behavior and thought automatically. The constructive and reflective dimensions of human intelligence need to be consciously cultivated and continuously exercised if its true potential is to be realized. The constructive and reflective intelligence have to developed and refined to a degree where the person is naturally inclined to use it every time, in his every action and thought. Leaders have a natural disposition to cultivate and maximize such constructive and reflective intelligence by indulging in meta-cognition, reflection on specific thinking strategies, seeking social opportunities for sharing of challenging ideas and optimizing physiological intelligence by choosing to exercise, eat only healthy food, and live in conducive environment which allows adequate light, fresh air and no distractions.

Followers don’t care what their thinking strategies or general disposition is. They do not feel the need to acquire the knowledge about nurturing intelligence. They react to situations in their environment by spontaneous reaction, without applying critical thinking and without analyzing their position. They would more often indulge in gossip, rather than meaningful exchange of ideas on challenging topics. They have less tolerance for views of others which are divergent from their own. They give a damn to what they eat or space where they live, they live only for sensory pleasures which provide immediate gratification.

Emotion involves the processing of sensory information through neural and glandular systems that alter mind and body states while arousing the prefrontal cortex to what is worth thinking about. Emotion is closely connected to arousal and operation of physiological, social and reflective capacity of the human brain. The brain of humans with leadership qualities are conscious of their emotions and are able to control and mediate their responses to their own emotions. This is an essential quality which differentiates leaders from followers. This is also called Emotional Intelligence.

The brain of leaders is able to harness the power of emotion which helps the leaders to make judgments after receiving stimuli from environment and get motivated by challenges. The leader’s brain is continuously screening sensory information, guided by emotions, to understand which task is worthy of attention and commitment of its infinite resources. In other words, when the human brain of people with leadership qualities gets emotionally excited about some task, it helps the leader to efficiently engage in accumulation of knowledge about that task, to engage in meaningful social interaction to find other human brains with common goals, and to engage in reflective reasoning to solve problems encountered in accomplishing that task — all this leads to enhanced physiological growth and refinement of neural networks in human brain. Thus, it can be inferred that brain of humans with leadership traits have more refined neural networks.


Gardner, H. (1997). Leading Minds – An Anatomy of Leadership. London: Harpers Collins.

Dickmann, M. H. & Blair, N.S. (2001). Connecting Leadership to the Brain. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Simi Agarwal, DDS

Simi Agarwal, DDS, is a dental surgeon and published medical writer from the University of Pune, Medical & Dental College and Hospital. She is certified by the General Dental Council, London and is a member of the Indian Medical (Dental) Association. She has been a regular contributor to several medical websites and blogs.
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