Jan transforms leadership and management from a neuroscience perspective believing that with a growth mindset, failing is just a learning experience. Work with the functioning of the brain, not against it.

Throughout her career, Jan has helped leaders run better businesses. She has a qualification in NeuroLeadership and in 2009 she started to use the findings from neuroscience and other behavioural sciences to back up the advice and learning materials she uses.

She has written books to help leaders to apply these finding to their leadership and their business. Her consultancy, Head Heart + Brain, is dedicated to improving business practice through applying the findings from neuroscience.

Working with the rational business strategy and goals –

  • the head – with the emotions focusing on how people connect to each other and to ideas
  • the heart
  • the brain – using the findings from neuroscience and other behavioural sciences to inform our work.The business can improve the way people in organisations lead and manage by applying the science because people make better leaders and are more successful when they understand how the brain reacts to change. They can then manage their people in a way that works with the functioning of the brain, not against it.

When brain-savvy techniques are applied we see more engagement, productivity, and personal awareness.

Jan, welcome to the Leadership Interview

How do you start your day?

I usually try to follow my own advice and do the ‘thinking work’ early in the morning, (I’m a very early bird and am usually at my desk by 6 am).

This is also the time I talk to my daughter it was an important connection when we were writing our book Brain-savvy Woman.

Early morning is when the best thinking was done.

What was your first job and what is the worst job you’ve ever done?

My very first job was picking tomatoes one summer. I was so proud of the 13 shillings and 6 pence I earned.

My first corporate job was for Rank Organisation in Learning and Development, it became a lifelong interest.

My worst job was also my best. It was when I was in the city and was part of a small team selling the Equities research and trading business for a major bank.

It was incredibly stressful and my marriage didn’t make it out the other side but I learnt so much doing that job, both about myself and the business.

What advice would you give to others about furthering their careers?

Have a clear sense of purpose. It doesn’t have to be lofty but it should be true for you.

This is especially important for women. We get pulled in so many directions and have to contend with many stereotypical expectations.

Knowing your purpose and living to it will keep you on track and motivated.

Who inspires you and why?

My children. I know that’s a bit of a soft think to say in this day and age but they have ‘turned out’ to be truly wonderful people.

My daughter is feisty and ambitious as well as being a great ‘people person.’ My son is very intelligent, thoughtful and a good friend to me and others.

Qualities I deeply admire.

Do you think a talent to lead is nature or nurture?

Definitely, nurture and the neuroscience research would back that up.

There are no measurable differences in the brain that account for feminine and masculine traits. Rather we are socialised to ‘perform’ to the stereotype and that includes in most organisations a masculine leadership model.

Neuro-plasticity and our ability to mindfully change supports the notion we can learn leadership BUT we also have to contend with these deeply ingrained stereotypes which make it hard for women and men who don’t match the masculine model of a leader espoused in organisations.

Leadership is what you do that inspires and help others take action to be the best they can be. Anyone can do that when they engage with another person and we can learn to do it even better.

Leadership is an on-going learning.

How can a leader fail? Do you have a personal example?

Of course, we all fail. Me as often as anyone. But if we have a growth mindset, failure is just a learning experience.

The important thing is to take the lesson, apply it to our next attempt and try again.

What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Oh goodness! I hate that question! I believe there are no permanent strengths or weaknesses, it’s how we respond and manage the triggers, context and challenges which life throws at us.

On some days, I may be clear thinking, objective and decisive on another wishy-washy and procrastinate.

What’s important is to be able to step back and understand why that’s happening and how I can get into the frame of mind needed to deal with the situation. Sometimes I can and sometimes I am rubbish at doing that.

I’m more likely to be able to step back when I have had a good night’s sleep, I’m in a good mood and not too stressed but there is also an edge or strong motivation to achieve.

What do you find most challenging about being a leader?

Managing my need to be perfect.

It’s a trait that goes way back. It gets in the way of empowering others, and trusting myself. It’s less prevalent when the above is in place, i.e. sleep, good mood, etc.

What are you most proud of?

Well in my personal life, my children.

In business, the work we do for clients. We (my two business partners and I) have worked hard to develop an approach which is client centered where we forge a partnership and co-create.

When I’m working with a client in a true partnership, we are both equally invested in the outcome and interested in making a difference.

There are few better feelings than getting the outcome you have both worked towards.

What’s your biggest self- indulgence?

Well, I am partial to the odd glass of red wine and a piece of very good cheese. I also love good coffee.

Maybe I should just say good food. But I’m incredibly fussy. I don’t drink coffee unless its Italian style espresso for example, and then only one or two cups a day or the novelty of the taste wears off.

Now you have asked that question I am thinking of all sorts of self-indulgences but I’ll stick with what I have said so as not to over indulge!

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