Creating effective leadership through chemistry

An awareness of our ancestral biochemistry can contribute to creating effective leadership.    In April 2014, I attended ‘The Science of Happiness’, an Academic Symposium held as part of Trinity College Dublin’s ‘Trinity Week’. As ‘The Happiness Speaker’ and author of ‘Recipe for Happiness’, I knew a thing or two about happiness already, but I am very hot on professional development so this was a series of lectures I didn’t want to miss. The fact that the Symposium took place in Dublin also ticked my ‘little happiness ingredients’ box (doing things you enjoy!).

One of the fascinating lectures I attended was ‘Creating Balance and Finding Happiness’ by Professor Helen Sheridan, Associate Professor of Natural Product Chemistry (School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Trinity College).

Professor Sheridan said that

“Humans have ups and downs because we’ve inherited the operating system of earlier mammals.”

Hormones that originally existed to serve primal purposes, rule our emotions.  Did you know, for example, that Apes groom each other to stimulate Oxytocin production? Their bullying/domineering behaviour increases their serotonin levels. Teasing termites out of their mounds stimulate dopamine. These are the ‘happy behaviours’ of Apes.

Hormones and creating effective leadership

Let’s look at two hormones: Oxytocin and Cortisol


Is also known as ‘the stress hormone’. When our cortisol levels are too high, we suffer increased anxiety and stress as well as a whole range of other conditions


Is ‘the trust hormone’. It is linked to sexual activity and intimacy and is a ‘feel-good’ hormone.  It is a “feel-good” hormone.

Oxytocin metabolises faster than Cortisol and both hormones are highly relevant in the context of conversations managers have with their teams. Positive conversations and sentiments stimulate Oxytocin production, whereas negative ones stimulate Cortisol production. The latter can then result in negative comments being perceived as even more negative than they actually are and soon a spiral of negativity ensues in the workplace.

According to the authors:

“This “chemistry of conversations” is why it’s so critical for all of us –especially managers – to be more mindful about our interactions. Behaviors that increase cortisol levels reduce what I call “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ,”. Or a person’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others. Behaviors that spark oxytocin, by contrast, raise C-IQ.”

Happy Hormones

In her Trinity Week lecture, Professor Sheridan mentioned a number of ‘Happy Hormones’ (including the ‘happy behaviours’ of Apes referenced above). You can read about these hormones in detail in this article from Psychology Today.

Let’s look at some of these in more detail (we’ve already covered Oxytocin above) and how better leadership can stimulate their production. If you need more evidence to support the importance of promoting happiness in employees. 

Here are some ideas to help you lead with hormones in mind


Is ‘the confidence hormone’. What language can you use, as a leader, to help your employees feel confident? What responsibilities can you entrust them with to help them build their confidence levels?


Is ‘the reward hormone’. What rewards are important to your employees? What truly rocks their worlds? Build these into your organisation’s reward system and your employees will work harder in order to stimulate the production of dopamine as they’ll feel good when they get the rewards!


Is the ‘anti-anxiety’ hormone.  At Trinity College Dublin, Pharmacy students were made to attend compulsory Yoga and Meditation workshops to study the impact on their happiness.  Also to illustrate to them the importance of not solely relying on pills to treat patients.   60 participants were monitored over 6 weeks.  The participants showed an increase in GABA, leading to increased calmness and relaxation. At the end of the study, 58% perceived increased happiness and nearly 80% felt more peaceful.

Can you provide Yoga and Meditation sessions in lunch breaks at work? Can you give your employees a Yoga Club or Gym membership so they can undertake these activities outside of work?   Incidentally, Gym Membership would also help with the production of endorphins, ‘the pain killing hormones’, whose production is stimulated by exercise.

Of course, each of the hormones above can have undesirable effects if their levels are too high. It’s all about balance. It’s the ‘happy hormones’ that need a bit of extra help.

Focus on activities that stimulate the production of these ‘happy hormones’ and you will have a happier, more confident, more peaceful team working for you. Productivity will increase, their problem-solving abilities will soar, their health will improve (and with that – as well as their increased happiness – absenteeism will decrease) and your organisation will go from strength to strength, with a clear impact on the bottom line!


Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay

Frederika Roberts – The Happiness Speaker

Inspiring you to achieve more success through the application of positive psychology principles.

Frederika Roberts is an ordinary person who has experienced extraordinary events. In business, she has learnt at least as much from her mistakes as from the things she got right. Her personal life has been a roller-coaster of emotions, yet Frederika feels exceptionally lucky and describes herself as ‘fundamentally happy’. Now she shares her poignant, emotional story and her ‘Recipe for Happiness’ with audiences and readers to help them be happier, more resilient and more successful at achieving their goals.

Born in Italy, of dual Italian and German nationality, Frederika moved to Luxembourg with her parents when she was two years old. She moved to the UK in 1990 to study at the University of Bradford, where she met her husband. After obtaining her BSc(Hons) in Business and Management, Frederika undertook post-graduate studies in education and became a qualified teacher. Over the years, she has worked in education, held customer services and sales roles and worked in recruitment. She has set up and run her own businesses, managed teams and worked for herself.

Frederika is a professional speaker, the Author of ‘Recipe for Happiness’ and a coach & trainer. She is a Professional Member of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) of the UK & Ireland and is joint Vice-President of its Yorkshire region.