The First Step in Managing Your Own Brain

Name it to tame it.” —Dr. Dan Siegel

As a manager, you’ve probably noticed you need to bring your brain to work. Your whole brain. And there’s no greater project than getting your brain to do what you want it to, when you want it to.

The problem is: when we started our jobs as managers, no one taught us about how our brains work and how to use them to meet the new challenges that we would face in our roles as leaders. And facing the present circumstances of doing business and leading a team during these difficult times, it’s never been more important for us to get control of what’s happening within.

As managers, we want to know: “How can I get my brain to work the way I want it to? How can I coach myself to get the results that I really want?”

The quote from Dan Siegel above has served me well in learning to coach myself, and it’s going to be essential in your self-coaching as a manager. After all, the first step in taming any process or system (including those running within your very own brain), is awareness. And if you can put a name on what’s happening, the mystery of how things are turning out the way they are starts to disappear. As we learn more about ourselves, we can begin to play a more active role in managing our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

So, what areas of your brain are the major players in your work?

Your Brain Stem

Let’s start from the bottom up, that is, from the simplest brain areas to the most complex. This area of the brain stem is approximately marked in the picture above by the red robot.

Your brain stem is like a well-programmed machine, controlling basic functions in your body, directing your attention to important things, and automatically responding to discomfort in order to protect you.

This brain area can show up in your work as the feeling of anxiety that rushes over you when you hear an email notification come through when you’re already overwhelmed, when you gasp or have momentary shortness of breath at noticing someone on your team who isn’t following the new protocols, or as the increased heart rate you experience when your boss has a scowl on their face.

The programs that run the ways the brain stem acts can be hard to erase, but definitely are subject to change by the stronger brain areas I’ll tell you about next.

Your Limbic Area

The next area on our tour of your brain is the limbic area, indicated by the ugly green monster in the picture above. Although this area is the source of positive emotions, in our coaching, we usually notice it showing up as stress, anxiety, and fear. It can be the area that is hyperactive when you are unable to sleep at night because you are worrying about a situation at work, when you’re anxious about a meeting with your boss that’s still days away, or as the frustration you feel when dealing with a member of your team who shows up with a bad attitude. 

Even though the limbic area can cause us to have some really bad days, it is subject to the control of the most powerful area of your brain.

Your Prefrontal Cortex

Your prefrontal cortex (PFC), is the superhero of your brain, and is marked as such in the picture above. This is the area of your brain where “you” live. Your PFC is the place where executive functions of planning, creating, and organizing take place. It shows up when you intentionally take a deep breath to calm yourself before an important meeting, when you take time to reflect objectively on how your team is performing and what you can do to support your staff, and when you set aside time to reflect on how your day went and what you learned to help you improve in the future.

Your PFC can run the show for your limbic area, even allowing you to intentionally change your own state of mind and mood in any given moment (by the way, I love helping my clients do this in our sessions). Your PFC can even edit the programming of your brain stem as you develop new habits and determine new areas of focus.

Obviously, we could go on and on talking about your brain and how it affects your work as a leader.

For now, I’d like to invite you to simply begin to take notice of what you experience internally throughout the day and think about which area of your brain is showing up moment by moment. Of course, while it’s interesting to notice these brain areas, they are all constantly working together as you show up to work. And they each play a part in allowing you to become even better.

Coach yourself to strengthen your awareness of each of these brain areas. Remember that increased awareness will allow you to manage what’s going on inside your brain. Then you can put it to use in showing up as the hero you want to be at work.

At the close of the day, take a few minutes to reflect on the answers to these questions:

In what one or two ways did I notice my brain stem working for me today?

In what ways did I notice my limbic area supporting me today?

In what important ways did I notice my prefrontal cortex showing up today?


If you’d love to take this conversation further and improve your self-coaching skills, check out my free course for superhero managers at

At Even Better, we know being a manager is the hardest job there is. Feeling stuck and overwhelmed is the enemy. If you’re ready to get more out of work and life by showing up as a Hero Manager, send us a message by clicking HERE.

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