Foundational Principle #2: Understanding Emotional Drivers

Leadership for Lawyers


The following post is an excerpt from “Eve of Influence: Keys to unlocking exceptional leadership in women”. In this book, Leadership Zone Founder and Director Liz McCoy provides a practical guide to increasing leadership expertise and how to foster the development of compassionate, kind and connected workplaces. Eve of Influence is for the women who are fully committed to their leadership journey.  For women who are willing to go deep, and work on themselves for the betterment of those they influence and guide.  

In this post, Liz breaks down the importance of understanding emotional drivers – the second of the three foundational principles. In it, Liz discusses how we use our natural biology to our advantage and adjust our behaviour accordingly.   

If you would like to read the entire book, I invited you to download it here.


As humans, we are entirely driven by emotion. Our emotions guide, impact and influence everything we do (whether we are conscious of it or not). My intention is to continue to raise our consciousness and awareness of how our brains’ work so we can use to our natural biology to our advantage,

Our neurochemistry, that is our unique blend of neurotransmitters and hormones, underpins our behaviour.

Most of us are aware of our fight or flight response … the increased heart rate, sweaty palms; that surge-of-energy feeling. It’s a key evolutionary survival mechanism priming ourselves for imminent danger, and our blood stream becomes flooded with cortisol and adrenaline.

But it’s not just imminent danger that triggers the release of these hormones. It is our perception of danger …off-handed criticism, rejection or exclusion, and simple fears all result in our bodies producing higher levels of cortisol.

Whilst serving to establish our defend-and-protect behaviours, cortisol shuts down the thinking centers of the brain. We become more reactive and sensitive, and often perceive greater judgment and negativity than actually exist, with the effects lasting up to 24 hours.

Serotonin and oxytocin have the opposite effect. Often referred to as the ‘happy chemicals’ serotonin and oxytocin contribute to our good mood and general well-being. These elevate our capacity and willingness to communicate, collaborate and trust others.

Because we now have such a mature understanding of our neurochemical engineering, we can actually trick our neurochemistry with very little effort.

Close your eyes and image for the next ten seconds that you have just won $4.7million in the lottery. J

(Yes, you really need to do it)

Did you feel it? That visceral excitement?

Did you smile?

Congratulations!  You are responsible for the self-regulation and release of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin into your system. You flooded your blood stream with happiness.

Imagine a leader who takes responsibility for; actively engages; and works with people’s emotional energy. One who intentionally and confidently sets out to increase happiness in those around them.

Happy, content and valued people have higher cognitive function – their brains operate more efficiently, and they can actually think better.

I’m sure you will agree that a team of joyous people are more motivated, more engaged and more productive. A leader who understands and works with the emotional charge of those around them sets herself apart as a leader and within the space of leadership expertise.