Brain Rules and Stress

I’ve been reading a book called Brain Rules by John Medina, and I heartily recommend it to … well, everyone.

This book helps you understand what makes the small gloppy blob in your head do its miraculous work.  It also helps you understand how we can make it work even better.

One of the “brain rules” is:  Stressed brains don’t learn well. In fact, stressed brains are crippled brains. The chemistry of stress is such that it greatly inhibits our ability to solve long-term problems, to use our higher cognitive powers, to listen, to talk, to do our math homework and the grocery shopping.  Almost everything about our higher brain functions is damaged – short and long-term – by the presence of stress.

And this got me to thinking about good and bad managers.

When I founded Path Forward, one of the driving ideals was that people who work for good leaders have better lives than people who work for bad leaders. As author Parker Palmer wrote, “A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live – conditions that can either be as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell.”

In founding Path Forward, I wanted more people to experience heaven and fewer to experience hell. Reading Brain Rules has helped reconnect me with this original ideal, because good leaders help moderate and even reduce stress in the lives of their employees. Working for a bad boss is a stressful experience, and it makes people sad, angry and ultimately sick.

Organizations must do everything they can to insure that their employees are given the opportunity to work for good bosses.  What’s at stake is their mental, physical, and emotional health … and thus the employee’s ability to perform … and thus the health and success of the organization as a whole.


  • Read Brain Rules, by John Medina.  Heeding its wisdom will make you a better leader.
  • How much of your employees’ stress is the fault of their managers?  There’s only one way to find out — ask them.  Conduct a 360, or informal conversations, or employee roundtables.  Find a way that works for your organization.

About the Author

Jim Hessler
Jim Hessler bootstrapped his way from retail work into a successful career as salesman, sales manager, Fortune 500 executive, and corporate turnaround engineer. Along the way, he developed The Leadership Platform, a proven model for training managers to become sustainably better leaders. It became the basis of his leadership primer, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guild to Building Your Leadership Platform. Jim is the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development Services.

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