Whenever I’m talking to people about what I do, they often ask if NeuroLeadership is similar to NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). It’s a buzzword that’s been around for a while now and it’s an easy anchor for people to rely on when they’re thinking about neuro-related programs. While, yes, it is true that both NeuroLeadership and NLP have “neuro” in their titles, they are quite distinct in many ways.

Many people think that because NLP has “Neuro” in the title, it is linked to neuroscience. It is not in the strictest sense. It is about how the brain works and how we process information – just not from neuroscientific perspective of looking into the brain. Rather, NLP comes from techniques originating in the fields of therapy and linguistics.

NLP originated in the early 1970s when Richard Bandler, a student at University of California, thought he noted patterns in the speech of Fritz Perls, a gestalt therapist. He approached one of his linguistic lecturers, John Grinder, and they studied the speech patterns of Perls and the family therapist Virginia Satir, both considered highly successful therapists. This led to their formulation of the Meta Model.

The Meta Model asserts that all language is based on certain personal assumptions and the information that we receive is always generalized, deleted, or distorted by our individual perceptions of reality. This model aimed to “get through” whatever had been warped by our perceptions and get to “the deeper structure” of language. Their focus at this stage was on improving therapy practices with one of the driving premises asserting that the “magic of therapy” had structure to it and anyone could learn it.

Together, they coined the title of NLP to denote their belief in a connection between neurological processes (“neuro”), language (“linguistic”), and behavioral patterns that have been learned through experience (“programming”). They believed that this connection could be organized into an easily applied structure to achieve specific goals in life.

However, NLP never did make it fully into the psychological and therapeutic world. This was mainly because it lacked the required empirical and scientific research to validate it. It has since been discredited as a pseudoscience, with the scientific reviews stating that it is based on outdated metaphors that are inconsistent with current neurological theory and contains numerous factual errors (von Bergen, et al. 1997; Druckman 2004). While it is true that NLP has some apt approaches for dealing with personal issues and gives good sound advice on communication, language, getting to the core of the problems, and self-help, it leaves a lot to be desired.

NeuroLeadership, and neuroscience in general, is on the opposite end of the spectrum to NLP. Neuroscience is fully scientific, and is supported and validated by a wide range of empirical and scientific research. Neuroscience comes form a variety of scientific disciplines, from biological functions and analysis to chemical functions, hormonal release, surgery, etc. NeuroLeadership, in particular, is based in social-cognitive neuroscience, neurobiology, and the social sciences at a very controlled and specialized level.

The insights that neuroscience give us are much broader, have wider implications, and are scientifically sound. While there are critics who question whether having scientific brain data to back up what was previously believed adds any value, it is undeniable that the field of NeuroLeadership is more scientifically valid than NLP.

If you want to learn more about NeuroLeadership and its neuroscientific roots, check out my previous blog post: Why NeuroLeadership? As always, let me know what you think!

How do YOU want to thrive?