7 Minutes to Becoming a More Conscious Leader: Dr. Evian Gordon Interviews Dr. Daniel Friedland

Dr. Daniel Friedland is interviewed by Dr. Evian Gordon, one of the country’s leading neuroscientists, for his Brain Revolution series.

Discover the one quality that leaders need to become more conscious leaders.

Then, in under 7 minutes, Dr. Danny summarizes his 400 page book on Conscious Leadership, called, Leading Well From Within.

Click the video to watch it now!


Or if you prefer to read, here’s the transcript:



Evian Gordon:            Welcome to the series on the brain revolution. I’d like to introduce you to my intellectual and spiritual brother, Dr. Daniel Friedland. He’s a physician and wrote one of the first books on evidence-based medicine. He’s also the founding chairman of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine. He’s the current co-chair of Conscious Capitalism in San Diego. [00:00:30] He’s the CEO of SuperSmartHealth and he’s one of the most sought after executive coaches in the United States where his passion is around his most recent book, which is, Leading Well From Within.

Daniel, it’s always a joy to do anything with you and I want to start off by asking you, what’s the one word that you think is the most important attribute for a brain-based [00:01:00] leader.

Daniel Friedland:            Ev, I think it’s awareness. Particularly when we’re talking about conscious leadership… conscious awareness.

What that involves is: leaders knowing how to fundamentally have the awareness of how to navigate their own internal stresses, to be able to focus on what really matters, to contribute to thriving in their own life and serving at a higher level in the lives of others.

Evian Gordon:            So, conscious awareness, okay. In seven [00:01:30] minutes, what is the essence of Leading Well From Within?

Daniel Friedland:            Well the premise of Leading Well From Within is: if you want to lead well … and when you talk about leadership, leadership is having the capacity to influence the character and behavior of others for good. Before you want to exert your influence in the world, the key is, we first need to know how to lead well from inside ourselves, so we can more effectively lead and transform the culture around us to deliver higher value in whatever [00:02:00] we do in the world.

What the book goes into: It sits first of all on the foundation of the science of leadership, showing the oscillation that we experience between two predominant mindsets when it comes to leadership. There’s a “low performance reactive mindset:” when we feel threatened by stress we’ll typically go into a survival state. As you say, safety first. Oftentimes that may be associated with low performance leadership characteristics. [00:02:30]

As opposed to having the capacity to lead from our higher selves, to lead from a “creative mindset.” What the book looks at first and foremost, it begins by looking at the science of this, tracking those two mindsets in terms of business performance.

Then I actually take those characteristics and I map them into how those characteristics match specific brain regions and networks or modalities within our brain that we all have. [00:03:00]

Then the third part is, how can we engage mindfulness as the foundation for conscious awareness?

To be able to more purposefully notice and choose where we want to focus our attention, to cultivate these qualities of high performance leadership, these qualities that are our ability to achieve:


  • strategic focus;
  • decision making;
  • to relate well to other people;
  • to engage with courageous authenticity;
  • to have systems awareness; and
  • concern for community. [00:03:30]

If you’re able to have great self-awareness, you can engage more fully and ultimately from a place where we, as leaders, serve them. We’re in service of something larger than ourselves.

Rather than the reactive mindset where we’re often in service of ourselves and we’re engaging in our own personal fight and flight behavior that triggers the fight and flight reactive behaviors of others.

I then introduce four key steps, that sit on the foundation of mindfulness, that will allow you to shift proactively between a reactive and a creative mindset. [00:04:00]

Very briefly, the first step is all about knowing fundamentally: You can’t effectively navigate your reactivity unless you can recognize it first. So I go into how do you go about recognizing your reactive sensations, thoughts, feelings and behaviors and when you notice that it’s doing more harm than good, to be able to more effectively take the edge off your reactivity within seconds.

This framework I work with, the overarching framework is called the 4 in 4 Framework. [00:04:30] It’s got four steps and then four components in each step.

So in step one, there’s four components to take in the edge off your reactivity. Step two is, you may be able to take the edge off your reactivity, but sometimes there are things that have their hooks in you. So step two digs below the reactive responses, looking at our underlying relationship with stress and self-doubt, and the triggers of stress and self-doubt that drive our reactivity to begin with.

This gets into the world of rational emotive behavioral therapy and I offer a way to reappraise your experience with stress. [00:05:00] I give you four key steps to root out the underlying triggers of stress and self-doubt that arise to begin with.

Now that we’re able to, in those first two steps, engage a greater sense of internal safety, I then go to step three, knowing that we can actually now more fully focus our attention on our higher level of Maslow’s [00:05:23] hierarchy, our love and belonging needs and our “what matters” needs.

So step three gets into focusing your energy and attention in cultivating creativity to optimize your health, relationships and meaning and significance in the work you’re doing. [00:05:30]

Then my favorite step is step four, because step four is a step that really catalyzes growth. It’s a step that fundamentally changes the most intimate part that drives your behavior, which is this chatty internal dialogue that chatters away at us, particularly under times of stress.

It goes, “What’s wrong with me?” [00:06:00] Or “What if …?” and all the bad things that could happen. “IF only …” and the regrets of our past. “What’s wrong with me?” and “What’s wrong with other people?”

That never really gets us to a very creative place, especially when we get highly threatened by stress. So here’s where I go into it and I’ve adapted the framework of evidence-based medicine to help transform your internal dialogue so you know how to ask better questions and are able to find better answers that you can trust. You can take better action in the stream of your inspiration to more fully transform your lives and the lives of others around us. [00:06:30]


Evian Gordon:            Beautiful. That’s a phenomenal summary. I loved reading the book and I was very touched also, Danny, by how personally you revealed yourself and the experiences that you had.

I want to end off by asking you a question about yourself if you don’t mind, which is is … There’s so many take-aways that you highlighted there very briefly and very succinctly that cut across the whole panoply of behavioral neuroscience and application. [00:07:00]

The question is, is … Two of the things that you’ve mentioned is this extraordinary central dynamic of being trapped in fight/ flight and pivoting into a more creative mindset, a more “cognitively flexible” mindset.

What have you personally found is the most helpful thing as a take-away …. That you’ve seen yourself and in neuro-leaders, best gets people out of that critical moment whereby you pivot into the fight/flight and stay there and become reactive or are able to move seamlessly into this cognitively flexible creative mindset? [00:07:30]

Daniel Friedland:            There’s a word that Adam Perlman, I heard him use a word, he’s at Duke [Center for Integrative Medicine], and he used a word called, “informed mindfulness.” [00:08:00]

For me, it’s on the foundation of mindfulness. It’s the ability to stop and to be aware, literally from the hub of your awareness, to notice the thoughts, sensations and emotions that are coursing through your field of awareness.

Then to proactively choose how you want to respond instead of react.

Each of the steps that I mentioned, each of them actually inform how you do that. [00:08:30]

For example, when you go into this reactive place, just the aspect of pausing allows you to come off those short track, high processing speed-reactive fibers to allow your pre-frontal cortex and your high cortical circuits to come online to give you the capacity for emotional regulation, to give you the capacity to “pivot and choose.”

Then one of the other steps, and I won’t go through them all again, but this notion of asking a better question. [00:09:00]

The notion of ask a better question because ultimately so many of us when we say “What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with other people?” That automatic negative thinking that comes from our non-conscious processing. All too often we go into this internal dialogue that really becomes problem-focused and it actually locks us into this limbic state.

When you are able to pivot, in step three we spoke about … I’m talking about step three is all about positive psychology. It overlaps with that world where I look at the overlaps [00:09:30] of Martin Seligman’s work, which is really it comes down to the thrill of learning, the meaning and connection, the ability to express ourselves to the limits our capability and to be of service.

If you can pivot under stress, you notice, you pause and instead of saying, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with others?”, noticing your stress and leveraging it by saying, “I’m stressed. Something that matters to me is at stake. What is it that I really care about here?” Then from there, ask the better questions, “What is it that I’m here to learn? How can I better connect [00:10:00] with others? How can I better express myself? What’s my best service?” Now your brain will chew on that. Those neural circuits and the habit of asking these questions repetitively myelinate the regions of your brain where this now becomes your new neural destiny.

What I love about what you’re doing over here and why I feel so aligned to you here, is you’re talking about a brain revolution and you brought together these revolutionaries and the aspect over here, thinking about how you can help leaders revolutionize their thinking, [00:10:30] to think more productively, to literally change their internal dialogue, rewire their brain, change the internal dialogue into receive a more productive external dialogue that becomes the fabric of culture and society, that has the capacity to transform and revolutionize the world.

Evian Gordon:            I totally agree. It’s Brain 1,2,4. It’s a privilege to be part of the brain revolution with you and I don’t know anybody who better demonstrates and lives, lives [00:11:00] the reality that small, profound insight and really clear, ballistically clear open questions and stopping in that critical moment can make huge transformative differences. Thank you. Thanks for participating, always fun to do anything with you.

Daniel Friedland:            Thank you so much and thanks to your listeners too.

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