“I am passionate about spreading simple, pragmatic messages based on rigorous and tangible data from brain science that can transform how people work and live.” Dr. Tara Swart

Tara is at the forefront of the application of neuroscience to business. She is a published author of two books and over 20 articles in journals of neuroscience and coaching. She speaks globally on the brain in business at international conferences, blue chip corporations and top business schools, including Oxford, Stanford and MIT, where she is a Senior Lecturer. Tara is passionate about disseminating simple, pragmatic, neuroscience-based messages that change how people work and sustainably translate to tangible financial improvement in the business. She is regularly quoted in the press.

I hope you like the interview as much as I did.

Sunita: Tell us a little bit about your background.

Tara: I went to medical school at 18 and then did a PhD in neuroscience. After qualifying from Oxford University, I worked as a medical doctor from 2000 to 2007. Apart from my first year in medicine and surgery, I specialised in psychiatry and worked in South Africa, Australia, Bermuda, and West London. I became a business coach in 2008 and am now CEO of The Unlimited Mind, a global neuroscience consultancy for leaders and top teams.

Sunita: What got you into neuroscience?

Tara: At medical school, I was drawn to the neuro element of each speciality. Whether it was anatomy, physiology, pharmacology or biochemistry, I always found the neuro section to be the most interesting. The brain seemed to be the CEO of the body.  As a junior doctor, I did a respiratory medicine job specialising in HIV and a surgical job in the vascular, upper gastrointestinal, and breast areas. Having left medicine and moved to leadership consulting, I again found the brain critical when working with CEOs and their teams.

Sunita: What is neuroscience about, and what is its rising place in leadership?

Tara: Neuroscience is about how the brain works, and in business, we are most interested in how this applies to leadership stress and resilience, risk-taking and decision-making, harnessing the diversity of thinking in teams, creating the conditions for success in organisations, and innovating into the future.

Sunita: So tell us what your new book is about.

Tara: Our book, Neuroscience for Leadership: Harnessing the Brain Gain Advantage, is about how understanding critical points around how the brain works can make you a better leader, team player, entrepreneur and person. We went for a holistic approach incorporating physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wealth. I was blessed to have two amazing co-authors, Kitty Chisholm and Paul Brown, who brought a multi-disciplinary approach to the content.

Sunita: Why are you so passionate about neuroscience and business?

Tara: Even though psychology has informed business for decades, there is a perceived cutoff at the neck, and people tend to underestimate the interplay between mind and body. How you feel physically affects your quality of thinking, and how you feel mentally or emotionally affects chemicals and hormones in your body through the neuro-endocrine system. I am passionate about spreading simple, pragmatic messages based on rigorous and tangible data from brain science that can transform how people work and live.

Sunita: In your opinion, what are the real challenges for leaders?

Tara: Dealing with stress, risk, and big decisions, often subject to public scrutiny, are huge issues for the leaders I coach. Leaders in Europe, the USA, and SE Asia face the same fundamental problems at untold costs to their health and those of the people they lead.  They are being asked to do more with less and work harder, longer and brighter without burning out, which is becoming unsustainable.

Sunita: How important is sleep for the brain?

Tara: We all know sleep is necessary, but the latest neuroscience research is shocking regarding how crucial sleep is for the brain. Disrupted sleep can lead to an apparent IQ loss of 5-8 points the next day. Most of my clients can still operate amazingly well at this level, but population norm studies show that a whole night’s sleep loss (e.g. a red-eye flight) can lead to a standard deviation loss of IQ points, and no one can perform well on that! Longer term issues around disruption of the cleansing of the brain over a 6-8 hour sleep period are that we see more protein plaques and tangles that are pathognomonic of dementia diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Research is not yet saying that lack of sleep is causal, but I am more concerned about the sleep patterns of my clients since I am looking more deeply into the mechanics of the glymphatic system.

Sunita: Why is it important to create habits and grow new ones?

Tara: Keeping our brains flexible or “plastic” is critical to successful ageing and brain agility at any age. Learning, unlearning, and re-learning behaviour patterns and skills. Keeps our executive functions, such as multitasking, solving complex problems, and creative thinking, sharp. Lifelong curiosity and learning encourage a mindset of growth rather than staying stuck in neural patterns that may no longer serve our success in the future.

Sunita: What is the best advice you can share with executives?

Tara: Allow time to step back and get perspective. This allows the creative, collaborative pathways of the brain to have free reign rather than staying closed in task-focused mode. Our brains can be excellent resources for us if fed with good nutrition, hydration, oxygen from exercise, rest from sleep and mindfulness exercises and love and trust from our colleagues, friends and families. Left in survival mode, however, you could be creating an uphill battle against your physiology, psyche and values, which means different things for different people but often results in ill health, disrupted relationships and damaging addictions.

Sunita: What’s next for you?

Tara: I love what I do, and taking the risk of a significant career change in my mid-thirties worked out for me, but I believe I need to figure out what the future holds. I stay as open-minded and flexible as possible regarding new opportunities. Continuous personal and professional development is significant to me. I rely on my mentor, sponsors and coaches to hold me accountable for my goals. This year, I’m excited about my book launch and the brain food juice Mind Mylk, which I co-designed with Imbibery London. Further afield, I am keen to see where my academic affiliation with MIT leads me, and I hope to set up a charitable foundation to improve brain health in business and society in general.

Sunita: What’s next for us?

Tara: There are millions of dollars of research going into neuroscience in the next decade, mainly in the USA and also at CERN in Switzerland – which I would love to visit when I’m next in Switzerland with my biggest FMCG client – so people keep asking what will come out of that. We know that much of the research concentrates on financial risk-taking, warfare, and competitive sports, but we have high hopes for research into diseases relating to ageing as we will all live longer. The bits of interest in business performance are around transcranial stimulation of brain centres, which leads to cognitive benefits. I think it is only a matter of time until we have performance-enhancing drugs for the brain (called nootropics) because we know that medications for ADHD and dementia can offer benefits around memory and concentration (but with too many side effects). In the meantime, more natural methods such as dietary supplementation, certain types of exercise, and mindfulness meditation are gathering momentum more widely. I am particularly interested in working on these topics with my clients, especially in financial services.


Neuroscience for Leadership: Harnessing the Brain Gain Advantage (The Neuroscience of Business) by Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm, Paul Brown

This article was initially published on Know It All, the ultimate guide for anglophones in Swiss Romande and neighbouring France.


  • Sunita Sehmi

    Organisational Dev I Exec Leadership Coach I Author I Mentor I

    Walk The Talk

    Org Dev Consultant I Exec Leadership Performance Coach I DEI Warrior I Author I Mentor I Work smarter I Live better I Think deeper. With over three decades of expertise in multicultural environments, Sunita brings a unique blend of Indian, British, and Swiss heritage to her consultancy, fostering a deep understanding of organisational contexts and her clients. Sunita’s insights and expertise are tailored to elevate your leadership.