Left-Brained? Right-Brained? Whole-Brained?
by Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland

In Dan Pink's recent book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, he describes right-brain thinkers as the leaders of the future, and successful companies as those with right-brain thinkers at the helm. While the trend over the past ten years has been to ensure that CEOs have accounting expertise, such financial roles are traditionally very left-brained, and such linear thinking does not equip a company to meet the needs of its customers—customers who are demanding creative results, new ways of doing things, and faster responses. CEOs must be visionaries, possessing the skills aligned with right-brain thinking.

Along with Pink's book, Freed and Parsons' Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World has made me think a great deal about how adults learn, and how I have learned and developed patterns over time. The following adaptation of Freed and Parsons' quiz, 'The Learning Style Inventory,' can provide some clues about how right-brained, left-brained or whole-brained you are. (For the original Freed and Parsons' quiz, please refer to pages 49-53 of their book.)

  1. Do you remember faces better than names?
  2. If you have something to assemble, do you tend to discard the directions and figure it out for yourself?
  3. Do ideas come more easily if you're left alone to concentrate, versus working with a group?
  4. Do you remember pictures better than words?
  5. Is your hearing especially acute?
  6. Do you find most clothing too rough or scratchy, preferring garments that are soft and well worn?
  7. Do you frequently put yourself down?
  8. When you are asked to spell a word, do you visualize it rather than sound it out?
  9. When learning about a subject, do you prefer the 'big picture' to a number of facts?
  10. Are you good at solving puzzles and mazes?
  11. Can you visualize in three dimensions?
  12. Were you a 'late bloomer'?
  13. To do well in a class, did you have to like the teacher?
  14. Do you daydream a lot?
  15. Does your perfectionism keep you from trying new things?
  16. Are you ultra-competitive, hating to lose?
  17. Do you 'read' people well?
  18. Is your handwriting hard to read?
  19. Were some of your motor skills delayed?
  20. Can you easily find your way around a new place?

The more 'yes' responses you have, the further to the right you are on a left/right-brain continuum. While this is not a scientific test, it will give you a general understanding of brain dominance.

Those who fall to the left on the continuum are highly logical and analytical, usually very reliable, and tend to do well in school. They do what's expected to help the system operate efficiently, but are not especially imaginative. They're uncomfortable with challenges, new ideas, and shifts in routine. While they have some ability to think in pictures, they prefer to function in an auditory world.

In the middle of the left/right-brain continuum lie the whole-brained, who can access the strengths of both the left- and right-brained populations. They can shift tasks to the hemisphere of the brain that's best equipped to tackle them.

The further right on the continuum, the more intuitive and random in processing individuals will be, and the more apt to store information primarily in pictures. When asked to recall an event or person, right-brained thinkers will recall an image, remembering even minute details.

How does this information apply to us as coaches? Several months ago, I was seeking a business coach to provide group coaching services for our International Coach Academy staff. From WABC members to internet search resources to personal referrals, I interviewed a wonderful mix of individuals. It was a terrific experience to speak to so many coaches from different parts of the world and to encounter so many different coaching approaches.

During these interviews, when I asked the coaches to describe their coaching styles, I was most surprised to find a consistent 'either/or' response. Either the coach was holistic, or the coach based his or her approach solely on models supported by research. One person with a psychology background even went so far as to state, "I'm not one of those 'spiritual airy-fairy coaches'—everything I do is backed by research." And yes, all interviewees were business coaches. While my small sample doesn't constitute definitive research, it was interesting to see the reactions of the 'research-based coaches' versus the 'spiritual/emotional based coaches,' and vice versa.

Here is where right- and left-brain thinking comes in. Does your ROI method incorporate only left-brain functioning analysis, which is linear and traditional, or does it take right-brain activities into account? Does your ROI method allow for creative input and non-measurable responses? If so, how do you rank these factors?

I believe that, as business coaches, we must be open to the vast array of individual learning styles. Dan Pink considered himself to be an overly left-brained thinker. Determined to become more open-minded, he enrolled in a life drawing class. This supported him enormously, helping him, literally and metaphorically, to see the shades of gray in life. As coaches, do we see the shades of gray in our own lives, and in the lives of the people we coach? The quick left/right-brain test above can be a great way to open up an interesting conversation with your clients.

The challenge for each of us is to avoid the assumption that our clients support our way of thinking. The challenge is to avoid marketing ourselves in a way that attracts only like-minded individuals. The challenge is to evaluate and appreciate all facets of our clients—not just the easy, measurable bits. The challenge for us as business coaches is to be more creative and more open-minded!


Freed, Jeffrey, MAT, and Laurie Parsons. 1998. Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Pink, Daniel. 2006. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: The Berkeley Publishing Group.

Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland is the CEO of International Coach Academy, an international coach training school. She has been an executive coach for over 10 years. Read more about Bronwyn in the WABC Coach Directory. Bronwyn can be reached by email at

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