What does the brain have to do with great leadership? 

The About My Brain Institute is a company that develops brain-friendly leaders, teams, and cultures through transformational experiences, digital tools and practical leadership training. Recently, the Institute’s Founder and CEO Silvia Damiano produced a documentary that tackles the question of what makes a great leader. Here are some of the key findings:

Being a good leader means being empathetic

Bring self-awareness and empathy to build a culture where everyone belongs

The ability for a leader to understand their behaviours and actions, and how they impact those around them is a very important way that they can become more self-aware, and a better leader as a result. Showing empathy and being open to new ideas will also work to foster a culture where people feel as though they belong. 

Facilitating the collaborative process is key to creating an environment where everyone can contribute and experience ‘lightbulb’ moments. As Silvia explains, these lightbulb moments can literally create a new network of neurons firing in your brain – which can foster better growth and innovation. 

This ultimately helps leaders actually be leaders, making that switch from ‘having’ and ‘doing’ leadership, to actually ‘being’ a leader. Patience and resilience here are important – these skills aren’t always learnt overnight.

 

“The enemy of great and sustained leadership is when leaders stop learning.”

CEO of OFX Skander Malcolm

Maintaining good health can help you be a better leader

Wellbeing is fundamental to being a good leader

It may be surprising to learn how much of an impact eating, sleeping and mindfulness can have on your ability to be a leader. But according to the findings of the Make Me A Leader documentary, these small factors can have a significant influence on our wellbeing, and our leadership abilities. 

According to Sleep Medicine expert Dr Carmel Harrington, who features in the documentary, allowing your prefrontal cortex the time to rest means it will be more likely to ‘ignite’ and you are therefore more likely to function better during the day. Not to mention the negative short-term impacts of minimal sleep, like a greater chance of contracting the cold or flu, and long-term impacts, like hypertension, obesity and diabetes. 

Gut health is very much on the wellbeing agenda at the moment, but it has largely been ignored in research about its impact on brain function and potential leadership qualities. It’s possible that by incorporating a healthier diet and a mindful lifestyle, a healthier mind is possible. 

What research has been done however, according to Silvia, has shown that stress levels can reduce the abundance of certain microbes in the gut, which may impact serotonin - an important mood stabiliser. This ultimately isn’t sustainable forever, and many who adopt these kinds of unhealthy lifestyles may leave those people burnt out in the long-run.
Leaders are better when they're always learning

Leaders should always be open to learning

At OFX, one of our values is ‘Always keep learning’. Learning how the brain works, how to optimise its potential and how to create an environment where people are developing is a critical tenet in contemporary leadership. According to Skander Malcolm, CEO of OFX, any kind of leadership development or training that addresses how to deal with complex challenges people are facing in the workplace today is essential.

“The enemy of great and sustained leadership is when leaders stop learning. If this happens, their effectiveness will reverse. The speed of the reverse is determined by the speed of change in external factors - markets, societal expectations, and technologies - vs the learning the leader is doing. Right now, external factors are accelerating, so, by definition, the quantity and quality of learning has to increase for leaders to remain effective, and if leaders want to be more effective, they have to be able to learn more,” Skander explains.  

Companies that invest in leadership training over the long-term, particularly with the rapid expansion of technology, will ultimately aid problem-solving and the sharing of ideas. 

While these are some of the recommended ways in which you can be a better leader, the ultimate goal in producing this documentary is to inspire the next generation of leaders to be problem-solvers, creative thinkers and innovators.