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This has been a long journey for me, and the completion of this training program, many months after the course, also marks the end of my time at the Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands. These final weeks and the participation in the About my Brain training has made me realise I have changed and grown significantly in the past few years - as a person and as a leader. I confess to starting my role in 2014 thinking there was not much to learn and that I could not change much, but this was clearly not the case.
The contact with Silvia Damiano, her enthusiasm and her scientific base made me realise there were new and emerging opportunities for the development of my team and through that, for our organisation. It also made me stop and think about what I needed to further grow and develop. The idea that we could continue to change our brain, that we were not locked into specific behavioural patterns and that the previous psychological categories were not binding was an important watershed for me.
This led me to engage Silvia to help develop my team, and in the same process, to develop myself. The team activities were delivered professionally and met the very specific needs of our organisation. Personally, it opened me to a whole new concept - the ability to change not only our behaviour but the way we think and process information.
The work tasks, the team engagement and the supporting physical activities started us on a journey. It was consistently clear to me even the most entrenched of my team were adapting to the idea that they could change their brain and consequently change the way they perceive and respond to others.
The watershed moment was the 'vulnerability' exercise we did as a team. For many of my executives, it was the first time they had discussed some of their greatest vulnerabilities, and in spite of a few tears at the time, it created a positive, supportive and collective view of the future.
About my Brain also reinforced some of the key leadership elements I have intuitively followed. Leading with compassion, leading with love, leading with vulnerability and leading with gratitude are all traits and behaviours I have encouraged and implemented, but without the conscious effort Silvia encourages.
I have since written a series of short articles on LinkedIn about these soft leadership characteristics and how they can be applied in the workplace. My training with About my Brain also made me think more clearly about other important leadership skills, such as curiosity and agility. Not such soft skills as the others, but essential and often overlooked elements of business success.
Once again, these confirm that the traditional leadership trait lists, while important, tend to be a laundry list of 1950's values, with limited applicability for an emerging generation of leaders. Our work with Silvia and her team has made us better able to engage younger generations and lead them in a way that gives them the engagement, opportunity & meaning that is so important to them. Younger employees are more likely to want to engage on an emotional level, more likely to want ongoing and routine feedback, and they expect their leaders to engage in a personal way.
As I go through the last few days at the Botanic Gardens and Parklands, I've attended numerous farewells - filled with wonderful people saying beautiful things about me. It has been humbling to have such good people pay me such tributes and has made me think in more detail about how I will lead the Antarctic Division in my next role.
The most common comments from my team at the farewells have been on my positive, upbeat approach to the team and our tasks. It is amazing how well people have responded to me being positive about our tasks, about me not getting stressed by the workload & protecting them from the distortions of government and the media.
They have also repeatedly commented on my efforts to engage with and know each of them. The most frequent statement is about my generosity in time and effort to stop and talk to them, to attend their presentations, to meet their family and to follow their career and challenges.
I don't think that this was ever done by me to achieve a leadership outcome. I just love the team I work with & it seemed a natural thing to want to engage with them, to spend time with them and to take an interest in their lives. What is not so remarkable is that people respond particularly well to this and say how rarely it happens.
About my Brain Institute’s work is outstanding, providing a new and creative way to look at our leadership and personal effectiveness. Their research combined with an engaging approach made the program both useful and enjoyable. The i4 Neuroleader 360° Assessment helped my team understand our capabilities, but more importantly gave us the tools to make positive changes in the way we lead.
It is also interesting to note how important my mental readiness has been to the leadership of this large and diverse team. I have always maintained and communicated a focus on our strategy and our outcomes and ensured I am mentally prepared for the challenges and demands of these tasks.
I have asked and assisted my team to be mentally ready - either through training, external support or my own mentorship. I think this has been a very important part of the success of our team. I have been accused of being a 'man of extremes', but I think much of this comes from my determination to be mentally prepared for the tasks ahead.
My greatest joy in 40 years of leadership has been the growth and development of my teams. As I look back at what I have achieved, I measure it not in buildings built of dollars earned, but rather in the people who have been happy and engaged, whose careers have advanced and whose lives have improved. The contact with my teams and their families continue to bring me great joy.
The About my Brain training and my contact with has been a very important part of that journey of self-realisation and leadership. It has given me new skills, reinforced good behaviours and helped me to better understand those areas I need to focus on. It has given me the courage to focus on the softer leadership skills which are so important to the future of our people and our nations.
Kim Ellis is the Executive Director of Sydney Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands (Australia), responsible for the management of 1,100 hectares of botanical gardens, public parklands and world heritage bushland. These sites host over 30 million visits a year, and operate with a budget of AUD100 million, of which more than 70% is self-funded through commercial operations. Kim has extensive experience in leading diverse, high profile public organisations, including significant public and private airports. He has worked throughout Australia and in the USA, and has spent time in the Australian Antarctic, supporting science operations.