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Many leaders take the time to strengthen their physical body. They exercise at the gym, take the stairs instead of the lift, or walk a few rounds of the building on a lunch break. Or perhaps they play golf, hike, or swim. But, how many leaders take time to work on their brain?
Physical signs of health are usually overt and easy to see. A well-rested person will be alert and ready to go, instead of sluggish, baggy-eyes, and yawning. Healthy food contributes to a healthy body, and while a ‘cheat’ very occasionally is alright, someone who usually chooses fruits and vegetables over high-fats and carbs will be healthier. A toned, lean physique may look healthy at a glance, but the mind underneath may not always be as robust.
Leaders who value physical health may not have the same dedication toward brain health. This is not necessarily because of deliberate oversight, but rather because many leaders do not understand or acknowledge the importance of brain health.
A human cannot function on a few hours of sleep and coffee for very long. Even the most dedicated and most driven people will eventually fall under that kind of duress. Elon Musk, a billionaire entrepreneur, recently revealed his own struggles with stress and psychological highs and lows.1 When the people in charge push themselves so hard, others will try to keep up, which will ultimately result in failure.
Recognising great leadership means focusing on more than what is seen on the outside. The expression, “beauty is only skin deep” holds true for leadership because a poorly functioning mind will affect everything--emotional health, mental health, and eventually physical health.
Climbing the corporate ladder is hard work. Somehow, it seems like everything should be “more, more”. More money, more bonuses, more perks, more for shareholders, more fame--all of these can be intoxicating. Instead of leading to make changes, the goals subtly start to shift.
When the brain isn’t healthy, this power shift can be even more consuming. The atmosphere becomes rife with stress and anxiety, with few opportunities for innovation and creativity. A poll of 800 managers and employees in various industries found that 38% of the respondents who were treated rudely lowered their quality of work, and 48% decreased the effort they put in at work.2
Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most leaders have the best intentions, but sometimes things go awry. Taking a step back to assess a situation is always important, especially if the environment indicates that conditions are unhealthy. Leaders should:
To avoid falling into the dark side of leadership, leaders must value emotional and mental health as much as physical health. Even if there aren’t visible signs of impairment, an unhealthy brain will eventually catch up to even the most well-intentioned leader.
1. Clifford C. Elon Musk gets personal about his ‘terrible lows’ and ‘unrelenting stress’. CNBC. 2017. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/31/elon-musk-is-bipolar-has-terrible-lows-and-unrelenting-stress.html
2. Porath C, Pearson C. The Price of Incivility. Harvard Business Review. 2013;January-February. Available at: https://hbr.org/2013/01/the-price-of-incivility
3. Van der Meer L, Costafreda S, Aleman A, David AS. Self-reflection and the brain: A theoretical review and meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies with implication for schizophrenia. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2010;34,935-946.
4. Shdo SM, Ranasinghe KG, Gola KA, Mielke CJ, Sukhavov PV, Miller BL, Rankin KP. Deconstructing empathy: Neuroanatomical dissociations between affect sharing and prosocial motivation using a patient lesion model. Neuropsychologia. 2018;116(Pt A), 126-135. Available at: https://europepmc.org/articles/pmc5773395
5. McLennan K. Building Leaders for the Imagination Age: The Case for the i4 Neuroleader Model. About my Brain Institute. 2016;1. [White Paper].
6. Doan S, Ritchart A, Perry N, Chaparro JD, Conway M. How Do You #relax When You’re #stressed? A Content Analysis and Infodemiology Study of Stress-Related Tweets. Eysenbach G, ed. JMIR Public Health and Surveillance. 2017;3(2):e35. doi:10.2196/publichealth.5939.
7. Kyeong S, Kim J, Kim DJ, Kim HE, Kim J-J. Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific Reports. 2017;7,5058. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-05520-9
These Stories on Leadership & Culture
Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute
Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.
Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.
Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership
In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.
Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.
Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.
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