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As part of my continuous efforts to maintain optimal brain functioning, I recently joined a group of pickleball enthusiasts in my area. I have never played this sport, which combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. To my surprise, as I researched it, I learnt that this sport grew from 5 million to almost 37 million from 2021 to 2022, becoming the fastest-growing sport in the US.
Pickleball has been designed to be inclusive and social while maintaining some level of healthy competition. I asked fellow players why they liked participating in this sport, and almost everyone responded with something positive.
Comments included that the sport keeps them fit without too much exertion, and they can network and make new friends. There are no age limits or restrictions of any sort. Everyone is allowed to participate, and every Saturday, after playing… “we all go for breakfast with a bunch of strangers”, said one of the respondents. People also described how much fun they have playing.
I immediately thought we should all play pickleball at work during lunchtime. We could all get fitter, feel re-energised, talk to each other, improve our social influence and learn new skills. Some of these are the key ingredients of a dynamic and brain-friendly culture. When you turn these skills into habits, your mind becomes more powerful. After all, ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’ (a healthy mind in a healthy body).
Instead, I find people suffering from isolation, stress and other mental health ailments, whether they are working from home or back in almost empty offices. How can we take the experience of a simple sport and meld it with the dynamics of the workplace?
In the meantime, someone at the World Economic Forum has written a list of the skills of the future. This type of list is usually picked up by educators, career advisors and leadership coaches, who are keen to guide others to find careers and learning pathways that will be most useful in the future.
The latest list outlines the ten skills for 2025 and beyond. These skills are:
I am not sure who wrote this list, but I cannot help but wonder why analytical thinking and innovation come first as something desirable. Isn’t this what we do on a regular basis?
These skills were important in the past, are important now and will be in the future. After all, civilisation has been built with these attributes, and many items on the list are not new.
The question is how to become more innovative while maintaining our analytical work approach. The answer could be in things like playing pickleball, where social connectivity, fun and movement help the brain relax and change gears regarding its brainwaves. It is the skill of play, for example, that will relax stressed workers and take their brains to a place where they can think differently and more creatively.
Play at work? For goodness sake, Silvia, forget it! (I can hear some of you saying this). Allow me to vent here for just a moment. It is not by putting ‘innovation’ at the top of a list that will help people be more innovative. Innovation happens when the workplace creates the time, space, and proper environment for people to do something other than just focusing on the task in front of a computer.
Even though this type of list intends to remind us that there are skills to be developed (I imagine this is the intention), companies continue to focus on the same thing: maximising productivity and return to shareholders.
To achieve this, they recruit what they believe to be highly productive people who can work hard and return top dollars. Efficient processes that reduce costs and employees who demonstrate unconditional support for the leaders at the top (and their vision) are also desirable.
Organisations tend to ignore that if we are to foster innovative skills in employees, something needs to change to help them be more innovative, for example, allowing time for daydreaming.
Rather than only promoting big, hairy and audacious goals and an environment of competitive targets, training people to collaborate is at the very core of an organisation’s survival. Having the opportunity to bounce ideas and having social chats contribute to innovation.
However, we must remember that teamwork does not naturally emerge if managers or team leaders are unaware, competitive, aggressive or always show themselves as ‘busy’. For those of us who offer development services, it is a struggle to help top leaders understand that not educating their staff to be more self-aware and able to build connections is non-negotiable.
These skills will continue to be important in the workplace, and more than anything, they are related to people’s ability to optimise their brain health and manage their minds effectively.
In pursuing the ‘high productivity’ ideal without understanding that people are more than ‘productive beings’, talent is lost, costing organisations thousands of dollars.
Some of the reasons that employee turnover can hurt your organisation include: (1)
Promoting brain-friendly workplaces with opportunities for innovation, social bonding, and creativity may help. As leaders, we all too often must face the costs, both monetary and otherwise, of high turnover. To better understand how to prevent turnover, we should examine why people leave.
In her 2022 book ‘The Great Resignation’, leadership expert Laura Darrell talks about some of the main reasons why people in America have been leaving their jobs. People switch jobs for many reasons, including better opportunities, more money, different locations, or they need to make changes for other personal or family reasons.
However, in 2021, many parts of the world experienced workers leaving in huge numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people quit their jobs and looked for new opportunities, searching for better working conditions and more flexibility. Anthony Klotz, a professor at Texas A&M University, called this movement the ‘Great Resignation’. (4)
Why did so many people leave their jobs? And when did this movement even begin? According to experts, the Great Resignation began in the last part of 2020 or early 2021. Once the vaccines had been released, travel restrictions were lifted, and people were expected to return to work.
Workers who had been laid off during the initial stages of the pandemic were now needed again, but they now had the luxury of searching for better conditions. Competition for qualified workers soared, and people who felt trapped in a job felt comfortable looking for new opportunities.
The paradox is that 89% of companies believe that those who leave do it due to more money elsewhere, when in reality, only 12% of people leave due to a better salary. (7)
While leaders continue to support this belief, probably because it is easier and quicker to say this than setting up a coaching program, organisations will continue to lose great people.
Depending on the specific job or trade, hiring a new person for a role can cost up to 30% of the employee’s salary. When companies invest $1500 in training per employee, they see an average of 24% more profit than organisations that invest less in training. (8)
While we understand the monetary aspect of turnover, we still need to address what organisations can do to stop this flow of talent from leaking away. When employees feel unappreciated, they start looking elsewhere. During the Great Resignation, 54% of people who left reported that their employees didn’t value them. (9)
It seems to me that any time spent on one-on-one meetings, allowing for time off, training, coaching and mentoring, is considered a detractor of the ‘productivity story’. Of course, there are those visionary leaders who truly understand that without learning about ourselves and balancing our minds, we are just perpetuating cycles of ignorance, staff turnover, tensions, rivalry, conflict and stagnation.
One of the outliers is billionaire Ray Dalio, who not only practices meditation but has also encouraged his employees to incorporate the practice into their lives. Many claim his business and culture are built up of ‘intellectual NAVY SEALs’. (10)
He believes that meditation provides an effective balance to that drive and hard-nosed determination that businesses require. Ray admittedly practices meditation most mornings before he begins his workday.
The Pandemic has shaken us up and disrupted every organisation and everybody’s perception of life, creating many new challenges. One of them is how to lead a team in a hybrid environment. A recent Center for Creative Leadership study, ‘WORK 3.0: Reimagining Leadership in the Hybrid World’, surveyed and interviewed 2,200 leaders across 13 countries in the Asia Pacific region.
Based on a survey question where participants selected the most important leadership attributes for thriving in a hybrid workplace, communication, building trust, setting expectations, learning agility, and digital dexterity were at the top. The research also suggested embracing the right mindset is essential for leading onsite and remote teams.
Embracing the right mindsets could be as simple as being willing to influence people to attend an offsite so they can reconnect, be social and have some fun. When people are more relaxed, communication starts to flow, which in turn improves the dynamics of the team and the achievement of the common goal.
Thinking back to pickleball, leaders should seek opportunities to support collaboration in engaging environments. Maybe pickleball may not be appropriate for your specific organisation, but why not try something new to get ideas flowing and people laughing and active?
Undoubtedly, many leaders are struggling to find their feet while working in these new conditions. They are not to blame. Shifting from what we knew to working remotely or in a hybrid fashion is challenging. Organisations need to re-invent how people can connect as humans and support those leaders willing to experiment with innovative ways for people to interact with each other. This requires openness, curiosity and the willingness to try something different until we find the path again.
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.