A rapidly changing global environment has necessitated the development of a new wave of "neuroleaders" who optimise their brain's potential, according to neuroleadership specialist, Silvia Damiano.
The information age is over, and the world has moved to the "imagination age", where ideas, rather than knowledge, equal power, she says.
"There will be situations where knowledge may give us the power, but there will be other times when knowledge will be irrelevant because everyone can access it. Under these circumstances, what will differentiate us from the rest is how we then act upon that knowledge."
This has increased the need for more personal leaders – or "superheroes", says Damiano, who is the founder of the About My Brain Institute.
"Superheroes have the special powers to inspire others and the integrity to champion their values, even when everything around them is falling apart. They are confident, inquisitive, conscientious, driven, energetic, adventurous, helpful and generous," she says.
"These are the attributes that our new economy requires. We need more superheroes who can collaborate and make a difference, big or small, in their own lives and in the lives of others... The world needs people who want to lead and commit to solutions; not people who say 'it cannot be done', and adopt compliance as a way of doing business."
Good leadership comes easily for people with brains wired in a certain way, but "neuroleaders" can also replicate this superhero mentality, says Damiano.
"A neuroleader is someone who is aware of his/her brain potential (and super power) and strives to optimise it. A balanced and functional brain is the foundation for good performance and also the basis of the attributes that characterise the type of leader who could thrive in the 'imagination age'."
The i4 Neuroleader Model
Existing leadership models have not kept up with these new leadership requirements, says Damiano, who advocates for the adoption of a personal leadership model with the brain at its core.
"The proposes a novel approach of looking at leadership, and a more cost-effective way to reawaken the leadership powers within us, by first identifying our inner abilities and then learning how to use them more effectively,"
The model is based on four key competencies, comprising:
This refers to the optimal mental and physical level a person can achieve during a task.
Achieving optimal performance depends on how well your brain-mind-body system is functioning; the time and dedication you devote to mentally prepare for a task (particularly when it is challenging); how you regulate and balance your daily activity; and how congruent and aligned you are in terms of your values and moral reasoning," says Damiano.
Leaders with high performance know the limitations of their brain; take care of their body, mind and spirit; are confident without being arrogant; and can manage both tasks and relationships.
Those that have low performance, however, often lack self-awareness; do not know how to plan ahead; are inconsistent; and lose control of their emotions easily.
The key pillars of optimal performance are: integration – the effective functioning of the various components of the brain and body that results in a healthy system; balance – a series of actions and attitudes that help a person keep the brain performing at its best; ethics – a set of moral values and principles that guide actions and enable leaders to differentiate between wrong and right; and mental readiness – the ability to create a balanced psychological state conducive to optimal performance.
This involves attaining a common goal through the effort of a combined body of people working together.
"Due to technological advances over the last two decades, collaboration has become one of the most highly valued competencies of the modern workplace," says Damiano.
"True collaboration starts with one's own desire to share and inspire others towards the achievement of an ideal that can turn into a concrete outcome. Communicating openly and having the courage to overcome conflict are as important as being generous with knowledge, resources, and time.
"Highly collaborative leaders are accepting of others' views; aim to achieve, rather than compete; can say 'please', 'sorry' and 'thank you' without feeling troubled; and know when and how to praise others, she says.
Leaders at the other end of the spectrum, however, are reluctant to provide help to others; usually think about what they can gain from a situation; have trouble delegating; and do not know how to deal with conflict.
This has become one of the most "strategic imperatives" for businesses globally, and refers to the generation of new ideas, the tenacity to bring the best ones to life, and the ability to enthuse others to support them.
"Innovation involves expanding our mind and the understanding of how to draw on our own and others' ingrained ability to imagine. Implementing innovations at team and organisational levels also requires the vision and stamina to move ahead without getting discouraged, while juggling short-term priorities," says Damiano.
Innovative leaders see patterns and make connections easily; are eager to explore, learn and change what doesn't work; and are persistent, but know when to let go and not take things personally. In contrast, low-innovation leaders lack resilience and energy; are firmly grounded in their own beliefs; and are not willing to risk anything.
The key pillars of innovation are: imagination – mentally forming new concepts, ideas or patterns without involving the senses; drive – the strength and perseverance to pursue actions required to attain a goal; curiosity – the thirst for knowing, and desire to explore and learn; and attitude – the willingness to embrace doing things differently, and a positive disposition towards experimentation.
This is the capacity to read changing conditions in one's environment and rapidly adapt to them.
"Leadership agility refers to the good use we make of our intuitive abilities, the awareness of self and our capacity to observe and reflect. Agility is also linked to how well we can influence others to navigate complex and uncertain environments, and our degree of adaption to new conditions," says Damiano.
"Agility has indisputably become one of the prime competencies to develop. Being agile can help people anticipate and solve issues that appear more often in rapidly changing environments. It can also assist leaders in bringing others along when there is resistance to new conditions." Highly agile leaders are usually mindful of themselves and their environment; trust their instincts; are willing to change; act quickly; convey an aura of certainty; and have personal power.
Self-doubt is a common attribute of leaders with low agility, along with reliance on rules; unwillingness to compromise; failure to cope with ambiguity and complexity; and an inability to guide others.
The model aims to help leaders realise that constant distractions and the increasing pressure to do more with less do not make teams or organisations more effective or sustainable in the long term, Damiano says.
How to get started
Learning to be a neuroleader sounds intimidating, says Damiano, but strategies to help leaders along this path include:
- Become acquainted with the brain – "Many leaders do not yet think about their brain's functioning at all, naively ignoring the fact that the brain is involved in everything we do";
- Aim for self-awareness – "This is about having the clarity of mind to notice when things become too much to handle and knowing when to ask for help – in case our 'super powers' fail. This type of awareness has to be complemented with the discipline of 'taking a break to recharge', the willingness to accept feedback from others, and the ability to adjust out focus";
- Minimise paralysis by speed – "Dealing with the disarray of the unknown that constant change brings is hard, particularly for those who lack confidence and require that their viewpoint is validated before putting the wheels into motion. In corporate jargon, this practice is called dealing with chaos and ambiguity in an agile manner"; and
- Understand the 'human first' principle – "Accept that independent of the work we do, we are all human beings with needs, emotions, expectations, and desires, and that it is perfectly reasonable to show our limitations and say, 'I don't know'"