While we might not be able to replicate the direct performance of an Olympic athlete, we can learn from her rise to the top and apply it to our own goals, according to Bendelta’s Chief Connection Officer, Dr Natalie Ferres (pictured above).
Natalie has been researching high performance for more than 20 years, with her latest research dedicated to building Bendelta’s ‘Potentiology’ framework.
Potentiology unites insights about the psychological, biological and behavioural patterns of the people who are world-class in selected capabilities, such as resilience, creativity and empathy.
She’s teamed this with leading global research and technology to determine how these management and leadership capabilities are essential to future success.
For managers and leaders, she shares six key tips she’s learned from studying the best of the best.
- Practice getting better at leadership or management as you would if you were trying to get better at anything else. The more you drive a car or practice playing a guitar, the more you build and strengthen relevant brain connections to help you become more sophisticated in that skill. The same idea can be applied to the skills that are essential to leadership, such as resilience, empathy or creativity. Our analysis of the world’s top performers and more than 1,000 academic articles proves that using the right learning methods, deliberate, intentional efforts will strengthen your ability to be a better leader.
- Prioritise sleep to allow your brain to ‘relearn’. Our research showed that people who were ‘world class’ in core leadership skills, such as resilience and creativity, tend to prioritise the physical stuff. But this isn’t just about getting enough exercise and eating well. Focusing on sleep is central for manager and leader functioning. When you learn a new capability, your brain builds pathways, but these are at times inefficient and piecemeal. Your brain needs to trim a lot of connections away and solidify new ones to build more streamlined, efficient ‘lanes’. It does that when you sleep. A good night’s rest means the brain is more able to prune its way to an efficient pathway, leaving room for you to think, create and learn.
- It’s is all the rage for a reason; try being mindful or in the present moment in a way that suits you.In one way or another, the world’s most successful people all practiced ‘being in the present moment’, whether they termed it mindfulness, flow or something else. Robust research also supports that a daily dose of being in the present moment improves longitudinal resilience in manager and leader samples. In more than 30 years of research, Harvard researcher Ellan Langer has found that increasing mindfulness increases charisma and productivity, decreases burnout and accidents, and increases creativity, memory, attention, positive affect, health, and even longevity. And this is true for the leader and the led.
- Don’t avoid the tough stuff. Some people overuse avoidant stress-reduction strategies to replace critical thinking or dealing with negative emotions. Our research showed that people who recognise that stress can be a signal for change, and can name negative emotions, as well as feel and process these emotions, are more resilient and demonstrate a stronger ability to emotionally self-manage. This is a critical foundation to management and leadership. Consider your circumstances through self-reflective thought and learning rather than avoidance. Resilience-building strategies should be used in the service of enhancing, not displacing, analytical and affective processes.
- Focus on authenticity. Make sure that your management and leadership behaviour aligns with your beliefs and needs, with a clear line of sight to the greater good of the organisation.When the studied exemplars failed to behave in line with their values, they experienced significantly heightened levels of unease. Hold yourself to account for the things you find to be most important in a way that leads your team forward. It’s not worth the cortisol production; you’ll end up ‘cooking’ your brain with this stress hormone.
- Positive influence is about connection; foster ‘synchronicity’ with those around you.The world’s best empathisers and collaborators take the time to build and maintain bonds. Do the same with your team as a manager or leader to foster connection and resilience for yourself and others. You’ll also build influence. UCLA research using bran scan technology shows that in leaderless groups, leaders emerge by literally being able to quickly synchronise their brain waves with followers. Further, synchrony between leaders and followers leads to less stress for both parties, along with greater mutual understanding and creativity. How do you synchronise? Show up willing to connect and understand, take the time to be present with others, and listen to understand.
Natalie says the patterns of your brain tomorrow are a result of your thoughts, experiences and actions today (and all the days before). Keep at it; as long as the approach is right for you, becoming a better manager or leader is possible.