THRIVHER INTERVIEW: SILVIA DAMIANO

Updated: May 21, 2018


Thrivher Achievements:


Founder & CEO of the ‘About my Brain Institute



Thrivher Dive

  • Can’t start the day without: Meditation

  • Best read for growth: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. The concepts somehow soothe my brain, and help me go to sleep. I think it helps you look at the world and what we do from a different perspective.

  • Non-negotiable: Eight hours of sleep - it’s the only way to refuel your brain and body.

  • Top music track of all time: I'm a romantic with my songs. The most recent one is when Ed Sheehan sings ‘Perfect Symphony’ with Andrea Bocelli in Italian. I think that song is beautiful.

  • Mindful habits: I go for a walk every day after meditation to relax my mind, and I pay attention to my bones, my muscles, my tension – I'm very aware of what I feel.

  • I’m most afraid of: Being old and frail in a hospital and being mistreated. That scares me. Families leave them in places like that, they're on their own and it’s terrible.

  • Go-to for fun: I love dancing. Salsa dancing.

  • I’m originally from: Argentina and now live in: Sydney, Australia




THRIVHER MOVES:


How did you decide what to first focus your studies on?

My brother was studying science. He said “Well, if you don't know, why don't you start science?” Biology in this case. I followed his advice because he was extremely smart and I always saw him as my role model.



What was youR very first professional job?

I learned English from a very young age and I started to teach younger kids English in the afternoons while I went to university and completed my masters.


After I graduated I started teaching at a high school and a university. I really enjoyed it but knew I couldn’t stay as soon as Argentina got hit by 300% inflation per month.



Where did you decide to go once you knew you couldn’t stay in Argentina?

I decided to migrate to Australia. I filed the paperwork and received my visa eight months later. In that process, I met a German baron who offered me a job as the general manager for his company. So my life was then turned completely upside down, and then suddenly I found myself in Hobart managing about 50 people.



How did your career progress from there?

After a few years I went back to Argentina and that's when I started my consulting career. I worked for a large Telecommunication company which was undergoing a cultural change. I had a great boss who saw me teaching and presenting and he said “You should definitely get into leadership and help me with this cultural change” – there were 30,000 employees. I studied leadership and attended a lot of programs and conferences - I had the biggest opportunity to very quickly grasp what was needed.


I then moved to Chile and worked for Ernst & Young, I also worked for another consulting company in learning and development and that was with a group of Phychologists. I then returned to Australia and worked as a stockbroker for Westpac, then moved internally to learning and development in the headquarters. It was really fantastic.



You sound incredibly adaptable, have you always been this way? 

I think I am like that because when you have a huge inflation in your country and your money is not enough, you have to be very resourceful and do whatever it takes to survive.


You have to embrace what's in front of you. If it doesn't work, you have to look for another solution quickly and move. That's the biggest learning in my life.


You have to embrace what's in front of you. If it doesn't work, you have to look for another solution quickly and move.


It sounds like you had some great managers/bosses who saw your potential which enabled you to thrive in your career path. Through your experience how would you define a true leader?

I had an amazing manager. He was encouraging, supportive and highly intellectual. He would listen to you, he would have proper one-on-ones to try and grow you as a person. I had another great manager who was an open, really lovely woman. Whatever I wanted to do in terms of developing myself, she'd support it. She was one of the most supportive managers that I've ever met. True leaders develop others, simple as that.


True leaders develop others, simple as that.


Do you think most people who hold a position of power always understand what being a great leader means?

I’d say probably 10% are like that. Most of the time when I reported to other people, I found there's a lot of ego and selfishness. I also had one manager who pulled me aside right after hearing me present and said “I think you should change careers because your accent gets in the way of good delivery”. I said, “Well, I'm not one to give up because this is what I've done all my life, and by the way, you have an accent too.” People can be very narrow-minded. If I’d have listened to this manager, (who really affected my mind for a long time) I wouldn’t have achieved what I have. There's nothing worse than having someone that drills into your confidence for no reason.


There's nothing worse than having someone that drills into your confidence for no reason.


What would you say were the biggest turning points in your life that lead you to create The About my Brain Institute?

The biggest turning point in my younger years was when I came to Australia for the first time. I had to leave my country of origin, my family, take up a new job where I spoke the language but obviously I wasn’t native. That was significant.


The other turning point was in 2008. I divorced from my long-term marriage. I suffered from depression for a period of six months. It was tough. A year later I was working for a business school, and after that I decided to go on my own again. I wrote my first book and I created two “Brain Awareness” exhibitions with national and international artists, and we exhibited their works.


One day I had this epiphany about the leadership competencies that people need in the 21st century - it was very clear that it was performance, collaboration, innovation, and agility.

From that I thought, it was easy to say to people, “You have to perform, collaborate and innovate – but without developing the capacities of inspiration, imagination, intuition, and integration of the brain and the body, that is hardly possible”.


You have to perform, collaborate and innovate – but without developing the capacities of inspiration, imagination, intuition, and integration of the brain and the body, that is hardly possible.

That started a process of 4-5 years of research where I looked at all the scientific findings behind these abilities and how we could integrate all of our research and use it to revolutionise leadership and organisational development.


From here, I created a model that contained assessment tools, the courses and a certification program. For the last 4 years I’ve been training people around the world, working with different organisations to understand this model and we show how optimising brain and body performance can help them deal with the stresses and decisions of today much better.


We show how optimising brain and body performance can help them deal with the stresses and decisions of today much better.


What made you focus your studies on the brain to begin with?

People can go to courses and learn about the brain and that's fascinating in itself, but it's more important to know how to apply it to the realities of business. 


An example of what got me interested in this, is what you see when you analyse the vocabulary that managers use in a one-on-one. You realise that people feel defensive straight away because of the way their manager is talking to them, and that won’t lead to a positive change in their development. 


If the brain is under stress, your behaviours are not going to be the best. If you're not sleeping well, eating well, managing your emotions well, you're not going to be the most effective leader you can be. That prompted me to look into world-class leaders’ research, into the differences between the brains of top and average leaders.


If you're not sleeping well, eating well, managing your emotions well, you're not going to be the most effective leader you can be.


There are several things - such as how top leaders are able to calm the brain during the day more often than not. They have good moral reasoning as well. They know what they want, they know their values and believe in the values. They don't say one thing and do something else because that creates chaos and incongruency. There are a lot of elements that differentiate a great leader and that's something everybody needs to learn.


People don't have this information available, and that's why I developed the Institute: it's about democratising leadership and neuroscience. It's not a matter of waiting to be a leader or be in a leadership position to start the journey. Anyone can start this journey of understanding the brain and understanding how to go deeper into the leadership abilities, to be the best version of themselves.


Anyone can start this journey of understanding the brain and understanding how to go deeper into the leadership abilities, to be the best version of themselves.



There must have been a few challenges on this journey, how do you overcome them?

When I wake up in the morning, I think “Okay, what am I doing today?” And I just run with it. I don't stop to complain or to dwell on the negatives. There's a lot of challenges in this journey, I can tell you. I don't want to talk about the challenges – there have been many – and there will continue to be. Because life brings challenges – it's how you respond to them that makes the difference to the life you experience.


Because life brings challenges – it's how you respond to them that makes the difference to the life you experience.



What was a top 'pinch me now' moment in your career to date?

One of the pinnacles was interviewing Dr. Fred Travis (who did an EEG on my brain). Meditating in his lab and seeing my brain doing what it's supposed to do when meditating – changing brain waves to be more calm, more serene, but still being alert.


He has studied what happens in the moments of transcendence when we meditate. It’s about discovering the space between your thoughts - how do you find those gaps where there's absolute silence in your brain.


Once you discover that, then you bring it back to your reality. If you continue to practice meditation, when things happen to you, you respond with a calm demeanour rather than going into panic or rather than becoming upset or angry.


So being in his lab and doing this was really a golden moment.



When you discovered all the fundamental elements to making great decisions, do you ever think, I wish I'd known these years ago?

The only thing I'm going to say is that I would rather live my life with fear than with regret. Every time I don't make a decision because of fear, I really question myself. If I look back years ago and think, if I hadn’t taken those risks, would have I regretted it? Usually, the answer is yes.


Every time I don't make a decision because of fear, I really question myself.


So I continually move forwards, even if I don't know how that's going to turn out. That's how I live my life. Some people can't live with that uncertainty. Some people want to have security and their salary is enough. That makes you very comfortable and very unwilling to take risks. I don't like to live like that.



What personality traits do you think you have that contributed to where you have come today?

People say I'm very driven, but also harmonious. I don't like to be alone. I like to work in a tribe, to operate as a tribe. I like to see people every day. I want to have my alone moments to think, but it’s the energy of a team that excites me.


After the depression period, I thought that, whatever I do for the rest of my life, I want to have fun while I’m doing it. If I can't laugh during the day, what's the point?


whatever I do for the rest of my life, I want to have fun while I’m doing it. If I can't laugh during the day, what's the point?


I'm very patient - that’s the other trait. Even a high school friend that I met after 30 years the other day, she said she remembered how patient I was. I listen to people's problems a lot and I empathise. It doesn't mean I have to solve the problems of the world, but I'm told I am very compassionate towards people.



How do you feel now LIVING THROUGH PURPOSE COMPARED TO EARLIER ON IN YOUR CAREER?

Someone told me the other day that it's interesting to talk to me because it seems that I have found my purpose. She said that most people just navigate through life without knowing what their purpose is. I don't know – maybe I was lucky that I started teaching many years ago, and I knew that I always want to teach somehow.


In that regard, I feel very grateful that I’m able to do this. That's thanks to my mother. She was a great teacher and she was always supporting whatever I wanted to study.



If there was one piece of career advice that you could have given yourself in your 20s, what would it be?

No matter what life throws at you, there's always a learning. For example, I thought I’d made a mistake in the degree that I chose, however when I look at how useful science is to me now, I know I didn’t.


No matter what life throws at you, there's always a learning.


Never stop moving ahead. We have to continue learning throughout our lives. It doesn't matter if you do an evening course in a local college or a masters in Stanford, everything is useful. Everything reshapes your brain. Everything will give you a layer of knowledge that otherwise you wouldn’t get. 


The most important thing is to work on yourself, to cultivate who you are. It's not the degrees that you acquire, because if you have degrees but you behave in a way that negatively affects ten people, or a thousand people, then once again, what's the point of doing that?


The most important thing is to work on yourself, to cultivate who you are.


For women reading this who WANT MORE FROM THEIR CAREERS BUT haven't made any killer moves yet, what advice WOULD YOU GIVE?

Move. It doesn't matter in what direction. Move. If you have to adjust the course because you've made a mistake, just readjust the course and find something else. Most people spend their time trying to figure out what they want to do before doing anything. I didn't know what I wanted to do - it just happened.


Most people spend their time trying to figure out what they want to do before doing anything.


I thought, what is it that society needs today? All this information about the brain, would people embrace it? I was completely convinced that they would, because it's so interesting. It doesn't matter if you produce swimwear or if you use cosmetics. There's always something that helps others. The focus has to be on: How do I change society? How do I change people around me? How do I change myself?


One day I was reading a book saying, ‘Do what you love and money will follow’. I don't know if that's exactly right but what I can certainly tell you is that if you do something you're passionate about, sooner or later things will start to happen around you.




I know you’re currently making a movie which I personally can’t wait to be released! Can you explain what drove the idea for producing THE movie and when our readers can expect to see it?

The movie is called ‘Make Me A Leader’. I am producing it because I want to bring home the concept of leadership to the masses. Leadership development has always been kept to organisations that can pay for it, but people will be able to watch this movie and learn about the importance of developing leadership abilities for themselves too. Entrepreneurs and small business can all benefit from understanding how this knowledge can empower their decisions.


At the moment we're estimating the 25th of July, so we are working madly towards that.




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