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How depression made me a better leader

Silvia Damiano is a social scientist & biologist, award-winning leadership specialist and filmmaker. She founded the organization About My Brain Institute which uses neuroscience to develop leaders, teams and cultures through transformational experiences, digital tools and practical leadership training.

She recently spoke with She Does This about her career path and how suffering depression made her a better leader...

SDT: You’re a social scientist, biologist and clearly an extremely intelligent woman who could have had success in any field! Why the particular interest in leadership?

SILVIA: I think that leadership underpins anything we do in life. Without leadership, teams cannot become high performing teams, a company is never a great company. Even a family or a sports club struggle without good leadership.

Life took me to work in this field and I am grateful for it because any professional performs much better when his/her development is accompanied by the development of the person.

SDT: What are some of the main differences between male and female leaders?

SILVIA: From my observations, having worked with many female and male leaders for a long time, I can certainly see that one of the more noticeable characteristics is that women want to discuss their ideas with others  even if they are incipient. Male leaders, on the contrary, sit at a table with the idea pretty much crystal clear in their heads and give less room for others' input. This can make people feel their leadership style is a less consensual and more autocratic. This, of course, does not apply to everyone, there is always a range of people who show a variety of behaviours and styles. 

Women also tend to understand what others need, and are more empathetic and relational. Men focus more on the task, the ultimate goal they need to achieve. It's harder for them to switch from focusing on what needs to be done to addressing the feelings of others, particularly under stress. Once again, I have seen women who can also focus on the task and ignore the people relations aspect. However, I would say that at some level, there are some differences which impact the way women communicate, lead and interact with others.

SDT: You founded ‘About my Brain’, a leadership training organisation where there is a focus on managers becoming ‘neuroleaders’. What is a neuroleader?

A neuroleader is the new type of leader that the world needs in the 21st Century. A Neuroleader is someone who is interested to understand  the latest findings about the brain and study how to apply them, in order to lead him/herself better and others as well. We now have information that we did not have 10 years ago. Brain imaging has changed the game. Looking inside the brain is allowing us to understand this complex organ which plays an important role in our lives as people and also as leaders. We will continue to unravel many secrets about the brain and its connection with other parts of the human system and we may not know yet everything that there is to know.  

The truth is that we cannot develop the leaders of the future using tools, models and frameworks which were developed 50 years ago. We need to upgrade our understanding of what a leader is and how to refine our abilities to expand our potential. 

SDT: You’ve spoken publicly about your experience with depression. How has this impacted your work since recovery? Has it made you a better leader?

SILVIA: I have spoken publicly about my experience because I have learnt that it may help others in a similar situation. We have to learn to be more vulnerable and choose things that affect us as human beings without the stigma that we have created that ‘there are things that we better keep to ourselves’.

Depression affects approximately 1 out of 3 people and needs to be understood, instead of being feared. Many leaders have in their team people who suffer in silence and they have no idea what to do about it.

Once people learn how to become more comfortable and talk about certain issues, then we can help people in that situation. I am actually thankful that I went through this experience because I can now understand what it really means and how to be more empathetic towards someone who may experience depression. It has definitely made me a better leader and it has rewired my brain, given me more confidence and made me more open.

SDT: You’re quite clearly a leader in your field. You’ve spoken at TedX conferences, authored a book and most recently released your documentary, Make Me A Leader, what are your top tips for women wanting to become a leader in their own industry?

SILVIA: I would say that having confidence in our viewpoints, expertise, talent, strengths, etc. is a good start. Women usually doubt themselves (me included). However, once you start to unravel the reasons behind the lack of confidence, you're able to leave your fears and doubts behind and start to think more expansively.


Taking a leap of faith and putting the wheels in motion, even when the world looks uncertain, is also a step that women need to become comfortable with. I am a self-made professional. No one came and tapped on my back, ever, so every step of the way, I had to build my own path, my knowledge, my ideas and believe enough in myself so I could work hard, without giving up if I wanted to see them come to fruition.

SDT: You’ve recently had a lot of success with the release of your documentary, ‘Make me a leader’, what’s next for Silvia Damiano?

SILVIA: Creating “Make me a Leader” has been one of the most rewarding and exciting projects of my life. I never expected to win 6 Awards in 30 days after the Premiere in Sydney from film festivals such as The Los Angeles International Documentary Film Festival Awards or the Hollywood Film Festival, etc.

In one of them, I was also awarded Best Director. It was a total surprise since I have not produced or directed any documentary before. I had a few attempts with other collaborators for small productions but I never thought I would be doing this by myself.

Due to this success, I have been approached to write a new book, something I am seriously considering, but first I am going to take a break to keep balance, something I consider important for everyone, particularly for women who are always splitting their attention into a million different things. I think it is healthy to take care of ourselves, particularly if we are busy professionals.

For more information on About my Brain click here



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