Tony Faulkner is one of the country’s leading experts on neuroscience and how it relates to sports performance.
Tony’s interest in the area of performance psychology took him into the field of neuroscience – and to study how the human brain responds in a high performance environment. He has since worked across football, rugby and corporate business with coaches, managers and senior management teams to improve performance.
What does ‘leading differently’ mean to you?
Leading differently for me means having an impact on your performance or the people that work with you. So it’s not so much about being different for the sake of it, it’s about being different with regards to having the knowledge and the skillset which is aligned to what you’re trying to achieve, but fundamentally is going to improve the performance of the people in the organisation.
So what is different or unique about your leadership style?
The emphasis for me is that whatever you do, make sure you do it well and do it to the very best of your ability. Make sure you know why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it so you’re able to stimulate the performance of yourself and those around you.
If you can do that consistently and do that aligned to the bigger purpose and the bigger outcome of what you are trying to achieve, then I think you can be impactful with your performance.
What has been your greatest learning experience that has helped you develop your leadership style?
It’s about the continuous evolution of what you’re doing. I think you can refer back to scenarios that you can reflect on, and we can turn round and make sense of them now - that possibly we couldn’t at the time. We live in a world, in a society, where we talk about how we improve and grow from our mistakes and I don’t necessarily think that’s always the case. To grow from your mistakes you have to be mature enough to critically reflect on those. I like to say, be mature enough to be comfortable being uncomfortable – you have to hold that emotional discourse and be brave and bold and accept it.
Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is accepting that you’re probably not as skilled or as knowledgeable as you may need to be to achieve your goals. But if you don’t allow yourself to move into that space and manage that process then you’re limiting your potential growth.
I also think that if you can allow yourself to have a critical lens then you can learn greatly from your successes as well. I’ve worked in sport for many years and I use the analogy of, after a game of football, often when you get beaten, you come off the pitch and that team and management structure will dissect for days and days what’s happened, and you can stay in that negative emotional mind set which isn’t really conducive to performance. And what you often neglect is to reflect on your successes, and that to me is alien because fundamentally you’re out there to win. So when you’ve won, when you’ve competed well, isn’t that the time to then sit down and understand in order to get that result so that you can do it again.
It’s also very important that when you have success you actually stop and make sense of the journey you’ve been on and the defeats and the victories that have enabled you to get to that point in time because fundamentally we want to achieve those successful outcomes again. So if you don’t have clarity of thought and action around what you did to get to that, how can you logically apply those methods again to give you every chance of achieving that same result?
What can people expect to learn from your session?
Firstly, I would hope that they would be curious and want to know more. To want to go away and explore the area of how the brain leads performance. So it would stimulate them to pick up a book or reach out to someone who works in this area to challenge their own activities, processes and behaviours.
Secondly, to give them one or two little pocket skills. Something they can pick up, put in their pocket and say “yep, I can see how I could use that”, or “I see how I could start to play around with that and implement that into my world” and then over a period of time, sophisticate it, bespoke it, to what they need to use it for so it then becomes a skill for them to own and build their performance.
Looking to the future - how do you think leadership is changing?
It is changing greatly. Twenty-five years ago we didn’t have a great deal of understanding of the brain and how it functioned day to day with regards to how we think, how we feel, how we behave. I think today we understand a great deal more.
While at the same time, there are ongoing advances which are giving us more detailed knowledge around how people behave and how we can interact with people. So I think there’s great advancements around the corner which will inform us even more around how people function.
But I think one of the biggest challenges in our understanding of the brain is what’s called neuroplasticity, that’s how the physical properties of the brain change dependant on the environment. I think society has evolved so much and is evolving again - when you look at the gig economy that people work in now, when you look at the younger generation of people coming through and their expectations of life, what work means to them.
I think the environments that we create are going to have a huge impact on the brain, so therefore the brain will perform differently but appropriately for the way that work operates.