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Forget New Skills – Develop Your Capabilities!

Written by: Linda Watkins, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Forget getting new skills for a while: the era we are entering will first and foremost require capabilities. I’m not saying we don’t need skills. I’m saying the future holds even more complex problems and conflicts in store for us. The limits of our economic, social and emotional capacities will be tested, whether we are tackling pandemics, global warming or other major challenges like the redesign of the global economy.

Implementing the changes in workforce behavior and organizational strategy needed for 2022 and beyond will require a combination of capabilities, some brain-based and some body-based. Along with the body-based capabilities we are hearing so much about – empathy, resilience, courage and curiosity – we will need extensive development of our prefrontal cortex, or executive brain, to navigate so many complex and wicked problems and make wise decisions. This means more critical and strategic thinking, creativity and clarity, decision-making, impulse control and perseverance.

The body-based capabilities of resilience, empathy, creativity, courage, imagination and curiosity are necessary for making our organizations more human-centered and innovative. Wise and effective decisions are the purview of the frontal lobe of the brain, named the prefrontal cortex, combined with body-based creativity.

It is important to know that the six body-based capabilities in question complement one another. For instance, curiosity, courage and creativity are interdependent. And none of them can be built or enhanced, or become a significant operating behavior, without the others. Creativity, imagination and courage need to be combined to allow for success, especially in today’s uncertain world

But many of us work in teams and groups! These capabilities are personal and acquired at the individual level but then integrated into teams and organizations.

When talking about resilience, many of us apply the common definition: the ability to move past some sort of distraction or crisis. But the truth is there are physical, emotional, and social facets to resilience, and also the brain-based capacity for impulse control which ties to emotional maturity.

If you understand empathy as the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes and to feel what they are feeling, you have a good idea of how to build it in yourself. In current research with corporate leaders, 75% say empathy is the main capability leaders and all employees need more of right now.

You may believe that creativity is something we’re born with, or not. You might have a talent for painting or drawing. If you can only draw stick figures, like me, your creativity still gets expressed in other ways. I polled a group about this once and was amazed by the answers. One person said cooking was their creative outlet, one said it was fixing machines, another designing courses, another bringing interesting people together. Well, you get the idea!

According to a Deloitte Insights white paper, “Imagination supersedes what is known to expand our outlook,” while creativity exists in a defined space of a product innovation or problem. We have often heard the troubles of companies like Kodak or Blockbuster, and even the U.S. government, attributed to a failure of imagination. The need for imagination to innovate our way through the problems of planet earth is huge.

As for curiosity, our culture tends to look for ways to “sell” a point of view. It is a culture of advocacy. However, asking questions is more important for learning and finding new information and innovative ideas. We can begin to develop the habit of asking meaningful questions and listen to others more often before offering our point of view.

Throughout this paper, the prefrontal cortex has been mentioned as having its own set of capabilities reasoning, problem-solving, comprehension, impulse control, creativity and perseverance, or the critical and strategic thinking function.

Developing this function is possible through practice just as the body-based capabilities can be developed through practice. Current neuroscience research has shown that the brain has a plasticity that actually allows our brain and nervous system to develop into old age. The brain keeps developing as the nervous system develops. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that develops the most slowly, which is why we say that teenagers lack the judgement of adults and need to develop further.

All of these capabilities can be developed and enhanced through meaningful, focused practices. Practices that may be as individual as each person.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info! Read more from Linda!


Linda Watkins, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Linda Watkins PhD is an executive and leadership coach with decades of experience helping leaders achieve personal and professional growth, including in new, creative and future-oriented areas. She helps clients embody their leadership and become authentic, grounded and future-ready. Many find her work transformational. Linda's passion for helping leaders thrive by developing new skills and capabilities has only grown as the world has become more complex. She and her company, Leadership for Today, are strong advocates for women and have been designing events that empower women for over 30 years.



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