Want to be a better leader? Then start by being present
I’ve worked in coaching and recruitment for years, surrounded by senior executives with impressive track records.
These are driven, disciplined people who have studied hard, achieved their goals, and are now working for prestigious companies. But they don’t stop there. They keep pushing themselves to work on their personal development so they can meet the expectations of their employers and their peers. Because that’s what high-functioning executives are supposed to do.
But if these people are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, why are so many of them unfulfilled in their careers and their lives? It seems to me that while they can DO what is necessary to manage a crisis, they have failed to develop in a way that allows them to BE effective leaders every day.
Leadership is all about being present and mindful
I think this all comes down to one simple thing: a lack of presence. When you are present in your own life, you can step back from old habits and ways of coping and understand how your own behaviours affect you and the world around you. You move past your conditioned responses and learn to make decisions from a more authentic and truthful place.
Remember that bright idea you had when walking in a forest? Or the feeling of grasping, even for a moment, the meaning of your life while gazing at a sunset? Or how about that epiphany you had in the shower? These ‘aha’ moments had nothing to do with the forest, the sun, or the shower. It was your connection with the present moment that brought clarity. You don’t need a forest or a sun or a shower – you just need to be present.
Presence is the foundation of most leadership skills: resilience, impact, creativity, vision, etc. But for leaders to be present, they need to rethink the way they learn.
Superficial “cognitive learning” is not enough anymore. Its focus on intellect at the expense of the whole self (mind, emotions and body) creates huge obstacles: a lack of inner balance, low productivity, difficulty in making an impact – to name only a few. Ultimately, it can stop you from reaching the level of authenticity, sincerity, adaptability, and trust that is required to lead organisations today.
Where do we look for answers?
In recent decades, we have seen the emergence of contemplative practices that are rooted in ancient Eastern traditions. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, Tai chi, centering, Aikido, and communing with nature have all made their way into organisations that are searching for a content workforce and a sustainable way of doing business. Respected scientists like Tania Singer from the Mind and Life Institute and Dan Siegel from Harvard Medical School preach the idea that human learning cannot -and should not – be separated from deep presence.
I think it is time we included presence as a core competence in every human development programme, starting from early schooling and continuing through to the highest executive programmes. By cultivating presence, our leaders will learn to observe and understand their emotions. They will develop the skills needed to step back and avoid letting their emotions control their actions. Less guided by their fear and a need for control, they will be more inclined to embrace the interests of all their stakeholders. And this will lead to success for the organisation as a whole and greater happiness of all those involved.
The good news is that you don’t need to become an Aikido master or to meditate for hours to be more present. You can start by listening to what your body is telling you. Then, you engage in pragmatic practices that will anchor new and more powerful behaviours for more presence, clarity, and impact.
Transform pressure into power through self-mastery
How does it work? The so-called somatic approach to executive leadership development integrates body, emotions, mind, stories, action, and relationships to increase leaders’ performances and well-being in a sustainable way. This innovative and powerful method incorporates techniques inspired by neuroscientific research, social psychology, mindfulness, and martial arts.
Are you up for the challenge?