What is the reationship between leadership and the body?
Most leadership training reflects the common privileging in the Western World with the cognitive. My claim is that this is a grave mistake and that leadership is an embodied affair.
The body is integral to who we are and how we lead. It is much more than just a way of carrying the head around, and is involved with every aspect of leadership. For a leaders to know and manage themselves, let alone others, they must be familiar with embodied knowing and presence. What do I mean by this? When I refer to the body I don’t just mean the body athletic or aesthetic – while appearance is important and physical health is of course any leader’s foundation, there is much more to it than that. Let’s look at a few aspects of leadership and see how the body is relevant.
Charisma, gravitas, presence – that special something that leaders have is an embodied phenomena. If you have ever been in a room with Bill Clinton or the Dali Lama this much is clear. It cannot be learnt from a book.
Communication, Emotional Intelligence and Trust
What most leaders are paid for is communication. Can they influence and inspire? Can they build trust? Do they have the necessary emotional as well as cognitive intelligence? These matters rely upon the body.
A leader must be calm under pressure, embodied techniques are vital for “centring” and “grounding” as stress is a bodily not purely psychological occurrence.
Each of us has a disposition for certain actions and not others. Perhaps you have a friend who is optimistic and cheery whatever the weather, or another who would curse their luck even if they won the lottery? This long-term mood is normally apparent from a leader’s posture and movement and can be managed through these once body awareness has been established.
“Embodied” Management and Leadership Training
There are many more aspects of leadership that are related to the body; in fact I would say that as the body is part of being human, all aspects of leadership are intertwined with embodiment, however the our above will give a flavour. The next question then is what can leaders do to develop skills in this domain? Basic physical health and wellbeing are a good starting place and beyond this I would recommend some kind of body awareness discipline. Martial arts, yoga and dance are particularly useful. There is also non-athletic Embodied Management Training that is highly beneficial for any leader looking to “get themselves together”, manage how they are perceived and what they are capable of, and step-up to the challenges of the modern work-life. The world desperately needs leaders who are in touch with themselves physically and this opens up emotions, ethics and integrity. The future will not, and should not, be written by those who can not walk their talk.
Mark Walsh heads leadership training providers Integration Training: based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specialising in “embodied” ways of working they help organisations get more done without going insane (stress and time management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence (management training). His background includes work with blue-chip companies, non-profit sector work in war zones, an academic degree in psychology and an aikido black-belt. In his spare time he dances, meditates and enjoys being exploited by two cats and one baby niece. His life ambition is to make it normal to be a human being at work.
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