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Embodied Leadership

By Charlie Badenhop

If you're striving to be the kind of leader people willingly follow, you'll soon discover a purely intellectual approach to leadership won't get you the results you desire. In my experience successful leaders know how to influence the emotional experience of their counterparts in a generative manner, and there's no better way to do this than by communicating with your whole self. Having your body and your intellect communicating the same message, so that what you say matches what you do.

Becoming an embodied leader can be developed and trained for, in the same way a pianist runs through scales in preparation for a concert and a ballplayer spends time in the batting cage before a game. Through practice you'll discover wisdom is manifested through your body, breath, movement, and belief system, as well as through your verbal communication. You exude 'embodied leadership' when--

  1. You are in touch with your body and your emotions, and gently but freely express what you feel and believe to be so.

  2. You do your best to stay in touch with the emotional experience of your counterparts.

  3. You realize your model of the world is not "the truth" and you thus realize your opinions and suggestions regarding a course of action, are sometimes flawed.

  4. You recognize the accumulated knowledge and intelligence of the system you're operating in, exceeds the knowledge and intelligence of any one member or part of the system.

  5. You believe that the system you're operating in has all the resources necessary to meet the many challenges and opportunities that are presented.

  6. You understand each person as having positive intentions at all times. Especially when what they seem to be suggesting might lead you to think otherwise. Indeed you ask yourself from time to time, "What is the positive intention my counterpart has, that leads them to such a statement or action?"

  7. You regularly solicit the opinions of others and ask them to correct you whenever they think it would be helpful.

  8. You are comfortable being at the center, more so than being at the top.

  9. You are comfortable accessing your intuition, as an alternative source of wisdom, and invite others to do the same.

  10. You desire to collaborate rather than being in command.

  11. What you think and feel matches your actions.

  12. You bring your "whole self" with you to work every day, and recognize that emotional expression is crucial for everyone's health and well-being.

  13. You recognize the onset of seeming conflict, as a positive signal, alerting you to the need for a shift in relationship.

  14. You're able to transcend logic and verbal language, to get to the heart of the matter.

  15. You understand that in a healthy system, emotion and logic tend to balance each other.
Here is a lovely series of quotes from Dee Hock, the founder and CEO emeritus of Visa International, and a highly regarded thinker in the field of organizational development. Hopefully what he has to say will lead you to reconsider what it means to be a leader.
"Here is the very heart and soul of the matter of leadership: If you seek to lead, invest 50% of your time (attention) leading yourself -- your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers. Use the remainder to induce those you "work for" to understand and practice the theory. If you don't understand that you should be working for your mislabeled "subordinates," then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivial."
"It is essential to employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability, and judgment are radically different from yours. It is also rare, for it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom."
"Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people. It can move the body and influence the mind, but it cannot touch the heart or move the spirit; that is reserved for belief, principle, and morality."
"The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out."
"What will become compellingly important is absolute clarity of shared purpose and a set of principles of conduct, sort of an institutional genetic code that every member of the organization understands in a common way, and with deep conviction."
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