Wake Up!

As the CEO of a tech company, Steve’s highly specialized expertise provided a solid base for strategy decisions, but he was at a loss when it came to leading and motivating the people who helped to make the company successful. Through coaching, Steve recognized the value of engaging his feelings to improve his overall effectiveness as a leader. By focusing on his concrete experience as well as his thought process, he was able to improve his presence, recognize his emotions, and engage in trusting relationships. If this does not come naturally to you, you can build these capabilities by using the following three strategies:

Wake up to new experiences now.

Leading and learning require paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment. However, it is not the experience, but experiencing that is the source of learning and change. Because of habits and stereotypes, we live through many experiences without actually being awake. Learning and change can only occur when our automatic perception and meaning making are interrupted—like when we are stuck with a problem or difficulty or struck by the strangeness of something outside of our usual experience. But we can also strip our biases in more deliberate ways. For instance, Steve understood that letting go of judgment strengthened his mind and changed his actions. Otherwise, he found that he responded to situations automatically, without questioning his habitual response, as if he was only half awake.

Practice tips:

  • Awareness of your breathing is a simple way to ground in the present moment. Inhale deeply through your nose to the count of five; exhale through your mouth to the same count.
  • Use your vision to scan as a search light instead of using laser like focus.

Raise awareness of your five senses and emotions.

Steve had been successful in technology by focusing on his cognitive abilities and distancing himself from any emotional interference. Through coaching, he discovered that he was “living in his head” and ignoring a great source of information and creativity. Our body mediates our concrete experience of the world; therefore, we can benefit from noticing our sensations and feelings. Embodiment supports our ability to understand change, to experience emotions and affect, to create resilience, to enhance emotional awareness, and to support relationships.

Practice tips:

  • While thoughts happen instantaneously, feelings can take some time to unfold and flow through your body. Pause to allow the awareness of sensation to build.
  • Take a walk in nature and place your senses on high alert.

Engage in relationships.

Remaining detached and dispassionate may help us succeed when working with facts and figures, but engaging in trusting relationships is a necessity for leadership. Steve discovered that he avoided people whenever possible, even in subtle ways. For instance, he often talked on the phone while simultaneously responding to email, not giving either action his full attention. Steve learned to recognize when he was feeling distracted, and to intervene in the moment. To engage in relationships, he made a point to take the time to share a story, inquire about others’ feelings, and acknowledge tension to defuse it when emotions ran high. He also paid attention to the environment so that he could create the conditions for a positive interaction with others.

Practice tip:

  • Avoid multi-tasking and turn your gaze toward people when speaking to show respect and interest.
  • Build your “emotional vocabulary” to recognize your own complex emotions and describe them to others.

By placing your own, subjective experience at the center of learning and intentionally guiding the learning process, you can recreate yourself through learning. How and what you learn determines the way you process the possibilities of each new emerging experience, which in turn determines the range of choices and decisions you see. The choices and decisions you make, to some extent, determine the events you live through, and these events influence your future choices. Thus, you create yourself by choosing what you pay attention to and how you process and respond to that experience. To become a better leader, stop spending all your time worrying about the past or planning for the future. Wake up to your present experience now.