Embodied Leadership: the capacity to lead in the midst of complexity

In our current culture our head is the important bit. The body is what brings it around from meeting to meeting, and if our body’s lucky, we’ll take it to the gym occasionally and look after it. That’s common sense in our culture, and when we think about leadership, the body may have something to do with it – body language for example – but the head’s the important bit; right?

What if, however, that’s not right? What if the body does play a very important role, and that this goes beyond just body language?

Consider emotional intelligence: when you have an emotional reaction to something (e.g. that email that makes you angry) the reaction you experience doesn’t appear as an idea in your head, but as a feeling in your gut. It’s an ‘embodied’ reaction. What about how you deal with conflict? Have you noticed how children and animals often know when people are upset before they do? They’re not noticing words, but they are able to observe bodies, and the subsequent emotional states.

The concept of leadership has its roots in animal behaviour (leader of the pack etc), and animals all know who the leader is without corner offices, business cards, job titles or bespoke suits. Leadership has more fundamental, primal aspects to it, which we can’t just think our way to achieving.

Mind and body inextricably linked

The concept of embodied leadership, derived from somatic coaching, brings the body forward as an advocate in creating a place for change and transformation. It brings together language, action, feeling and meaning and is based on the idea that the mind and body are inextricably linked: to develop one, you must cultivate the other.

Embodied learning is a level of learning where you can learn to do something differently, consistently and when under pressure. This is different to memorisation or knowing about a subject. In the domain of leadership it is this level of learning is required to be effective – how often do you really have time to consult all those models you’ve heard/read about to deal with a situation?

In this short video interview, I talk about the developmental path needed for embodied leadership. How do you experience and feel in the moment? How do you start to gain choice over the situations that you would normally go into a normal habitual triggered response? How can you create space to choose and start to practice a different behaviour that is not habitual and therefore gives you the capacity to do something different in the world? I call this self-cultivation – learning how to cultivate the capacity to do something in a different way.

My book Embodied Leadership: the somatic approach to developing your leadership deconstructs our thinking about the body using key discoveries in neuroscience to demonstrate the uses and benefits of a somatic approach, particularity in the area of emotional intelligence. There are practical exercises throughout to develop embodied leadership skills and personal development.

Embodied Leadership is about learning to lead at a deeper, more fundamental level, working through the body to deeper levels of self-awareness, developing the capacity to be the leader you want to be, and achieving what you are committed to achieving. If you’d like to talk to us about bringing this practice to your leadership or organisation, please get in touch.

Pete Hamill is an Associate of Future Considerations with an international background in impact action-learning leadership programmes and organisational development. He is an expert in the field of Embodied Leadership and is interested in personal development, including the role that conflict plays in organisations and society.

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