Clack! The jo sticks met in the center.  Clack, again as we extended our reach and swung our jo to meet the others.  This is part of a 6 jo kata I’m learning in an embodied leadership program this summer. Each move appears simple. Each move has a certain grace. Yet, I initially struggled to string the steps together into a continuous movement and do so in harmony with the others.

Embodied (or somatic) leadership is not some new age fad, aspects of it have been around for decades.  Some have called it gut instinct, emotional intelligence, executive presence, etc., but these disparate elements never integrated the whole mind and body into its practice.  Today, embodied leadership, along with its close cousins – mindfulness or centered or agile leadership – is increasingly seen as essential for navigating dynamic, complex and chaotic environments.

The crux of the matter is the human nervous system has more neurons in the heart and stomach than in the brain.  But in a highly analytical, data-driven world, we tend spend all our time in our brain, not noticing what our heart or gut may be telling us.  We keep running faster, working harder, but lose sight of our values and what’s important to ourselves, our companies or communities.

Can we tap into this source of knowledge?  Embodied leadership is a way of accessing and understanding the wisdom inherent in your body to inform your behaviors or actions.  For example, one exercise we did was to recognize which of the fight, flight or freeze responses we fall back on most in stressful situations and use that knowledge to consciously pause, reflect and reset focus on our goals.  This pause frees your mind to better evaluate the situation in view of your purpose and take thoughtful action.

This is where the jo kata practice comes in.  Intentional practice and repetition increases awareness of your body’s length, width, depth – elements of posture and knowing your center.  Individually, it helps you connect to your purpose, internalize your sense of self and build your internal and external presence.  When you consider that 90% of your communication impact as a leader is related to your presence, you understand how critically important this can be.

When doing the jo kata as a group, you notice and feel where you or others are off.  Can you stay aligned when others are off-kilter?  If you’re off-kilter, how do you – or should you – re-center or move back into unison with the group?  How does this awareness translate to the individual or group dynamics in your office, teams or family? Does it signal differences in style, behaviors or purpose? Can you use the practice to strengthen your intentions and focus?

By building your self-awareness and clarity of purpose, you become open to exploring new ideas and to listening with empathy, enabling yourself to more actively pursue your direction calmly, confidently as a stronger leader.

Lisa Ciota
Lead-IR Advisors, Inc.

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