In Leadership coaching we ask for a commitment from Leaders to create the time and space they need for personal Resilience. This enables us to achieve the wellbeing and mindset a Leader requires. Taking care of ourselves to effectively sustain both personal Resilience and that of our teams and organisations is key in growing our capacity for Resilience.
Being able to unfreeze ourselves during those stretch moments, lifting ourselves from the chaos to gain clarity and calm during change and high pressure is invaluable. Mindfulness can enable greater flexibility in the body and mind, yet many Leaders often struggle with the simplicity of Mindfulness and question the validity or the results it might give them.
The bottom line is technically competent Leaders can fail if they are not prepared to take the time to understand themselves and develop the soft as well as the hard skills. If we are able to create alignment from our wider sources of intelligence,we can become whole Leaders. Knowing how to balance our instincts is really helpful in those critical moments and helps us say and do the right thing.
If you have ever seen the New Zealand All Blacks when they perform the Hakka, you will have witnessed an example of how in a high performing context we can draw from historical and spiritual principles to bring our A game. Steve Hansen who was the All Blacks Head Coach for a long time described being an All Black is not just about winning it is a way of being. The Haka is both a challenge to the opposition and a connection to self; adapted from Maori culture it is a deeply important part of the All Blacks tradition.
Operating at the top requires a laser sharp focus and high levels of self-awareness. We need to feel empowered during high-pressure and this requires harmony between the body and mind. Having practised Chinese martial arts in my 20’s, I am more familiar with the Chinese view of health and performance. Fast forward I am now in my 40’s and avidly read and study to help me be the best Coach I can. I now practice QiGong rather than martial arts. During QiGong practice, the mind and breath depend on each other to bring my focus and attention back to the here and now. In turn the body and mind harmonise to become coherent. Practicing QiGong over a longer period of time will allow a connection to be made through the vital energy centres of the body including the head, heart, and guts. Once balancing these centres of intelligence has been mastered we can regain flow more easily.
The majority of us are not consciously aware of our instincts, we do not stop to take notice of our wider senses, nor are we aware that we can learn to control them. These centres are described as dantiens in QiGong and for the purposes of this blog exploring how Mindfulness can sustain the foundations of our Leadership – I have summarising these for the Leadership context here:
Head: We think with our heads. We use the head for observation and critical thinking. This energy centre is the most vulnerable to becoming depleted yet it is most important to setting strategy that is aligned to our business and organisation.
Heart: We feel with our hearts. Deep within our hearts we know what we stand for and believe in – within this energy centre we know what is true. As Leaders this is about growing our people, nurturing talent and aligning teams and it is more successful if it comes from the heart! Setting the vision that we know to be right that in turn can support our strategy.
The Gut: We act on our gut instincts; it gives us courage to move forward and to do the right thing. This is about acting on what we know to be right. Managing the performance of our people – doing what we say we are going to do, and bringing forward the courage to communicate and share our vision, strategy and carry plans into action.
Within QiGong the whole body is considered. Practiced for over 5,000 years, it includes movements that enable you to transform challenging times to inner strength. Indeed the closest translation for stress from the Chinese language consists of two characters, one signifies danger and the other signifies opportunity. Fast-forward from ancient times to 2019 and this is what many of us in the Resilience space believe. Resilience is the opportunity to deal with danger and turn threats to opportunities for growth. As Leaders it is difficult to do this if we cannot create inner balance and alignment.
One of the professional challenges I set myself each week is to find a straightforward way to draw upon Mindfulness practices, in-order to find the techniques, examples and approaches that will feel grounded, practical and applicable to those I am due to coach. During this mental prep for my week ahead, I often think of the ‘Red Head’ ‘Blue Head’ work Ceri Evans did with the All Blacks. This approach gives a framework to manage thoughts and emotions in moments of intense pressure.
‘Red Head’ is an un-resourceful state in which you are off point, panicked and ineffective. ‘Blue Head’ is an optimal state where you are on point and performing at your best. Through this work, the All Blacks developed the self-awareness to switch from red to blue. Using this mindful self-awareness practice the players achieve clarity, accuracy and increase their ability to deliver outstanding performance.
Applying this work to the perspective of creating mindful alignment as a Leader and referring back to a view of the head, heart and guts – a state of flow and alignment between the head, heart and guts – as opposed to chaos – can be seen as the blue zone – where we have created coherence.
Mindfulness invites us to come back to self in moments of stress and tension. It reminds us that in those moments of haste and speed we can experience frustration however we can always re-connect and by aligning the head, heart and guts we have a wider source of energy, instincts and direction to draw from. If we can re-balance ourselves and gain control over our inner environment it helps us to move forward from this place of balance with more personal flow, purpose and less stress.
New evidence from brain scans show people who rush around every day find it difficult to stay present and focused and have an amygdala (the pre-historic part of the brain) that is on constant high alert. This is described as “doing mode” by Mark Williams Professor of Psychiatry at Oxford University. The analytical mind breaks down information in order for critical thinking however this can lead us to focus on the gap between where we are rather than where we would like to be, in turn leading to feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The doing mode is often our normal default in the West – and leaves little room for just “being”. If we can stop “doing” in order to step back, re-align ourselves in order to assess a situation with objectivity – having checked in with all our senses (head, heart, guts) – we can harness the capacity to de-clutter thoughts, feelings and emotions and clear strategy, vision and perspective for our selves and teams.
We all have to multitask and balance the different demands on us, and as Leaders the span of responsibility can feel vast! However in order to develop the mental and emotional resiliency that will sustain us – it requires that we take some time on developing our capacity to unite the body and mind and accept this as important for developing our capacity to perform under pressure. This is not just for a world elite rugby player or a Buddhist Monk, but also for all of us.
I hope this blog will help summarise why Psychiatrist’s, Psychologist’s, Resilience and Mindfulness Coach’s are using ancient practices to help our performance in the 21st century, be on point and balanced.
If you would like to know more about my use of ‘Red Blue Balancing Techniques’ we have meditation resources available. Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog and as ever feel free to share, comment or send feedback.