Bringing the practices of mindfulness and dialogue to leadership conversations

Weebles wobble…

…but they don’t fall down.

Do you remember this jingle for a toy? With a heavy rounded base, a weeble rights itself when pushed over. I use this image to emphasise that the key to Leadership Embodiment practice is recovering centre when we’re buffeted by life.

When knocked off-balance in a conversation, or by an event, we tend to react habitually. We have ‘go to’ tactics that have served us in the past. Perhaps our favoured gambit helps us get our way, or get things done. Perhaps we lean towards reducing discomfort, or shielding others. Sometimes our usual routine is effective. At other times we remain unsettled by our actions – perhaps worrying that we forced a result, or kept peace at a cost. While we didn’t fall down, we aren’t fully ‘righted’. We’re in less of a wobble, but we’re not poised and resourceful.

Working with Leadership Embodiment practices, I’ve learned there is a qualitative difference between recovering centre and deploying a ‘coping’ strategy. In the latter, we’re likely to be less mindful of what we’re doing and the consequences. The groove of a tried-and-tested approach accentuates efficiency, by-passing creativity, and offering fewer options. In contrast, genuinely regaining balance allows us to connect into a sense of ease and flow. We see the bigger picture, becoming more able to be generous towards others. In essence, we shift into another gear.

From your own experiences in facing difficulties, how would you describe the difference between occasions when you’ve ‘coped’, and those where you’ve been gracefully skilful?

My reaction to being off-balance is to try and control the situation. I brace myself for the worst. I pay less attention to the interests and feelings of others. I become expedient. In contrast, if I pause for breath, and centre, I make contact with the longer view. I’m able to respond in a way that encompasses wider concerns.

One of the reasons I love working with the Leadership Embodiment approach is that my reactive habits show up unequivocally. I can’t reason them away. I have to accept them, and learn to work with them. Physically, it’s easy to see when we’re off-balance – we sway or become rigid. In contrast, it can be harder to discern emotional or cognitive wobbles before they cloud our thinking or actions. Using physiological experience to represent all kinds of ‘wobble’, embodiment practices offer concrete feedback about how well we’ve ‘righted’ ourselves.

In a recent example, I was demonstrating the foundation Leadership Embodiment centring practice to a group. We work with a partner, who applies mild physical pressure. This reveals what happens when things push on us, such as deadlines, or volume of work, or challenging conversations. Perhaps we flinch, brace or push back. Perhaps we shrink or withdraw. Sometimes it’s a mixture. Surprisingly little pressure initiates our ‘default’ reaction. The practice is to recover centre, whilst still under pressure, becoming more aligned and open.

When we’ve centred, we invite our partner to apply a little more pressure, showing that our capacity to receive it has been enhanced. At this stage in my demo, I discovered that I wasn’t centred enough to work with the extra ‘push’.

Not very long ago, I’d have been mortified by this. As programme leader, I was very obviously failing with the basics. Paradoxically, there was good news: this had happened before, and I’ve learned how to use it. I disclose that I’m not centred, describing how. I make adjustments to my posture, and to my awareness of space and support. This usually does the trick. But, on this occasion, it didn’t – I was still bracing to ‘take’ the pressure.

This hadn’t happened before. I was now demonstrating in real time, experiencing a genuine wobble. It felt like the equivalent of an actor choking.

Reflecting later, I realised that two parallel things occurred instantaneously. On ‘track 1’ my mind went into a whinge – my partner’s hands were in the wrong place (at my elbows, rather than my wrists), so obviously it was her fault. ‘Track 1’ prompted me to correct her, making it easier for me, whilst implicitly criticising her.

Simultaneously, on ‘track 2’, I thought: ‘live with it Amanda, this is what happens’. In accepting the situation, I immediately experienced my body adjusting to allow centre to come through. In easing off, my energy shifted. I smiled, asked for more pressure, and the demo was complete. I had wobbled, but not fallen down.

Whilst challenging for me, the demo was enriched, because it reflected reality. We’re knocked off-balance, and we try to recover centre, but aren’t quite steady enough to navigate the next unsettling event. We wobble again, and attempt to regroup – but we won’t know if we’re truly ‘righted’ until the next challenge comes along.

The point is that when we wobble, we do have a choice. We can act on our personal variation of ‘track 1’- blame others and/or doubt ourselves. Or, if we have sufficient presence of mind, we can pause, recover centre, and choose ‘track 2’. Whilst there are other ways of regrouping, Leadership Embodiment practices have helped me to make ‘track 2’ a viable option, even when I’m under pressure.

How will you right yourself, when you next wobble?

Join me on my next Leadership Embodiment programme in Edinburgh, starting on 23 February. Learn more…

Comments are closed.