Tuesday / June 25

Leading from the Center: Embodying Leadership Presence

“Presence calls our attention to how genuinely and completely a person is in a
situation rather than standing apart from it as an observer, commentator, critic
or judge… Presence is a name for the quality of being in a situation or
relationship in which one intends at a deep level to participate as fully as she is
able.  Presence is  expressed through mobilization of one’s sensitivity – both
inner and outer – and through bringing into action one’s capacity for response.”
-James Bugental, Ph.D.

Have you had the experience of speaking with a person and feeling totally understood and listened to deeply? Increasingly, this is a rare experience. Too often, the opposite happens: We feel unheard, unseen, and frustrated by the lack of true connection. Recently, I ran into Monica, a work colleague I had not seen in years, at a busy café. She had a very tough job, working long hours as a top-level executive at a prominent accounting firm. She was responsible for leading a department, which included senior managers. The last time I’d seen her, Monica had been burdened with chronic stress and anxiety, seemed easily distracted and off-balance. This time, when we ran into each other in the café, I was amazed at her sense of authentic presence. She seemed calmer, more ‘comfortable in her skin.’ We chatted about her change, and she talked about taking steps to regain balance in her life through practicing mindfulness.

There is a good reason that mindfulness is of worldwide interest. Thirty years of clinical studies and the last ten years of scientific research on the brain confirm the benefits of mindfulness meditation practice. We now know through scientific research that what happens in the mind changes the brain/body in temporary and in lasting ways, and what happens in the brain/body affects the mind. Science confirms ancient wisdom: The body and mind are one.

The health and psychological benefits too of regular mindfulness practice have been well documented, including reducing stress, anxiety, and improving feelings of wellbeing. Regular practice of mindfulness helps us to access our innate capacity for mindfulness. Nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment is an important step toward strengthening attention and awareness of the present moment, greater focus and clarity. While this may sound simple, it can be quite difficult because of the fast-paced, nonstop lives.

Mindfulness is an essential tool for leaders, lawyers, lobbyists, and for just about everyone. The first and primary aspect of mindfulness is awareness of the body, which is critical for engaging leadership presence. A key element of leadership presence is congruence: our language and actions align. With mindfulness practice, we develop greater awareness internally—of our thinking, speaking, and acting—as well as externally—what is happening around us.

Try this mindful leadership presence practice:

  • Take three minutes to stop, pause, and breathe
  • Allow your eyes to close as you inhale and exhale naturally
  • Try this practice once or twice daily and notice how you feel.

Written by

Valerie Brown, JD, MA, ACC is Principal of Lead Smart Coaching, LLC, specializing in the application and integration of mindfulness and leadership training in daily life. She is an international retreat leader, ICF-accredited leadership coach, speaker, and author of The Mindful School Leader (Corwin, 2014).

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