When we use the term “stance” in the context of leadership or business, we frequently mean “viewpoint” or “opinion.” I’m more interested in the actual posture of a leader. “Somatic” training and practices (“somatics”) use the body to create new awareness and change. This is not new in the field of coaching, and somatic practices are moving toward broader usage and acceptance in a business setting and in executive coaching.
My own interest in somatics took me to a 3-day coach training earlier this year called Leadership Embodiment. It is based on the work described in the book of the same name by Wendy Palmer and Janet Crawford. Their approach identifies three specific ways that physical bearing relates to leadership effectiveness.
Speak your truth. While this phrase is Wendy Palmer’s language, my interpretation of it is this: as a leader, you must be able to communicate your values, passion, and vision to others, so that you connect with and engage the people you are leading. And leaders must have and project confidence in who they are and what they advocate. This includes making decisions in accordance with your values and vision, even if others may not agree with you. Stand up but with your shoulders and back slumped, looking at the ground in front of you. Try saying, “I feel confident!” It’s nearly impossible. Now, stand up straight, feel grounded through your feet and legs, let your arms fall naturally at your sides, and envision yourself making eye contact with people in the room. Which position enables you to speak your truth?
Listen openly. Leaders must engage in tough conversations and allow hard truths to be spoken. It requires the ability to hear what is being said without being defensive. Some of the ways you might close yourself off during a conversation are by leaning back from your conversation partner, putting a hand to your mouth, or folding your arms in front of your chest. You might cross one leg over the other, shifting a bit sideways in your chair and turning away from the speaker. What if instead you sat upright with your shoulders relaxed, your hands resting gently on your legs or on the chair arms, feet on the floor, legs uncrossed, with your chest lifted and facing the person who is speaking. When your stance is open to others, your mind is as well.
Be inclusive. A leader must create an environment where everyone across a team or the organization feels they are a part of making a shared vision a reality. As the authors of Leadership Embodiment say, “Successful leaders know that people will work harder when they are inspired and feel included, but just knowing this does not make it happen.” We often say that leaders who cultivate this feeling of connection have “great presence.” Stand up tall and stretch your arms straight in front of you, palms up. Slowly bring your arms down to your sides, with your palms still facing out. Imagine you are extending your personal space with the intention of being inclusive. The next time you are in a meeting room, in an auditorium, or even on a conference call, remember that you have the ability to hold that space for your team and tap into that sense of presence and connection.
Our bodies dictate how we “show up” as leaders. Bringing new awareness to your physical stance can shift the tone you set for yourself and positively influence the environment around you.