7 Timeless Principles That Will Help You Become a Better Leader Executive coach and author Susan S. Freeman explains how ancient yogic wisdom can transform your life and business in her new book, 'Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership.'
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The following is an excerpt from the new book, Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership by Susan S. Freeman, available now at Entrepreneur Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM and Apple.
If you'd told me 25 years ago, when I first stepped onto a yoga mat, that one day I'd be writing a book on the intersection of leadership and yoga, I would have belly laughed. I was perfectly happy in my career as a vice president in a boutique executive search firm. The thought of writing on such a "soft" subject would have seemed misguided even as recently as a decade ago. Yoga was what I did outside the office.
For me, the practice of yoga started purely as an escape from the stresses of my daily life. I put it in the same category as going to the gym to stay fit and relieve tension or reading a good book before bed to help me relax.
But what began as a means of distracting myself from my intense workday and physically unwinding after long hours spent grinding at my desk or taking meetings back-to-back gradually settled into a ritual of homecoming—a chance to return to myself.
Yoga subsequently transformed my personal life and my work, and I saw an opportunity to blend the seemingly disconnected worlds of yoga and leadership.
7 Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership
When leaders make a habit of focusing inward on themselves and their internal state before making a decision, holding a meeting, making a phone call, walking down a hallway, or interacting with staff, they become more open and receptive. They leave the defended structure of their reactive ego mind, having developed a capacity to disengage from fearful narratives derived from past experiences, as well as from their anxieties about the future. They are able to reduce conflict in the workplace because they have done so first within themselves.
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Those who have adopted this method report feeling unburdened and being able to choose just the right action at the right time. They have become co-creative partners with others.
Equally important, their stress is reduced. Over the years, I have repeatedly heard not only that their companies have benefited from this approach, but also that the leaders I coached enjoyed improved physical well-being—some lost weight, some eliminated long-standing insomnia. Others stopped needing medication for high blood pressure.
In every case, the bodies of these high-performance leaders reflected the mental and emotional transformation they experienced inside themselves. As this happened, the manner in which they engaged with others in the world changed in unexpected and welcome ways. Their inner growth was reflected in the outer growth of their organizations. Things improved in a similar manner at home with their families.
How then do you focus inward and make the inner switch? Mindfulness is a necessary component, yet alone it is not enough. A deeper style of leadership is required. You must develop skills and take radical personal responsibility for how you manage your internal energetic state. This is essential to increase your capacity to show up in the moment, bring your best self to the matter at hand, and connect with other people at a mental, emotional, and energetic level.
Yoga is not a state of being. It is a practice that can transform the practitioner when it is done regularly. Similarly, leadership, when practiced with an intentional structure, offers the practitioner an abundance of significant positive changes. This is a skill sorely needed in our world today, where in every single moment we are deluged with stimulation that draws our attention and disrupts our focus.
There are seven principles that I've drawn from ancient yogic wisdom that can help you shift from unconscious reactor to conscious responder and lead others to do the same.
- Open. Embrace the beginner's mind, which is open to the new and unknown.
- Learn. Understand the limitations of your mind and its reliance on conditioning.
- Let go. Move from stressful reactivity to stimuli toward conscious responding.
- Drop in. Experience the way of being that arises from neutral observation.
- Integrate. Bring body, mind, heart, and being together to act spontaneously in balance in the present, as we become the observer.
- Connect. Tune into your internal state of harmony before communicating with others.
- Illuminate. Cultivate a space where others may release their unconscious reactivity so everyone can respond powerfully in the present.
In combination, these principles will teach you how to transform your working relationships from conflict-creating, stress-inducing, goal-oriented, reactive struggles into harmonious, joyous, effective, and responsive partnerships. You will learn how to stay calm, be resourceful, and confidently respond with compassion and equanimity, even when you're under pressure from external forces. You will experience a deeper sense of fulfillment and joy from your work and see opportunities that were previously hidden from you.