Two or three times each week a group of ten to fifteen of us file into a small mirrored room with a hardwood floor and soft ambient lighting. We claim our usual spaces, roll out our mats, and begin the process of warming our muscles, loosening our joints and preparing our minds for the workout that will soon begin.
Our teacher on this and most days is Loan (pronounced Low-on). She is a Vietnamese immigrant with a young family, a friendly smile, and a work ethic that brings many “workout warriors” to their knees.
Over the next 60 minutes, Loan leads the group through a series of moves (called poses), focusing on increasing flexibility, balance, and strength. We follow her visual and verbal instructions the best our bodies allow. Half way through I am drenched with sweat but continue. She leads us by example, with energy, encouragement, and subtle challenges.
At the end of the practice we enjoy a few moments of relaxation in a pose called Shavasana (dead-man’s pose). This is the time to relax, reset – to clear one’s mind.
Of course my mind finds it hard to stop – so yesterday during Shavasana, I was thinking about how to become a better leader. As my body cooled and my mind wandered, I thought about how Loan guides us through the practice and the key leadership tools that she uses.
Make a Connection: Each class Loan finds a way to connect with every student through a friendly hello, a smile, or a comment about the day. She walks through the room during the practice making adjustments to our posture, correcting a misaligned pose, or gently helping us to stretch further. These are small gestures that make you feel there is a connection, and gives you motivation to want to follow, to achieve, to excel. Business leaders need to do the same – not just walking around observing, but by interacting, finding common ground, and showing an interest in their people. Loan knows all our names, the names of our spouses or partners, and a little something about each one of us. How many business leaders can say the same?
Push Hard But Know When to Pull Back: The mission of yoga is to strengthen our bodies (and minds). This is not always easy – resistance is often evident. So we have to be challenged to explore our boundaries and limits but not so much that we lose our spirit. There is a fine line here that all leaders must walk – how to get the best out of people, push them to explore their maximum capabilities, but not turn them off to the message and methods. This requires being attentive, observant, and able to read body-language and other non-verbal clues. A great leader can see when “enough is enough,” and pull-back as needed.
Use Your Breath to Calm Your Mind: In leadership positions we are often faced with conflict, debate, stress, and fatigue. The true character of people often shows in the “heat of the battle.” We need to learn to step back, breathe, and collect our thoughts before we face the challenge.
Focus on Yourself: At work, we spend a lot of wasteful time worrying about others. We are strivers who work in competitive environments. We constantly compare ourselves to others in how we manage, look, feel – even how much we earn. Wouldn’t it be more effective long-term to use this wasted time to better ourselves? We need to focus on us (our own practice) and not worry about others. We can only control what we do, how we act, and what we feel – this is a great responsibility.
Focus on the Opportunity: Good leaders help you see the possibilities. During each yoga class, Loan always finds the time to demonstrate a pose that few of us can do – but, with enough practice might be possible to one day achieve. Leaders show the dream – and make you feel that if you work hard enough and with conviction, the dream can become a reality.
It is OK to Take a Break Once in a While: We are wired to step forward, to take charge, to overcome our physical limitations. Our foundation is our bodies, and sometimes they need a break. We are not Superman/Superwoman. Sometimes we need to step back, rest and let others lead. After a short rest we return refreshed and refocused, ready to take our earned spot at the front.
Well, it’s time to finish the practice – Loan says at the end of Shavasana that it is time to, “bring your mind back into your body.” I think I learned a lot today; maybe yoga is good for my body, mind, and my career. I am looking forward to my next yoga class to see what else I can learn. Namaste.