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Inspiring Leadership through Centredness

The power of a company with leaders who inspire at every level up and down the organization is hard to overstate. These are the companies that consistently pull off innovative or heroic feats in business because so many of the people who work there are motivated to make them happen.

Consultants at Bain and Co. conducted a five-year research study, which uncovered 33 distinct and tangible attributes that are statistically significant in creating inspiration in others. Of all 33 elements, 'centredness' was the skill that employees most wanted to develop.

Centredness is a state of greater mindfulness that is achieved by engaging all parts of the mind to be fully present. While a growing number of companies offer optional mindfulness programs to promote health and workplace satisfaction, the research shows that centredness is fundamental to the ability to lead. It improves one’s ability to stay level-headed, cope with stress, empathize with others and listen more deeply. 

There are three sequential steps to becoming centred in the moment: settling into our physical bodies, sensing our felt emotions and shifting into a position of neutral observation. The result: We are brought into a state characterized by full attention and equanimity. Centredness is the key to replacing automatic reactions with thoughtful, strategic and authentic responses.

STEP 1:

Settling into your body signals to your primitive brain that you are safe and mitigates the automatic fight-flight-freeze response. To practice this, first, balance yourself, creating physical stability in your body. Second, ground yourself to firmly connect yourself to the earth. Third, breathe deeply to bring attention to your centre of gravity and to calm yourself.

STEP 2:

Sensing is the ability to notice the physical information that your limbic brain (especially the heart and gut brains) transmits in reaction to emotional stimuli, such as a tight chest, shortness of breath and butterflies in your stomach. Sensing enables you to name the emotion connected to that physical sensation, and identifying the emotion allows you to begin managing your response. By sensing, you are gaining access to and using your limbic brain system, rather than allowing it to operate entirely on autopilot.

STEP 3:

Shifting is the mental process of creating distance between your emotions and actions through a change in perspective, in essence adopting a position of neutral observation. Neutral observation occurs when you move back and step up from the emotions you noticed and named while sensing. This shift is the circuit breaker that allows your neocortex (the executive brain) to enter the process and control your responses.

Learning and practising each of these three steps will allow you to wisely choose your course of action and guide your behaviours in situations of stress or emotional intensity. Furthermore, these three steps will enable you to bring your full set of inspirational leadership skills to bear in your everyday life. 


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This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue. Published by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Rotman Management explores themes of interest to leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

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