I’ve worked in coaching and recruitment for years, surrounded by senior executives with impressive track records. These are driven, disciplined people who have studied hard, achieved their goals, and are now working for prestigious companies. But they don’t stop there. They keep pushing themselves to work on their personal development so they can meet the expectations of their employers and their peers. Because that’s what high-functioning executives are supposed to do.

So if these people are doing just what they’re supposed to do, why are so many of them unfulfilled in their careers and their lives? It seems to me that while they can DO what is necessary to manage a crisis, they have failed to develop in a way that allows them to BE effective leaders every day.

Leadership is all about being present and mindful

I think it comes down to one simple thing: a lack of presence. When you are present in your own life, you can step back from old habits and ways of coping, and understand how your own behaviours affect you and the world around you. You move past your conditioned responses and learn to make decisions from a more authentic and truthful place.

Remember the bright idea you once got when walking in a forest? Or the feeling of grasping, even for a moment, the meaning of your life while gazing at a sunset? Or how about the epiphany you had in the shower? It was not about the forest or the sun or the shower. It was about your connection with the present moment that brought clarity. You don’t need a forest or a sun or a shower, you just need to be present.

Presence is the foundation of most leadership skills: resilience, impact, creativity, vision… but for leaders to be present, they need to rethink the way they learn.

Superficial “cognitive learning” is not enough anymore. That focus on the intellect at the expense of the whole self (mind, emotions and body) creates huge obstacles: a lack of inner balance, low productivity, difficulty in making an impact. Ultimately, it can stop you reaching the level of authenticity, sincerity, adaptability and trust required to lead organisations today.

So where do we look for answers?

In recent decades, we have seen the emergence of contemplative practices that are rooted in ancient Eastern traditions. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, Tai chi, centering, Aikido and communing with nature have all made their way into organisations that are searching for a contented workforce and a sustainable way of doing business.

Respected scientists like Tania Singer from the Mind and Life Institute and Dan Siegel from Harvard Medical School are spreading the idea that human learning cannot and should not be separated from deep presence.

I think it is time we included presence as a core competence in every human development programme, starting from early schooling and continuing through the highest executive programmes.

By cultivating presence, our leaders will learn to observe and understand their emotions. They will develop the skills to step back and avoid letting those emotions control their actions. Less guided by their fears and a need for control, they will be more inclined to embrace the interests of all their stakeholders. And this will lead to success for the organisation as a whole and greater happiness of all those involved.

The good news is that you don’t need to become an Aikido master or to meditate for hours to be more present. You can start by listening to what your body is telling you. Then, you engage in pragmatic practices that will anchor new and more powerful behaviours for more presence, clarity and impact.

Transform pressure into power through self-mastery

How does it work? The so-called somatic approach to executive leadership development integrates body, emotions, mind, stories, action and relationships to increase leaders’ performances and well-being in a sustainable way. This innovative and powerful method incorporates techniques inspired by neuroscientific research, social psychology, mindfulness and martial arts.

This is precisely what I will be teaching on August 30th during the workshop “Transform pressure into power through self-mastery” at the Solvay Leadership Summer Camp in Brussels. This method has worked for thousands of leaders around the world. It will work for you, if you commit to the practice.

Are you up for the challenge?

Manu Henrard
Executive Coach, Recruiter & Entrepreneur at NineDots