Looking Inward

The power of embodied leadership in achieving communication breakthroughs

We had been driving in peaceful silence for the last 20 minutes, watching the snow fall on the surrounding mountains. My husband was the first to break the quiet.  

“You know, honey, I’ve noticed something that’s changed about you.” I felt myself brace slightly, uncertain if he was about to reference a good or a bad change. “Yeah, what’s that?” I asked with hesitant curiosity. He proceeded, “I’ve noticed when there’s a lot of tension or stress from me or our son, you speak to us in a very slow, calm way, instead of getting caught up in and reacting to our anxiety.” 

I realized he was referring to earlier that day when tensions ran high as we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to leave one day earlier for our trip to Salt Lake City. 

It dawned on me that he assumed I was using a communication technique to talk slowly during that chaotic period. In reality, I had been feeling just as frenzied as my family.

The difference was that earlier that morning, I took time to calm my nerves by simply sitting in a chair and closing my eyes. In that brief pause, I received some internal advice, “Just take the next right action, and let go of your fear about when you leave.” 

I got up and followed that guidance for the rest of the morning. Ironically, the result was that we packed in significantly less time and in a surprisingly peaceful way. I was also able to provide what I call “an attitude of grace and space” toward my husband and son, allowing them to be in their heightened states without making either of them feel wrong or wanting them to conform to my expectations. 

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So, what does this story have to do with leadership? When it comes to leadership, it’s easy for us to gravitate toward proven tools, scripts and techniques. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the desire to acquire more knowledge and expertise, we have the opportunity to realize that though these tools might make us feel good on the inside, they can still leave us feeling like we’re pretending as we attempt to “fake it until we make it.” With tools, scripts and techniques, we don’t actually have to participate in the process. We can do the thing we’re told to do and expect others to follow.  

However, if we rely only on this approach, we’re often missing opportunities to really work on our personal growth as a leader and acquire a deeper understanding of our mind-body connection while improving the quality of our communication with others.

When we address our emotional states, beliefs and fears — before directing others — we become a more embodied, powerful and effective leader.”

Leslie Cunningham

Alternatively, when we address our emotional states, beliefs and fears — before directing others — we become a more embodied, powerful and effective leader. We are more present for others, allowing for better communication, accountability and interactions with the people we are leading. It’s who we are being as leaders and our degree of embodiment during our interactions that makes the real difference with those we lead — and with ourselves. Trying to speak slowly or in a scripted way when we haven’t experienced a shift internally doesn’t put us in a powerful space. Our thoughts, intentions and emotions need to shift first. This is not just some positive way to manage stress; it’s grounded in biology and neuroscience. 

When we’re talking with someone, we interpret their nonverbal cues using “mirror neurons” to let us know if the other person is being authentic and coherent. Simply put, we observe if their words are matching their body language or internal state. You can think of these mirror neurons as “BS” detectors.  

This is the difference between learning leadership techniques versus becoming an authentic leader. To step into our full power and authority begins with working with our nervous systems first, so we can acquire the alignment and confidence to let our authentic voices shine through.