Your Body Knows: The Geography of Leadership


More and more, I’m realizing the valuable connection of body awareness and leadership presence -- and how both are key for moving forward in the important work we’re here to do in the green or sustainability industry. A recent Forbes magazine article highlighted the value of body awareness and body language as a contributor to executive success.


My experience as a Toastmaster emphasizes this insight. When we have a level of comfort with ourselves, it translates into greater confidence as a speaker. I’ve seen transformations over several months with fellow Club members, who go from nervous or tentative speakers to confident presenters who own the room and deliver top-notch presentations to large groups.


There’s a reason why Gestures and Body Language are key evaluation criteria for any Toastmasters speech. This non-verbal aspect of communication “can be an effective tool for emphasizing and clarifying the words” a speaker uses, “while reinforcing their sincerity and enthusiasm,” Toastmasters notes.


I’ve also seen the same kinds of transformations with clients I’m working with. Over time, they become more confident about who they are becoming and what they want to achieve, and I see their body language change throughout the process.


For example, a manager who wants to step into a senior leadership role begins to identify, practice, and take on board the behaviors, attitudes, and expectations that he has for himself in that next role. At the same time, he’s assessing the behaviors, attitudes, and expectations at the organizational level for the role he wants to move into. There is a shift happening on the mental, emotional, and physical levels as he develops into this next level leadership role.


Steve Sisgold, in his book Whole Body Intelligence, highlights the science that underpins body intelligence, and he offers several excellent exercises that guide us in developing greater awareness of the connections between our bodies, minds, and emotions.


Anchored to the work we’re called to do, I call this the Geography of Leadership. What are some ways that you can begin today to tap into a more comprehensive way of knowing, in order to transform into the next role you’ll play, at work or in your life?


Here are a few tips and strategies to consider:

  1. Know Your Values. Sounds like such a basic thing, but it can be everything in a leadership setting, according to Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern in their book, Leadership Presence. The underlying question is, what message are you transmitting, consciously and unconsciously? When you know your values and how they align with what actions you are taking or the discussion you’re having with colleagues, your body is also telescoping that message -- and that you are trustworthy, because your body language and gestures are congruent with what you are saying and doing. That builds relationships with others and also contributes to your authority as a leader.

  2. Recognize the Wisdom of Your Body. For some of us, it can be challenging from time to time to identify the feelings we’re having at any particular moment. Here is where paying attention to what’s going on in our bodies and learning from it (known as somatics, or the practice of internal physical perception and experience) can be highly valuable. For example, the “gut feeling” we all know is an example of listening to the wisdom of our bodies. Once we pay attention to physical signs, such as stress in our shoulders, the gut feeling, etc., we are able to work with the information. As leaders, this is an additional source of data that can be quite valuable to us as we make decisions and work with colleagues and clients.

  3. Movement Matters. When we’re paying attention to our bodies, and we encounter a feeling, we have the power to shift that feeling. It’s as easy as moving our body. If you’re in a job interview and start to feel nervous, shift slightly in your chair or adjust your physical presence and notice if the feeling changes. This works for groups too. Have you ever been in a brainstorming session where the group gets stuck? The project lead says, let’s take a 5 minute break. People leave the room, and come back refreshed and ready to dive back in. Experiment this week at work with noticing your feelings and try moving to shift a feeling now and then.

  4. Pay Attention to Others’ Body Language. Take some time to notice the body language of others you admire who are in leadership positions. How do they stand? How do they angle their body when presenting? Eye contact is especially important for leadership success. Do they look people in the eye when they speak and converse? And also consider how relaxed and congruent they are, physically and with what they say or how they act. You never want to fully model someone else’s body language, because you want to be authentic to who you are. But you can learn some good tips for what positive body presence means for good leadership.

Can we help with moving you -- or your team members -- forward on the path to Green leadership success? Reach out to Beth Offenbacker, Ph.D., at beth@waterfordinc.com or via phone or text at 703-623-4811 to discuss if our Executive/Leadership Coaching services or our Talent Management services are right for you. We work with individual Green Professionals and with Green Organizations. All services are customized to your needs.


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