I have been playing with this question and experimenting for the past 20 years. Today, I sense new opportunities in Europe as never before.
The cultural divide
There has always been a great divide between the mainstream traditional business culture on one hand, and – to use Paul H. Ray terminology – the emerging field of “cultural creatives” who are slowly transforming western society on the other. There has never before been such a large and easily available offering of physical, artistic, spiritual, and personal development workshops, activities and resources. Yet, the dominant corporate culture– while integrating new technologies and the marketing trends, concepts and images that can be easily used for profit – seem at the same time impervious to deeper aspects of this evolutionary culture: the wealth of wisdom, the rich opportunities for creatively questioning the way we think and act in the world. Not only does democracy stops at the gate of the corporation, but it seems to many as if one’s soul and body were better left at the door as well.
Many people in HR and management positions still regard the body as taboo in daily work. As a result, physical – and more largely mind body activities– are separate from work itself and restricted to the area of purely individual and private choice. The body has its place in the gym and in specific classes such as stress reduction, yoga … at best. The cost of that split is visible and particularly affects many leaders today. Articles on stress related symptoms have never been so numerous. Statistics are alarming. In the privacy of coaching sessions my colleagues and I witness an increasing number of managers on the verge of burnout.
These managers complain about not feeling whole and not feeling joy in their life. They experience themselves as torn between the demands of their organization – not only in terms of workload but more profoundly, in terms of values and expected behavior – and the values and wisdom they hold true in their private life. The divide indeed, is not only external, it is internal.
To build a bridge between the emerging consciousness on one side and corporate culture on the other, we need concepts, a set of practices, and a language that can be both acceptable in today’s corporations and transformative of their culture. To solve that obvious tension, if not contradiction, is a first difficulty. Over the past 20 years, I have included mouvement, mindfulness, music and voice work in many of my business seminars with a some measure of success. Yet, I have also experienced frustration as my clients tended to considered these activities as welcome “eye openers” with a powerful effect on dynamics and relationships, while at the same time restricting them to the protected time and space of team building and training. It is only recently that I have found a vehicle that can cross over: a language that directly speaks to business leaders and practices that can truly be integrated in the daily work of leaders in their field of operation.
This form is called Embodied Leadership*. It was created by Wendy Palmer and has its roots in aikido and mindfulness. It is a set of exercises unveiling the crucial role of somatic intelligence in leadership. In the training, participants study the impact of their own individual pattern of response to stress and learn a set of practices that are extremely effective to develop their leadership presence. Indeed, Leadership Embodiment (LE) offers a way to operate that deeply contrasts with the dominant end-gaining mode of operating. Its effectiveness is striking and can immediately be recognized by participants. Not only do they experience a greater sense of wholeness, alertness and calm, but in their actual business situations, they report an increased ability to make others feel included, increased possibilities for listening without reacting personally, and also a greater ease in expressing what is important, with power and without violence, even in difficult situations.
Many of my LE students see the benefits of the LE tools yet they often anxiously ask the following question: “but are decision makers in corporations ready to accept such a program?”
A more receptive environment
The greater the cultural divide in a context of economic stress, the greater the sufferance and the sense of meaninglessness in organizations. At the same time and perhaps for that very reason, I have never seen as many encouraging signs of a new receptivity as I do today. Women particularly are playing a largely unrecognized transformative role in this matter. In my experience over the past 30 years, female attendance in psychological / spiritual/ therapeutically and artistically workshops and gatherings, has always been largely superior to that of their male counterparts. It is then not a surprise to hear many male decision makers, recount how under the influence of their wives and in the privacy of their homes, they get exposed to very different ways of thinking and seeing the world.
I am also struck by the increasing number of “undercover cultural creatives” that I meet in organizations; they are people who, once enough trust is established, reveal private interests and beliefs that are at odds with the codes and culture of their company. They recurrently express a thirst to live a more integrated life. Those who resist cynicism are often painfully searching for ways to transform systems that to them seem so rigid. They are open for help and possibilities to do that. These covert creatives are precious allies. Each needs to increase his/her own confidence to fully express their leadership and contribute to a healthier and more integral work environment for themselves and others.
Today, I see these allies moving in different patterns of action depending of their context. Some initiate short one day sessions and invite their trusted peers to try out Leadership Embodiment (at French Bank and Mail Service La Poste for instance); others include LE in their training catalogue for high potential (RATP – Paris transit system); others discreetly include LE in large Leadership training cycle seminars. (EM Lyon). Bridges are not only built by HR. I will never forget Eric, a 50 year old top executive of the supposedly very traditional French Railways SNCF. Eric had been exposed to Leadership embodiment practices in an earlier team seminar and recently asked me to help him design and facilitate his business strategy meeting. When I asked him if along with the work on strategy he also open to keeping various spaces for body-mind integral practices, Eric’s answer was surprisingly concise: “but of course, he said, this goes without saying !” I could never have heard such an answer 5 years ago. This an indication from the field that times are changing.
In summary, I see today three main conditions to bringing integral leadership practices, and specifically body mind awareness to today’s businesses and organizations :
- A language, set of practices and training that are both acceptable and transformative,
- Uncovering and connecting allies within the organization
- Facilitators that are themselves authentic embodied leaders who have a deep motivation, courage and clarity and the also the skills to deal with different cultures.
If you are interested in Leadership Embodiment, training will take place in Paris
March 7th and 8th in English – April 4th and May 2nd ( French)
Wendy Palmer will teach Level 2 June 6th and 7th
Contact Pierre Goirand at firstname.lastname@example.org or +33615024452
Download this pdf to read more on Leadership Embodiment also see
February 15th 2013