Leadership embodiment and leadership conversations
Amanda Ridings www.originate.org.uk/blog
I discovered Leadership Embodiment practices at a crucial time in my development. As an executive coach, I had become fascinated by conversational patterns in organisations, and was developing a practice in supporting leaders to explore their contributions to conversations. Some of the frameworks and approaches I use are laid out in my award-winning book, Pause for Breath.
Before meeting Wendy Palmer and engaging with Leadership Embodiment, I had been hosting ‘Dialogue Practice Development’ groups (DPD groups) for several years. The intent in these groups was to encourage leaders to:
- raise awareness of their contribution to, and impact in, leadership conversations; and
- increase their versatility and resilience in challenging or delicate conversations.
In the groups we explored frameworks such as intent and impact, advocacy and inquiry, and fields of conversation. Participants were invited to make deliberately different contributions in their conversations, and to notice the impact.
Whilst leaders were always able to make some changes, they often worried about ‘technique’ and about being less articulate and fluent than usual. They reported feeling incompetent and clumsy, and they could lose heart, and so stop taking the risks involved in trying out new approaches. Part of this is the natural experience of a highly competent person when they embark on learning that is practice-based, rather than knowledge-based. But it felt deeper than that, and whilst I always maintained that ‘intent’, tone and ‘feel’ mattered more than the exact words they used, I didn’t know how to support my participants to have confidence in the quality of their presence.
All this changed in January 2010, when I went to Authentic Leadership in Action in the Netherlands, and participated in Wendy Palmer’s Embodied Leadership module. There, I discovered how to recover from moments of self-consciousness, pressure, doubt, and stress, similar to those described by participants in my DPD groups. Further, Leadership Embodiment (LE) practices also specifically explored patterns in advocacy and inquiry, including skilful and unskilful listening, suspending judgement to look at another person’s perspective, and navigating resistance. I had found the missing piece of my jigsaw!
Excited, and true to my tendency to over-engage, I tried using the practices with clients straight away. Fortunately I had enough sense to realise that I still had much to learn, and so I joined Wendy’s next programme in London. From this programme, a cohort of trainee LE teachers emerged. Training as a teacher, and immersing myself in LE practices, I also began to introduce them to support and enrich the work of my DPD groups.
In particular, in 2011 I began work with two DPD groups for leaders in the National Health Service (NHS). From the outset, I blended LE practices with dialogue frameworks and case-work. Crucially, the LE practices offered participants real insight into their patterns in conflict and other forms of stuck conversation. For the first time, I did not hear ‘am I doing it right?’ In contrast, one leader said: ‘when something doesn’t go to plan, I don’t think ‘I’ve failed’, I think ‘I need more practice’.
My NHS sponsor and I did a full evaluation of this work. While the feedback about the whole programme was positive, it was clear that LE practices had made a significant contribution to the capacity of participants to be composed and resourceful in challenging conversations. We wrote an article for The Health Service Journal, and a second article is due to be published by another magazine this summer.
I am currently working with two more NHS groups, and continue to work with open, mixed groups as well. LE practices remain central to my approach, supporting leaders to:
- try out new approaches from a place of presence, confidence and compassion; and
- recover their composure when faced with unpredictable responses to changes in their practice.
For my work in bringing the practices of mindfulness and dialogue to leadership conversations, LE practices are the ‘difference that makes the difference’, resourcing leaders to make changes to their conversations in a skilful way.
Author of the award-winning ‘Pause for Breath’