What is embodied leadership?

Imagine me standing in a dance studio learning a new sequence of tap steps. There’s a lot going on internally – I am intensely looking at my teacher’s feet while simultaneously trying to command my own feet – all while keeping in tempo and rhythm with the music. I start off ok, then then start to lose the sequence – my feet are doing something I don’t yet understand but I keep at it.

At the same time, my teacher is performing the sequence perfectly all while keeping an eye on my feet and the feet of the other students. After repeating the sequence several times, she pauses – turns to me and says: “You have got the basic sequence Caroline – the first two times you do it. On the third, you are tapping with your left foot when you should be stomping, your weight is then still on your right foot and you lose all momentum for the next step. Try practicing the left side slowly a few times until your body figures it out.”

She then casually moves to the next student and offers equally gentle, precise, and thoughtful observations and support.

I’m blown away. How is it possible for her to do this?

Thinking about this over coffee the next day, I recognize that she must have gotten there through her practice… but it’s more than just repeating the steps technically. The steps have become part of her whole being… her arms move to support her shifts in weight, her feet hold emotion (I swear to you, her hops are “light and lively”) and the movements always sound and “feel right”. She can repeat the steps at any tempo with agility… it’s truly remarkable.

I realize (putting down my coffee Eureka! moment), she’s got it down so good that she no longer needs to really think about it – she has embodied the steps fully. This is what frees her up to focus her time and energy on what’s happening with her students! Where her intentional practice informs her on an instinctual level. It’s yet another beautiful example of what embodied leadership looks and feels like…! As her student – I trust her fully; her engagement and interactions couldn’t be more effective with her students; and the results are evident as we consistently make steady progress week after week in an ever increasing level of complexity of steps and sequences as a class.

In my leadership coaching practice, I always offer a customized foundational mind, heart, body practice to my clients that is aimed at helping them to master the basics of caring, authentic, purposeful leadership within themselves. We practice this together in our sessions and they are invited to take up this practice every day. For those who genuinely take up the practice – new possibilities for engaging as leaders slowly begins to emerge as they begin to embody the foundational steps of leadership in their own mind, body, and heart. As time goes on, their practice evolves and strengthens as it allows them to “keep tapping perfectly” – even under different levels of stress – freeing them up to focus their whole selves on their team, their clients, and their business. They develop new levels of trust with others who can feel into their embodied capabilities and appreciate their gentle but firm approach to leadership.

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