Women in leadership roles constantly have many competing demands impacting on them. They sort out the washing, try to listen to the children, stack dishes, make an urgent business phone call, brush their hair, smear lipstick and yet calmly walk into the boardroom minutes later. Female leaders often take challenges like this in their stride.
Seeing the ‘bright side’ and treating problems as challenges are just some of the characteristics that enable female leaders to achieve remarkably. Juggling our business and personal lives prepares us for the ‘war zones’ that we often face. And if we acknowledge that every one of us is a leader in one aspect of our lives or another, we have a great deal to be proud of.
As an ‘executive coach’, I find that women (and men!) benefit from simple relevant practices and I’m going to share three tips with you.
Tip 1: ‘breathing practice’
This simple practice works well if applied consistently. All it takes is commitment to doing the practice every day at roughly the same time for at least three weeks. If done properly, that three-minute practice can change your life. It becomes a tool which you can use ‘in the moment’ when the need arises.
Here are the instructions: Stand against a wall making sure that your head, shoulders, torso and legs touch the wall. I know that we all have humps and bumps in different places – so do your best to have as much of you connecting with the wall (or door) as possible. Once you are in that position, take a deep breath making sure the air fills the bottom of your lungs first. Slowly take in air, filling to the top. Hold your breath for a few seconds. After that, slowly release the air starting with concentrating on the top of your lungs. Empty downwards until your lungs feel empty. Take one or two normal breaths and repeat. Your goal is to get up to five breaths with no ‘normal breaths’ between.
So what is the point of this practice? Firstly, it helps you develop a ‘posture of confidence’. When we are stressed or tired our bodies often sag forwards. This upright posture counteracts that. It also helps us to feel more ‘in control’. In addition, by ‘opening up’, we benefit through taking in more oxygen. And by concentrating on our breathing, something we usually do unconsciously, we can’t think about much else. So this helps to clear our minds. Thus immediately after the practice, we can ‘respond’ to situations rather than ‘react’ as we have reduced the emotion that is making us feel stressed. By creating a pause in our activities, we can fill that ‘space’ with positive thoughts.
However, to add this practice to our toolbox, we need to do it every day in order to create new pathways or habits. This tool becomes our default so that when we need to use it, we remember and do this self-correction automatically. So, for example, if we are chairing a meeting where the situation is becoming volatile, we call a 5-minute recess, go off to the ‘ladies’, shut the door and do our breathing standing against that same door. I coach a CEO who goes off to the deserted kitchen and does her practice there.
This same practice works well in all domains of our lives. So, once it has become a default activity, through self-awareness, we catch ourselves ‘in the moment’ and ‘self-correct’. When we are feeling angry or upset with our partners, or we feel exhausted with children demanding our time, that is the time to ‘take a break’ for those few minutes and go and do our breathing practice in private. We’ll return to the situation able to cope better. We’ll respond rather than react and thus are less likely to ‘snap’ at others in a grumpy way that makes us feel guilty and miserable (over our behaviour) afterwards. Thus we will have more energy for positive interaction.
Tip 2: ‘peripheral vision’
Another practice that has helped many of my clients involves developing our ‘peripheral vision’. We are often so engrossed in the task at hand that we don’t pay enough attention to what is happening around us. And as a leader, this is important in the broader context. We need to constantly ‘scan the environment’, assessing change and looking for threats and opportunities.
To encourage awareness I simply ask that each time clients climb in the driver’s seat of their cars, that they carefully examine all three mirrors to get the different views of what is happening behind them. And they do this each time they stop (obviously not while they are driving!) at traffic lights or anywhere else. It sounds so simple, yet it is surprising that most of us don’t do that automatically. Again, doing this every day for three weeks creates new habits. And it is interesting how developing our peripheral vision impacts on all aspects of our private and business lives.
As leaders, we are ‘in the driving seat’. Let’s function more effectively. We need to notice changes and be able to ‘tune in’ using all our senses.
Tip 3: Executive coaching
Whether you aspiring to a leadership position, or are sustaining a current leadership role, a good executive coach can help you to turn your ‘stumbling blocks’ into ‘stepping stones’. This takes away stress, enables the client to enjoy ‘balance’ and achieve more. A shift in your ‘way of being’ brings great benefits. This coaching can take place ‘in person’, via phone or Skype. Find a coach that suits you and your needs.
Being effective as a female leader in business presents many challenges and we need to be able to draw on our inherent strengths. By following the three tips above, we can enhance our leadership skills in business and this can translate into benefits in our home and community lives as well.
For further information on leadership development programmes and ‘executive coaching’ please contact Brenda on +27 82 4993311 or +27 33 3425432 – email firstname.lastname@example.org or www.strategy-leadership.com