There is real power not just in embodied leadership, but in collective embodied leadership.
Next time you're with a group of people, notice how they inhabit their bodies. There will likely be a wide variety of postures around the room, and my invitation to you is to pay attention to how you interact differently with people based on what their—and your—body posture is like. It's common to learn about the power of body language sometime pretty early in life, but I find myself constantly surprised by how few adults practice body awareness within their work.
The body is a tremendous source of wisdom. When we access it with intention, psychological safety increases and collaboration takes on a new dimension. (For more on this, watch Amy Edmonson on teamwork here, min. 10:06-13:00). But for whatever reasons, it is not common for groups to attend to their bodies as part of what it means to arrive and be present at a meeting, retreat, or other gathering. Though a few may ground themselves as part of their personal practice, a next step for most groups is for collective ownership of the somatic field.
I facilitate many types of groups—leadership teams, professional learning communities, and workshop participants—and after a year's worth of experimentation, I've created a tool I call GOSH to support group interaction at the somatic level. GOSH refers to four qualities of presence that have a powerful impact on how people work together: Grounded, Open, Spacious, Holding. Here's an example of how I might walk a group through these terms in an experiential way:
(Whether sitting or standing) place both feet flat on the floor for stability and solidity. Straighten your spine and become aware of your whole body, feet to gut to heart to head...as opposed to forgetting you have a body or thinking it's just there to tote your head around.
Allow access to your heart by lifting your chest, pulling your shoulders back, uncrossing your arms, and removing physical barriers. This allows for greater connection between your thoughts and feelings, and it also sends the message that you’re emotionally available. (Note that this is different than the commonly-advised strategy of "leaning in." It's more like "taking in.")
Notice your breath. If you find yourself breathing shallowly, from your chest, shift your breathing deeper, down into your belly. Create internal spaciousness. Externally, be aware that you don't stop at your skin, that you have a vibe that others can feel, especially when they are in your “bubble,” which extends about three feet all around you. Your vibe impacts others. Are you exuding more calm or more anxious energy? Coolness or warmth? Considering your external spaciousness is where GOSH pivots from an individual practice to a collective one.
Now, bring your attention out to the whole group and consciously expand your field of awareness to "hold" everyone within it. When each person in a group does this, the experience of safety and inclusion is palpable. There's a sense of seeing and being seen.
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Most recently, I shared GOSH with a leadership team I'm supporting through my work with Groupaya, a San Francisco-based company supporting purpose-driven leaders and organizations. I witnessed how GOSH heightened people's awareness and changed the collective energy. The team referred to GOSH throughout the afternoon, using it as a touchstone to help them persevere through difficult decisions and to engage fully in generative conversations. It made a difference.
Here's the slide I used with the team to describe GOSH. I invite you to use this tool with a group you participate in or lead and see what happens. Or try adapting it for virtual settings, where it's even easier to let body awareness slip. Experiment and make GOSH your own.
I believe there is real power not just in embodied leadership, but in collective embodied leadership. There is a great need for us all to be the best leaders we can be. Let's not sell ourselves, our communities, and our organizations short by ignoring our bodies, the aspect of us that exists in the present tense and makes things happen.