As leaders when a crisis occurs, we seldom recognise the toll it has on our stress levels, health and leadership. Yet a leader who is overwhelmed with stress can’t help themselves or their team, writes Cynthia Payne.
As a leader, I faced my greatest challenge in 2013, when an employee committed a serious crime, was charged, and received a significant sentence. I was required to navigate the situation whilst upholding the company’s reputation. I was highly aware of my own behaviour, and conscious of how I was being perceived by my team and the board. It proved to be a profoundly stressful and challenging situation.
Modelling leadership behaviour
The ultimate responsibility of setting the right behaviours rests squarely on leaders. How I behaved was critical in successfully navigating extreme circumstances. Leadership behaviours are key indicators of the success or failure of an organisation. To succeed, leaders must develop skills, capacities, and knowledge.
In 2014, while I had held everything together for my job and my family, I had lost focus on my health. I was diagnosed with gallstones and needed to undergo surgery. As I reflected on my stress management techniques, I educated myself on cortisol, and began to understand the links between stress and my then-current medical situation.
I needed to heal my body after a sustained and difficult situation. I decided to enrol in a 200-hour Level 1 Yoga course. I was exposed to the initial teachings of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs model of Yoga (Hatha Yoga) and realised asana (one limb) was about the physical element but the remaining seven were about a whole lot of different focuses. Today I am a committed practitioner and use yoga’s philosophies in work as a coach, mentor and leader.
How I developed my leadership techniques
The word ‘yoga’ means to connect, but it can also mean separation or disentanglement. The integration of physical practice, meditation, and breathing exercises help us disentangle from whatever stops us from feeling free. Yoga has helped me cultivate greater self-awareness, ethical behaviours, and spirituality while improving inner peace, concentration, and wellbeing.
As leaders we are always looking for ways to improve our leadership skills. Within this is a need for new training methods and ideas to benefit leaders, organisations, employees, and society.
As a CEO, I believe that mindful engagement sets great leaders apart from good leaders. In my leadership journey the practice of yoga has helped me develop my leadership skills, in particular my ability to problem solve, improved self-awareness, deeper compassion and checking my ego.
Leaders need to come up with creative, effective solutions to challenging problems. Yoga asks us to pay attention to our bodies and to align our breathing with our movements, helping us learn. Creative problem solving will make you think beyond what we already know (or think we know), requiring us to learn something new.
Self-awareness, perspective and agility
Putting yourself in a position to think more critically and creatively, as well as be more present for those around you is a key leadership skill. Doing yoga resets your reference points. Moving your body changes your perspective, needed for learning new concepts or shifting how you solve problems. Yoga gets more oxygen to your brain, brings your attention to your breath, and helps calm a hyperactive nervous system – engaging the higher processing parts of your brain.
Compassionate engagement and being present
Being a leader means getting things done. It also means knowing how to communicate, delegate, and motivate. Doing this from a compassionate and understanding place makes them easier. When we communicate less successfully, we fail to engage from a compassionate place. Instead, we worry about what we need to do, who is causing issues, what problems are visible. Yoga brings you back to the present. It reminds us to concentrate our energy and attention on what can be done and needs to be done now. Focusing on the ‘now’ and being fully present with others, means we engage with, motivate, and inspire people, rather than stress them out.
Check your ego
Being a great leader means you admit when you can’t solve a problem or complete a project on your own. It means asking for help when you need it, for the ultimate good. Yoga presents physical and mental challenges requiring us to check our ego. Poses that look simple turn out to be difficult, and it can take years of practice to master just one new skill. It reminds us to recognise our body’s limits, while appreciating and caring for it.
I have built these traits into the culture of Anchor Excellence and it’s mission of enabling leader’s. Leaders, including those in the aged care sector, need to be present and compassionately engaging more than ever. Being open-minded and open-hearted costs nothing and benefits everyone. For me, yoga brings an alternative approach to better leadership, which means improved outcomes to consumers.
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