About seven years ago I had the opportunity of doing my Leadership Circle certification with my good friend and mentor Bob Anderson, though at the time it didn’t seem like one. I was distracted for much of the certification, too preoccupied at the time with a rapidly growing consulting firm and leadership responsibilities. However, my focus shifted quickly upon receiving the results of my 360 assessment.
“What do you think Bob?” I inquired.
“Well, if I had to guess, you’re stressed out, possibly unhappy, and maybe overwhelmed,” he said in a very “matter of fact” manner.
“How do you know that?” I smirked, shocked at his ability to see right through me.
He smiled confidently. “I had a sense of it the moment you walked in the room yesterday. Your chest was fully expanded and you had a pretty intense presence about you. It looked as if you were ready to go into battle with the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
At first I didn’t know if I was offended or grateful. Surprisingly, I laughed. It was not the type of response I had expected from a leadership expert. It was more akin to how my martial arts masters would speak to me.
Bob’s insightful feedback coupled with The Leadership Circle’s Reactive-Creative model provided an elegant and easily understandable framework that animated and aligned with many of the most important principles and practices of traditional martial arts, yoga, and competitive sports. And, my Leadership Circle results clearly indicated I was a white belt in the leadership arena. Though the news was disheartening at first, I quickly became excited. My years of training had taught me how to make changes quickly.
Having taught martial arts, yoga, and contemplative practices for 25 years, I’ve had the honor to help students transcend gripping fears, frayed self-images, and limiting inner narratives and rise to higher levels of confidence, skill, and grace in their practice and more importantly life. It became glaringly apparent that the same perspectives, principles, and practices I taught in the dojang could be applied to helping leaders mitigate their Reactive tendencies and allow their natural Creative competencies to emerge.
The Body Knows
The early years of my martial arts training were focused heavily on skill development such as kicking, punching, and blocking, yet the years spent in refining these skills to masterful levels had no impact when it came to sparring with my master. The speed, precision, and power of my techniques were mostly ineffective. I always ended up on the ground defeated, usually in less than a second. It was as if he could foresee every technique before I did it. When I inquired as to how he did it he smiled and laughed. “Tim, your body tells me everything. The way you stand, how you breathe, the pupils of your eye, they tell me everything. You are so focused on what you are going to do you have little attention and focus for what is taking place right in front of you. Your presence is fragmented which leaves you vulnerable and easy to defeat.”
When I asked him how to improve he said “Learn to breathe.” The simplicity of his answer didn’t make sense. He continued, “There are three types of energy we consume as humans. Food energy, water energy, and breath energy. We can live for weeks without food, days without water, yet only a few minutes without breathing. Your breath is the most vital of all energies in sustaining a healthy, productive, and enjoyable life. Everything you do begins with the breath; the more aware you are of your breath the more conscious you become. The more conscious you become the easier it is to manage, adapt, or change yourself and your situations.
“If you can see it you can manage it. If you can’t see it you’ll be managed by it.”
One of the first practices I teach leaders on their journey towards greater effectiveness is to become more aware of their physical body. It’s a simple practice I call Gamefilming. Gamefilming (taken from the practice of sports teams watching films of their performance) is a practice of becoming objective to subjective states. Gamefilming is a practice of learning to see ourselves as others see us leading.
Gamefilming is a simple practice of noticing and naming our current state (tense, agitated, excited) often referred to as our outer game and then changing our inner game (focus, intention, approach, and ideal outcome). Leaders that actively Gamefilm develop the ability to free themselves from unconscious and arresting Reactive tendencies. This freedom from self-preserving reactivity yields a subtle, confident, and extraordinary skillset demonstrated by the masters of yoga, martial arts, and other sports.
I once coached a talented leader serving as chief operating officer in a logistics company. A former NFL quarterback for the Chicago Bears, Brent Snyder brought a unique level of experience as a high-performance team player and leader. “A game film perspective,” he said, “allows you to see dimensions of your performance that would otherwise be overlooked, which helps you to learn things about yourself and more quickly adapt. It is interesting how relevant this is to leadership. To be effective as a leader, I must have an objective, accurate evaluation of my capabilities and performance on an ongoing basis.”
He suggested the following questions for further reflection: As a leader, how do others perceive you? How do they perform when teamed with you? What strengths can be leveraged and what weaknesses can be exploited if you don’t correct them?
Given the accelerated pace of change, increasing complexity of business, and information overwhelm, it is easy for leaders to grasp the value of Gamefilming. In short they realize that cognitive horsepower, strategic prowess, and technical competency earn you the right to play the leadership game; however, they are not enough to be sustainably successful. Awareness, agility, and adaptability are what separate highly effective leaders from the pack. It’s not just about what you do it’s about how you do it that makes you an effective leader.
How to Gamefilm
Most leaders don’t have the luxury of time to invest in contemplative reflection, meditation, or other valuable practices that expand awareness; however, there is a way to reap the benefits of these practices in real time, everyday business.
Our physical bodies are the gateway to higher levels of awareness, insight, and transformation. Notice and name your physical state. What are you physically aware of? Perhaps you notice your voice becoming louder. You may notice yourself getting physically tense or sighing desperately. You may notice and name hurt feelings. The practice of objectively noticing and naming your subjective state unlocks you from the limiting behaviors, offering you a window of freedom to do and become something new.
Once you’ve consciously noticed and named your current state the next thing you must do is take a deep breath. A conscious intentional deep breath relaxes our muscles, increases the release of endorphins, and improves the overall functionality of every system in our body. By teaching leaders how to take a deep breath they create a somatic shift in their bodies allowing them new possibilities beyond dropping below the line into Controlling, Protecting, or Complying tendencies. With the somatic shift we create a window into a new reality, a reality where we see more, think more clearly, and lead more effectively.
Once you’ve made the subjective to objective shift in perspective and centered yourself with deep breathing you have the opportunity to make new choices. I teach leaders to ask themselves three simple questions I learned in my daughter’s kindergarten class.
- What are you doing? By asking this question a leader begins being responsible and accountable for their actions. Nothing new can be created until they take complete ownership for what they are currently doing.
- What do you want to be doing? This question establishes a vision for something new. Without a vision a leader has no energy to create anything new leaving themselves destined to repeat what is.
- What do you want to do about it? This question moves them above the line into their full creative potential. This self-authoring perspective ignites new action. New experiences are created, experiences that support a leader in creating results that matter versus reacting to situations that don’t.
About four years ago I was debriefing an executive leadership team on their Leadership Circle group report. The results were highly reactive. Upon receiving their results the CEO stood up, pounded his fist on the table and proceeded to unleash a healthy dose of colorful expletives at me. For a moment I froze in fear. I noticed it, took ownership for my feelings, and reaffirmed my intention for the work we were doing. Admittedly, this was not easy, especially for an old fighter like me. However, playing above the line prevailed. The meeting and the CEO shifted into a healthy conversation about how to create his vision of the future. The company has grown as much in the past five years as it did in the previous 25.
Leaders often face moments of truth on a daily basis. Gamefilming provides them with the opportunity to discover what that truth is and lead in a more resourceful, sustainable and effective manner.
A student observed his Master, O Sensei, the founder of Aikido spar with a seasoned fighter. The novice said to the Master, “You never lose your balance. What is the secret?”
“You are wrong,” replied O Sensei. “I am constantly losing my balance. My skill lies in my ability to regain it.”
About The Author
Tim JohnPress began his career while still in college teaching martial arts in the mid 1980’s. It was in the dojo that he discovered the joy of watching students self-actualize and do things they had only dreamed of. In 1987, he began working as a Field Engineer for Astronautics Corporation where he was responsible for overseeing top secret communication systems for the U.S. military, ensuring staff and systems worked seamlessly. In 1997, he pursued his dream of working in the human potential field and founded Ascendte Advisors and today, Tim continues to coach and consult individuals, businesses, and higher education institutions, specializing in leadership development, strategic change, accelerating performance, and sustainable growth.