What Yoga Can Teach About Leadership
On a recent business stay in India, I joined a yoga class in downtown Bangalore. I became part of a group of eight women who met daily to practice Yoga after work. The class took place in a quiet space nearby a small temple. No street noise could penetrate its walls. We only heard the soothing voices of the temple’s monks singing their prayers.
It wasn’t my first yoga lesson. I had started practicing Yoga years ago in Germany, as part of my fitness routine and mediation practice. Over the years I had tried different types of yoga classes and styles, some of them were more physically challenging, others were more geared towards finding your spiritual inner core. Despite all that practice, my first class with the yoga group in Bangalore was humbling. Most of the group’s members expertly balanced and twisted their bodies with ease, while I struggled to follow suit. My legs and arms did not always bend the right way, but it did not matter. While we all went through the same postures as a group, everyone in the room worked on their own goals at their pace. It reminded me that yoga can teach us some valuable leadership lessons.
One of the core benefits of yoga is gaining focus. Going through the different yoga postures has a calming influence on body and mind. Every pose, from the beginner’s pose to the more advanced poses, requires your full attention and focus.
Maintaining focus is a valuable skill for leading teams in a fast-changing environment. Clarity of mind enables leaders to focus on what it is important to navigate their teams through industry transformations and organizational changes to the future. Focus also helps to use technology innovation for business value by adopting technologies not for their “coolness factor’ but for their potential to create new products and business models.
The best yoga pose to practice focus is headstand. Nothing requires more attention and focus in Yoga than balancing your body on your head – at least for me.
Not every Yoga posture is learned easily. It takes determination and steady practice to master the more advanced postures, and even perfect the beginner’s poses. Leaders don’t shy away from challenges. They tackle them every day with determination. By having a clear focus and goal, they find ways to build the right team, skill sets and use the right technologies to overcome hurdles.
One of the postures that required determination for me is the crow pose or crane pose. While it requires some arm strength, the real challenge is convincing your mind that you can balance your body with your feet completed lifted from the ground on both arms. To master this pose you need to understand where your center of gravity is and how to distribute your weight to balance your body.
Imagine the opportunities when you take off the blinders at work.
3. Challenge yourself every day
Learning and growing as an individual, team and company requires being comfortable with change and being ready to leave one’s comfort zone. Yoga practice challenges you to overcome your perceived physical and mental boundaries. One example is the scorpion pose, known to be one of the most challenging yoga pose. It resembles the position of a scorpion ready to strike, with your body resting on both forearms and your legs mimicking the scorpion’s tail. This advanced pose, that I have yet to master, requires having an enormous core strength, flexibility and mental readiness.
Practicing different styles of yoga over the years have taught me to constantly challenge myself, not only at yoga practice, but also at work. Applying yoga techniques at the office helps me to adapt to a fast-paced environment and help others to do the same. It also gives me the mental power to create a ‘quiet space’ to stay creative and innovative.
But don’t only take my word for it. Recent organizational leadership studies have been analyzing the impact of mindfulness on leadership efficiency. According to a study by Prof. Megan Reitz and Prof. Michael Chaskalson at Hult International Business School, mindfulness increases leadership efficiency, but the development of mindfulness depends on the level of practice that the leader does. Based on their study results, leaders who practiced mindfulness for at least 10 minutes every day progressed significantly more than others who did not.
The more practice, the better. After all, ‘practice makes perfect.’