Learn how a philosophy to achieve incredible mental, physical and spiritual strength, harmony and well-being that’s more than five thousand years old can help you become an elite, transformational leader.
I was bored. Not with life, or my career and certainly not with my family or clients, but with my routine. More specifically—my fitness routine.
If you’re someone who always strives for excellence in all you do, you get what I mean. That’s why we sign up for financial seminars or participate in week-long events around bettering ourselves in our career or personal life, run marathons, compete in triathlons, the Ironman, even Tough Mudder events. We do these things to push ourselves beyond what we think is possible or to see what we are capable of achieving under extreme conditions.
Which brings up an insight I had. Call it an epiphany; a defining moment of unexpected, authentic clarity. And certainly a topic we all need to pay more attention to, since those companies who are, seem to be achieving some exciting and noteworthy results.
Spirituality in the Workplace Is a Growing Phenomenon
Beyond the numbers, beyond the KPI’s, quota and commitments, beyond the analytics, metrics and results; there is the person. Regardless of your role, who you are or where you are from, you are a living breathing, organic life force first before an employee, salesperson or leader.
And for every leader, whether at work or at home, your ability to thrive in any environment and situation rests not primarily on what you do but who you are as a person, an individual; a human. This way of mindfulness has been growing within organizations over the last several decades. Whether you call it spirituality, consciousness, mindfulness, self-awareness, or emotional intelligence, I’m referring to any outlook or way of thinking that transcends the traditional way we work, communicate, collaborate, manage, sell, and run a business.
Regardless of the results achieved or the level of subject matter expertise the leader possesses, true leadership excellence ultimately depends on the deep mental, emotional, physiological, environmental, and spiritual aspects of the leader. Not spirituality as you may define it today, but reinventing your definition of spirituality, mindfulness, or awareness around how connected you are to yourselves, your integrity, your accountability, your core values, your environment, and ultimately, to other people.
If you don’t have a clear vision and picture of who you are; your values, priorities, cause, or what you stand for in the world, and align that with your goals, your job role, and responsibilities, it makes it extremely difficult to serve others, live a value-based life, bring more meaning and significance into your work, and perform at your very best.
The Power of Who You Are and the Force of Gravity
As a result, any leadership development initiative or the ability to evolve as a leader cannot restrict itself to addressing only the business results and KPI’s, but we must find ways of engaging these deeper dimensions of the person, the inner game of leadership to alter how we think, engage with others, and perceive the world around us in order to create the richer and more meaningful experiences and the environment we truly want at work and at home.
So, who are you, really, and how do you show up to others? That is, your presence, energy, brand, or disposition? Before creating champions around you, each leader must identify and bring out the champion within themselves. But for this to occur, something has to happen first.
If you have shed your ego, if you have successfully stripped yourself of your title, role, achievements and financial or material gains, what is left? Who you are.
If you were to describe yourself and who you are without mentioning what you do, what would it sound like?
Has it been so long that you’ve forgotten who you are? Does your identity rest solely around what you do at work, your achievements or the role you play at home?
What else do you identify with? What defines you?
These are not simple questions. However, once you have the answers to these questions, think about how who you are and how you show up every day impacts your role at work, the people you attract into your work and into your life, your customers, as well as the wins, upsets, and challenges you face. It all becomes a reflection of you. That’s right, if you are the center of your world, then you are the gravitational force that pulls everything towards you. This is the reason why in most cases, as a manager, like it or not, your team is a reflection of you; the good and that which needs refinement.
The Inception Moment
Circling back to my defining moment, I wanted a new challenge but simultaneously wanted something that would be aligned with my core values and who I am. Something that would push me out of my comfort zone. Something that would keep me humble, and put me on an even playing field with others.
It was October of last year when this seed was planted and started to germinate—the inception moment. While going through my daily workout regimen at my gym, a friend of mine suggested I try hot yoga. Now, for some of you guys reading this, before you put the article down in fear it’s going to affect your testosterone level, don’t give up on me yet. I’d go so far as to say hot yoga is more difficult than cross-fit training or any workout you can do at the gym. I’ve tried most, so I welcome your comments.
My friend who suggested hot yoga was someone I respected so, as someone who is always open to new possibilities and a believer in trying things once before dismissing them, I finally got around to taking my first hot yoga class in January, 2015. And that’s when I got hooked; almost to the point of addiction. (My wife would argue that it is an addiction.)
Could Yoga Help You Become a Better Leader and Salesperson?
Now, the question you may want to ask me at this time is, “Why are you writing about spirituality and your new found passion for hot yoga, and how does yoga relate to becoming part of the top 1% of the most successful leaders in the world?” We’re getting there.
Since starting hot yoga, I’ve noticed that I’ve been sharing my newfound passion more and more during the programs I facilitate, drawing analogies between effective leadership and the philosophy behind yoga.
Aside from the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits, here’s a list of eight powerful, universal lessons I’ve learned during my practice of hot yoga which every manager, and every person, can benefit from, as they have made me a better leader and a better human.
Eight Reasons Why Hot Yoga Will Make You an Exceptional Leader
1. Set Your Intentions
It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, five minutes ago or what will happen tomorrow. The yoga instructor begins the class the same way each time. “Okay, let’s set our intentions for the next hour and, begin.” Do you give every meeting and conversation the same level of focus and intention? Is everything considered a priority, which dilutes your focus and the focus of your team, as you jam far too many topics into a 30 minute meeting in an attempt to be, “efficient?” For managers, how effective are you at setting, managing, and aligning your expectations and the expectations of others during every conversation or meeting? When working with your team, peers, boss, or customers, how adept and skilled you are at doing so will determine the success of failure of your management, coaching, and selling efforts. And if you’re looking for evidence that it’s working, you know you’re doing a good job when you have buy in, and agreement without pushback.
2. Don’t Associate a Feeling with a Particular Experience
During a hot yoga class, the instructor spends the entire class talking, guiding you through each posture, breath, as well as the mental state to achieve in order to stay focused and keep your mind clear of any distractions or thoughts that could inhibit your experience and ability to successfully complete the class. It was a statement he made which grabbed me that applies to everything in life, especially to leadership and business. He said, “Never take a sensation and associate it with a posture or you’ll keep re-creating that same sensation over and over in your mind.” So, if you do this, you are taking a past experience; in this situation, a certain posture, and projecting it into a future expectation of what you believe will always happen the same way. (“I got so dizzy during that one posture. I’ll always get dizzy when doing that…”) Now, think about how you manage. Have you branded certain people (lazy, incompetent, top achiever, wants to be left alone, the toxic one, the ‘uncoachable’ one, etc.)? Think about the people you work with. In essence, you’ve created a limiting truth surrounding a person or experience, which will continue to become a self-fulfilling prophecy every time you’re in a similar situation. Consequently, you will then continue to react the same way. Think about how this relates to your business, how you sell, lead your team, and communicate with certain people. In yoga, you would acknowledge the feeling and breathe through it. In business terms, if you keep reacting the way you did in the past, then you will continue to create the same result as before. Instead, disassociate from the feeling and the experience or you’ll keep recreating the same result or outcome. Choose objectivity and non-judgment instead.
3. Get Used to the Heat
In hot yoga, between the added humidity and the blazing heat, you’re in a room between 1 – 1.5 hours where the temperature is about 105 degrees Fahrenheit.That’s why the first week of taking the class, I spent much of the time simply acclimating my body to the heat and being able to stay in the room for the entire class. Now, think about your role. Think about the first time you moved into a new position, adopted or expanded your team, or took on more responsibilities. Think about the heat and the pressure you initially felt in your role. “What did I just sign up for?” How long did it take you to get accustomed to the heat; the steep learning curve, conduct all your due diligence, have the internal and external client conversations, as well as getting people, processes, and results in place to start assimilating into the environment? And most important, have you done so in a positive way? Conversely, when it got too difficult, did you quit? Did you give up? Chances are, if you’re reading this, the answer is “Absolutely not!” Managers report being under intense pressure to achieve their goals. Ironically, this is something I hear from 99% of every global sales organization I partner with. What really needs to happen then, is to create a culture and environment on your team where you get used to the heat, while still enjoying the process of achieving your goals. A duality. Like living in Florida during the summertime. Eventually, you assimilate, adapt, and get used to the heat. And before long, if set up correctly, it’s not so hot after all.
4. Don’t Let a Sensation Turn into an E-motion
Do you have a strategy on how to manage your emotional state and the state of others around you? After all, acclimating yourself to the temperature in a good environment is easy. It’s when times are tough when you are feeling the intense pressure of not hitting your sales targets or business objectives and the heat keeps building. But the great leaders are able to still remain focused and calm, keeping their emotions at bay, in order to get through the challenge and arrive safely and successfully on the other side. That’s the sign of an elite leader. The practice of hot yoga has taught me how, when experiencing a sensation which could easily be triggered by any posture, the key is to breathe through it so that you are able to do this outside of the class.
5. Embrace the Experience Without Reacting to It
The yoga instructor specifically makes it a point to say, “If you feel faint, or lightheaded, if you feel uncomfortable, if you feel you can’t take the heat, or if your body is reacting negatively, do not leave the room. If you feel overwhelmed, there’s no sensation you are experiencing that a breath won’t be able to handle. Just lie down and breathe. This forces you to deal with the discomfort. And isn’t this true in life sometimes? You can’t leave. You can’t run. You have to work through it. Think of your job, role, and your company. You want to work through each goal and challenge the best way possible. In Zen speech, process everything and nothing without reacting to the experience.
6. Humble Yourself
After my third month of consistent hot yoga ( I was taking about 5 classes each week, which I continue to do to date), I hit a wall. Athletes go through this as well. Whether I was pushing myself too hard at the gym (5 days a week there too) my body was over-trained, I’m getting old or I just was exhausted, I still persevered and showed up to the yoga class. During the class, the instructor, who’s style, while very effective, I would describe as rather militant, continued to correct my postures during the class. After the class, I asked him why he shared several observations regarding my efforts during the class. Let’s just say, he didn’t hold back. He literally chewed me out. He began with, “Keith, since you’ve started here, your form and postures have actually regressed and gotten worse.” It was humbling. But I did ask for the feedback. And at that moment, I had to park my ego and just listen. But my ego wanted to play a role in the conversation as well. My ego’s dialogue wanted to burst out and say something else. Work a power play into it. Something to protect myself. But it didn’t. Instead, I listened, ate my fair share of humble pie and took the criticism. Why? Because at the end of the day, I’m the student, and he’s the teacher. He was trying to help me. Now, could he have delivered the message a bit differently? Sure, but the point is, this yoga forces coach-ability and the ability to take criticism from everyone, regardless of who they are, or how it’s being delivered. It is a characteristic of the world’s elite leaders. Whether it’s the person on the assembly line, your direct report, a salesperson, a peer, a customer, and of course, your boss. Whether you like what you hear or not, as long as they’re truly coming from wanting to help you and are being honest, you need to take responsibly around the fact that whatever they are telling you, while you may not agree with all of it, there is probably a lining of truth to it that if you can grasp onto and learn from, it will make you a better leader. You never know where your next greatest lesson is coming from unless you keep your eyes and your ears open and are ready for it. Oh, and yes, I continue to go to his classes today.
7. Breath Before Motion
When it comes to business and in life, you can’t let feelings, ideas, and associations affect you physically. That fear or the experience of feeling fear or stress, for example. Or the reaction you have from one of your customers, peers, or salespeople about an email they sent out. This is the part that elite leaders have mastered—their ability to manage their emotional state, especially in the face of adversity. They know if they do not disassociate themselves from the feeling and the experience, they are bound to continually re-create it. So, observe, rather than react. Before making a choice, before responding in a conversation or to an email, breathe deeply several times. Clear your head. Get to calmness and away from reactivity. Then, make a better move.
8. Get Comfortable With the Uncomfortable
It’s no surprise that these postures are challenging, and some are incredibly difficult, taking months, if not years, to improve. And once you’re in any of the postures, one of the goals of holding the posture is to put your body in positions where it becomes a human tourniquet, so that when you let go of the posture, you can flush out all of the toxins and scar tissue from your body. When getting into any of the proper postures, then holding the posture is not often very comfortable, it comes with some amazing benefits. As creatures of habit, people like to do things that produce a degree of certainty in the results, even when those activities may not serve us best. At the same time, we want better results, but resist anything new so we recoil back into what is safe and comfortable. The paradox is, change is the only constant. To grow and evolve, we must change and stretch beyond our comfort zone. Consider this; if you are comfortable with the activities you engage in, then you’re simply doing what you’ve already been doing, which will produce the same results as before. Now, this may not be such a bad thing if you’re happy with the results you’re currently experiencing. Keep in mind, this mindset is also the breeding ground for mediocrity. However, if you’re willing to do things that make you uncomfortable, a new activity, strategy, or developing a new skill or way of thinking, then you will create new and better results. The lesson? If it’s uncomfortable, it’s probably the right thing to do and the quickest path to greater success. So, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You may be familiar with the definition of insanity. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Let me introduce you to my definition of futility. That is, knowing the definition of insanity and still not doing anything about it. Identify the best practices in your role, both at home and at work. Then, to accelerate your success, embrace the discomfort you may experience when trying something different that will create new and better opportunities for you.
I purposely left this one for last, as it’s up to you to take the investment of time you put into reading this article and what you found to resonate for you, and create a measurable impact on you and your success. So, which one are you going to focus on today that’s going to challenge and expand your thinking and how you lead?
Photo Credit: Dao Xuan Cu (via Shutterstock)