What Downward Dog taught me about leadership

Photo courtesy of lululemon athletica (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of lululemon athletica (Creative Commons)

Leadership inspiration can come from surprising sources, usually when you least expect it. As part of my exercise routine, I do yoga each morning, just some stretches and sun salutations to get my body moving and the blood flowing.

But as I’ve started training for a marathon, I have been more intentional in my yoga practice, and more mindful of my breath as I move through the poses instead of just going through the motions.

My leadership also benefits from intentionality and being more mindful of the “poses.” Here’s how:

  • Breath – one of the trademarks of yoga is the breath – focusing on breathing in and out as you smoothly move through poses, not just haphazardly inhaling and puffing out.  A leader must be focused on the breath as well to be sure to bring positive energy to the team, to balance the rate of activity and to guide his or her team through the moves necessary to succeed. Planning is part of “breathing” too. My leadership team from my nonprofit is on a two-day offsite retreat to redefine our vision and core values, and then realign our objectives for short- and long-term based on that vision. If you don’t take time as a leader to  plan, then how do you know you are going in the right direction?
  • Stretch – it’s important to stretch in yoga, and lengthen those muscles, just as it’s important as a leader to stretch. Don’t be static and unchanging, but be willing to learn and teach beyond your comfort zones and encourage your team to stretch their skills as well. You will all grow and improve if you are challenging yourself and your team.
  • Hold – stretch and hold is the best way to extend those muscles in yoga, and in leadership, you must learn to hold as well. If you are constantly stretching, then you will wear down your team. But as you engage your team to a reach beyond their normal capabilities or learn a new skill, let them hold and get used to the new level before stretching more.
  • Listen – listen to your body and don’t overstretch in yoga, just like you need to listen to your team and not overtax them. Yes, you want them to grow, but not at the risk of burnout or being too overwhelmed. Listen and watch for the signs of fatigue.

Good leadership does not just happen. Thoughtful, focused practice done consistently with your team will lead to excellence in your team’s performance as well as in your leadership abilities.

In what ways have you stretched your team toward excellence?


6 thoughts on “What Downward Dog taught me about leadership

  1. As a yoga enthusiast (I need to get back to it) I totally get the connection with leadership. If you’re off balance, your team will be too. Now, let’s breathe…

  2. What a brilliant analogy, and you’re absolutely right everything has to be in balance and it’s your job to keep it so as a leader. Sometimes you have to mix things up, but you have to be aware of the perfect tension to get the best out of people, just like you do with yoga.

    One more picture of exercising and I might just get back on the wagon 🙂

    • I’m doing what I can for you Kittie! Thanks for your comments – you and Lily both mentioned balance – so important as a leader.

  3. To see a team as one Mind – Body complex does work for me. Thank you Carol. I love how you extend the idea from Yoga to the team and the individual. I found practicing yoga once a week together with others enforces the individual daily practice.

    • Thank you for your comment Jaap. I’m glad it resonated with you. I usually do yoga alone, but that’s an interesting idea that practicing with a group even once a week can impact the daily practice as well. Namaste.

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