"I cry because I'm sad. And when you're sad, you cry..." These were the first spontaneous and moving words in a 17-year-old boy's speech to Bobo, his grandfather, at his funeral a few months ago. The words touched me and stayed with me, as did the feeling of connection and respect they generated in me.
Over the past few weeks I’ve wondered why these words resonated with me so deeply. And the answer is ultimately simple. It was not the words that were strong; rather, it was the authentic sharing of an intimate experience. A moment of balance between listening to oneself and sharing with others, as if there were no longer any separation.
I often meet business leaders whose intention is to improve team commitment and facilitate transformation. They ask themselves with sincerity what message to convey or what process to improve. Often, however, the question to ask is simpler and unfortunately less comfortable: Do I want to engage in a sincere and vulnerable relationship with my professional entourage? If so, how can authenticity be relearned, and vulnerability tolerated?
For a conceptual and scientific approach to vulnerability, I strongly recommend Brené Brown's video The power of vulnerability or Emma Seppalla's article in the Harvard Business Review What bosses gain in being vulnerable. But finally, what is the point of knowing that vulnerability helps to engage teams if, under pressure, our physical automatisms systematically lead us to more secure interactions?
With concrete self-observation practices focused on their experience “in the moment”, many leaders realize that they hold their breath or clench their jaws before they start an executive committee. Unconscious and disturbed by physical discomfort, they forget their intention to be authentic and connected, and return to their automatisms. They disconnect from their teams and regain control, which has a direct impact on the relationship of trust and, indirectly, on the performance of their organization.
It is often the physical experience of vulnerability that makes it unbearable, whether it is holding one’s breath, tension in the jaw, or a knot in the stomach. And it is by learning first to tolerate this physical experience that a sincere connection becomes possible. Then, like a top-level athlete, it will be necessary to engage in personal practices that will make authentic behaviours more easily accessible at a time when the need to connect will only be equalled by the feeling of vulnerability.
Such practices, often identified through coaching, will vary from person to person and will be aiming at aligning mind and body towards authentic behaviours even under pressure.
This so-called somatic approach to executive leadership development is still new in Europe and already well-developed in some other parts of the world. It suggests that, to improve a leader's individual performance, they must first increase awareness of their physical sensations, emotions and thoughts, and then engage in pragmatic practices that will anchor a new and more powerful behaviour.
“This approach is now considered by many scientists as the most direct way for leaders to access the level of exemplarity required by today's economic, environmental, and societal challenges.
And in everyday life, such authenticity can have major ramifications as well. After all, it enabled the teen at the funeral to pay tribute to his grandfather in the most powerful way, and his message has stayed with me ever since.