"The most important thing is to find out what is the most important thing."
- Shunryu Suzuki
Eighteen months ago, in a Paris subway, my wife, Angela, promised our daughter Julie (who was 14 years old at the time) to help her realize her dream of making K-pop culture more accessible in Europe and living her fandom to the fullest. K-pop is short for Korean pop, a style of music originating in South Korea that is popular with teens worldwide. Angela knew that this culture allowed Julie to live her adolescence better and that this would be the origin of a beautiful mother-daughter adventure. So, they both declared their commitment to creating a platform that would make K-pop events, products, and services better available for European fans. Without any market knowledge, without any network, but with immense courage and an irresistible desire to make a dream come true, they started their journey.
Now, imagine my pride and admiration when my two loves became entrepreneurs and launched the www.ipurple.eu website. Their deep sense of purpose gave their declaration weight, and empowered them to bring their vision to life.
Building powerful declarations is a critical leadership skill. Whether in their own lives or when leading others, influential leaders set a vision for the future, and because they have declared this vision, it becomes possible.
Think of Barack Obama’s “Yes we can” or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream”. Each of these powerful declarations arose from a deep sense of meaning and brought forth a better world.
I often ask CEOs about their vision for their company. Then, I ask them how that vision builds on what they care about. Unfortunately, the answer is often a long silence. To me, all these silences, put end to end, are one of the reasons why organisations still contribute to increasing environmental deterioration, widening the inequality gap, and threatening human dignity. These leaders are lacking in connection.
Leaders who are disconnected from the future they declare lack courage and the ability to inspire themselves and others.
When building powerful leadership declarations, where do we start?
One of the things that struck me when I first started with somatic coaching at the Strozzi Institute for Embodied Leadership is that the place where we find a profound sense of purpose is deep inside ourselves. When we drop our attention into our body, our sensations, and the energy that’s alive in us, we connect with a sense of purpose that will orient our declaration.
In this process of building a powerful leadership declaration, we must train again and again, asking ourselves what and who we care about, what future we are committed to. Then we practise over and over, feeling the answer to that question and articulating that transparently to other people.
The art is to allow answers that come from a felt experience to emerge.
Some of us may perceive this as a weird practice. After all, most people learned at an early age that performance and recognition come from our ability to “know,” and that numbing our physical sensations may reduce the unpleasant experience of certain moments in our lives. It’s an adaptation that protects us in times of crisis, but it can also prevent us from reaching our true potential as leaders.
To truly tap into our power as leaders, we shouldn’t numb our unpleasant experiences; rather, such feelings should be taken as signals that something’s important. Sadness, fear, resentment, excitement, and courage are mainly felt experiences, and are all strong indicators of what we care about. By re-learning to connect with these physical sensations, we can discover our truth and purpose, leading us to deeper authenticity, a stronger vision, and more powerful declarations.
For Angela, discovering her deeply felt purpose of increasing joy, hope, and connection among teenagers became the vision to collaborate with our daughter to create a platform that would make K-pop events, products, and services available for European fans—a vision she brought to life with a powerful declaration.
Throughout this journey towards connecting with our deepest selves, the most important thing is to practise, practise, practise.
Take some time to be alone, calmly and in the present moment. For example, you could go for a walk in nature, enjoy a cup of tea, listen to the birds, etc. Set aside at least 30 minutes for this exercise, and focus on feeling yourself and the other living beings around you. Then, staying in this quiet moment, read these questions one by one. Before answering, let each question touch you; be curious about how it lands in your body. Is any emotion present? Does your body contract or open? Can you identify physical tension, movements, a change in temperature? Don’t make sense of this; just focus on noticing what you feel. Once you’ve done that, answer the question.
What is important to me?
Who is important to me?
Why is it important to me?
How do I want to live my life?
What is a satisfying and fulfilling life?
Are my actions aligned with how I want to lead my life?
What am I committed to?
The answer to the last question may be a good start for creating your declaration. By repeating this practice regularly and by sharing your answers with trusted listeners, you will progressively increase the depth of your declaration.
When a leader can deeply feel what is really important to him or her, when he or she has acquired the ability to declare it with strength and vulnerability, and when he or she cultivates a close connection with that declaration daily, that leader’s body naturally starts to move in the direction of his or her vision. At that point, the leader embodies his or her declaration. The authenticity resonates and others begin to follow that same path. It is one of the most exemplary acts of leadership.
And you? What future are you committed to?
Manu Henrard is a Executive Somatic Coach and an Executive Recruiter based in Brussels. He is also an associate from the Strozzi Institute for embodied leadership. Manu's professional commitment is to help leaders increase meaningful productivity and achieve inner peace. More about his coaching program here.