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Becoming a Physically Intelligent Leader

Leadership lessons for a crisis (Published in CEO Today magazine)



Author Sherrilyn Kenyon expands on an ancient saying when she writes, “The strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell...The fire gives it power and flexibility, and the blows give it strength. Those two things make the metal pliable and able to withstand every battle it's called upon to fight.”

In the midst of this crisis, leaders are being forged and strengthened by the minute. Decisions being made will shape careers and organisations for years to come. While the challenges vary across industries and organisations, no leader has been left unscathed. We’re all flying without a net – or a playbook. Even before the current crisis, we were living in a time of unprecedented change. Human beings haven’t been evolving as quickly as the pace of change, leaving many people feeling overwhelmed, threatened and stressed – leaders and team members alike. This crisis has exacerbated our response to those increasing waves of change – for better and for worse. In response, in addition to character, ethics, and integrity, more than ever, leaders need:

  • The fortitude to make quick decisions with confidence, keep a cool head under pressure, and act and speak decisively and wisely in complex, high-risk situations without threatening others or feeling threatened.

  • Agile thinking in what has become an ever-changing environment, encouraging creative problem solving and a combination of convergent and divergent thinking, often while operating at breakneck speed.

  • The ability to recover quickly from adversity and conflict – physically, mentally, and emotionally – remaining optimistic and constructive, adopting a learning mindset, and supporting and inspiring team members, while guarding against burnout for themselves and others.

  • And a plan for the long haul…because this will require a sustained effort. Even after we emerge from isolation, there will be longer-term economic challenges, operational challenges, market challenges and more.

To accomplish all of that, leaders need Physical Intelligence – the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of certain key chemicals in our bloodstream and nervous system so that we can achieve more, stress less and live and work more happily. Based on both science and quantitative business results Companies in Motion have helped clients achieve, we know that Physical Intelligence doesn’t just sit alongside but underpins our cognitive and emotional intelligence. The more Physically Intelligent we are, the more successful we and our teams will be in ways that drive business outcomes. Here are a few of the hundreds of Physical Intelligence techniques to help you lead your teams through this crisis and beyond. Build Strength Increase and inspire confidence

  • Good posture helps us feel empowered, stronger, more present and at ease. Open, expansive posture projects confidence and leadership ability more so than any leadership title.

  • Paced breathing (10 minutes daily) helps keep cortisol levels under control. Breathe diaphragmatically, in through the nose, out through the mouth with a steady count in and out. In and out counts don’t have to match (e.g., 5 in/7 out or 7 in/7 out). A longer out-breath helps dispel CO2, which increases cortisol if it builds up in the base of the lungs, (CO2 is heavier than oxygen). Paced breathing with a longer out-breath is called Recovery Breathing, especially helpful if you’re feeling panicked.

  • Elevate your heart rate three times a day. Exercising releases steroids (testosterone, DHEA and HGH) that make us stronger and more confident. A robust nervous system and heart–brain function relies on physical fitness. Body movement enhances brain connections and function, improving mental focus.

Build Flexibility Generate innovative/creative solutions

  • Stretch to release ‘hot spots’ where you hold tension. Physical flexibility impacts our mental flexibility.

  • Twist at the waist 2x/day to release toxins that build up around your organs and increase cortisol.

  • Spark creativity by walking or looking at beautiful objects in art/nature. We are 45% more likely to have an innovative or creative idea while moving vs. seated.

Strengthen interpersonal relationships and Inspire trust

  • Crises can lead us to be more inwardly-focused. Balancing your agenda with that of others, communicating well and flexing your behavioural style balances oxytocin (social bonding), dopamine (pleasure/need), and testosterone (power/control), and manages cortisol (stress).


Build Resilience

Rest and restore

  • To guard against going into overdrive and depleting your reserves, block time in your calendar weekly for REST: Retreat, Eat (healthy), Sleep and Treat – guard those windows. Encourage your team to do the same.

Don’t dwell

  • If you’re ruminating, let go by focusing on the setback or mistake – zooming in and seeing a ‘close-up’ of yourself. Remember the intensity of your feelings at the time. Zoom out, hover in wide angle over the scene, consider the contributing elements past and present. Know that you’re not alone and others have experienced/are experiencing similar situations. If you continue to dwell, talk to someone you trust about it, then commit to letting it go.

Maintain/Regain optimism

  • Start the day by listing (in writing or mentally) those things that are going well at work and home. Feel gratitude. Smile at yourself in the mirror every morning to boost serotonin. Choose optimism.


Build Endurance

Create a longer-term plan

  • While things are changing daily, if not hourly, where possible, create longer-term plans with short and long-term goals and milestones. Generate energy and forward momentum by firming/flexing your muscles and saying out loud, “Come on! You/We can do this!” (boosts dopamine). Maintain motivation by celebrating achievement of each milestone (boosts dopamine and testosterone).

Show appreciation

  • Research shows that the degree to which business leaders show confidence, articulate a compelling vision, and individually value employees leads to significantly increased motivation in employees, a feature of healthy serotonin levels. In the midst of crisis, we can get distracted. Set reminders to acknowledge contributions and communicate how much you appreciate and value your team.

For more information about how Physical Intelligence can help you, your team or your organization, visit us at www.companiesinmotion.com or order our book (Business Book of the Year 2020, and named by CEO Today one of the top five books for mental health in the workplace and one of the ten most influential business books of the year, on sale now.


About Companies in Motion

There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations available now.)


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