This post originally appeared as an article on my LinkedIn site back in 2015
I’ve found myself on the yoga mat again and continue to understand why they call it a practice. Today while in downward dog my mind drifted – and I started to wonder how this pose is so much like what leadership is all about. Ah, the practice of focus and being in the now – still learning, still learning! ☺
The 3 Keys to Down Dog (and Leaders Everywhere!)
As I teach and train leaders – in and out of the classroom – I’m noticing that the principles of Downward Dog are key in effective leadership. When I’m in down dog – I feel stable and grounded while doing the work of the pose. Sure, do you I look back to see how close my heels are to the mat? Every time. And, I’m sure the competition I feel with myself (or the other pretzels in my yoga class) isn’t really doing me any good. Here are 4 keys to leadership success — and helping tame your down dog:
1. Build a good foundation. In down dog learning to position your hands so that they support your weight is a must for a good pose. It also eliminates the stress in the wrist. But the shift is to allow my fingers to hold the weight – not just my palms.
As leaders, having a solid foundation rooted is key. Values provide leaders that foundation in which to make decisions and direct future action. As leaders, there is a discernment and focus on where to put effort. When a misaligned occurs – you’re doing things that don’t connect to your values – you feel out of balance. And down goes the dog.
2. Unify Opposites. According to Yoga Journal, there is a “deep philosophical and spiritual significance, corresponding to the meaning of hatha yoga as the union of the sun and moon, the masculine and feminine.” With most yoga poses there is a balance between strength and flexibility. I think this is why I groove with Yoga Flow classes – it summons up my inner athlete with my Zen master and demands they co-exist.
In leadership taking on the notion of “unifying opposites” allows us to engage in conversations that can be “Both/And” rather than either or. Yes, leaders need to have opinions and ideas – but not at the cost of ignoring perspectives. Peter Block calls it Possibility. Landmark Education calls it Distinctions. We need to co-exist with all that the world throws our way.
3. Create Alignment. When in down dog – or most other yoga positions – supporting your head is key to holding the pose. When you hold the pose you experience the pose. It should not hurt. Your neck should not be strained. My yoga dude, Richard, is great at talking about alignment. He invites us to back off going to far – when our aligned is compromised, our pose is compromised. Better to back off a bit and be alignment.
In leadership creating alignment is key to moving forward. Being explicitly clear with others (the followers or collaborators) of where you are headed. Imagine, an organization like a group of arrows on a flip chart. You want them all to be pointed in the same direction – so that you can align your efforts to the results that are important to you and your team.
Lastly, if yoga ain’t your thang – the next time you see a dog doing “down dog” notice how good he looks. Notice how nothing else matters. Namaste.