3 New Leadership Lessons from Yoga

Posted 04.19.2012

So, for those keeping score at home, over the past year and a half I think I’ve become a yogi.  Am I on the verge of releasing my own instructional yoga videos?  Fortunately for you and the rest of the world, I’m not that kind of yogi.  Nah, I’m just a guy who’s showing up for class consistently and learning lots of little things bit by bit.   As I’ve written before, it turns out that with hours of practice (still far away from the 10,000 that Malcolm Gladwell recommends) and good instruction, you can change the way you show up.

Apart from the physical and mental health benefits (and learning a few fun party tricks), one of the things I like about yoga is the opportunity it provides for making connections to the rest of the world.  As a leadership coach, I’m big into encouraging my clients to practice self-observation so they form and practice the habits that best serve their goals.   With that principle in mind, here are three things I’ve observed through yoga over the past several months that I think apply to leadership and the rest of life:

  • Don’t Focus on the Change, Focus on Showing Up. I go to yoga class five or six days a week most weeks.  One of the biggest things I’ve learned from being there that much and having a clear point of reference from one day to the next is that change is constant and you can’t really predict what you’re going to get on any given day.  One day, I’ll feel awesome — and next day crummy.  I usually don’t have a clue when I step in to class how it’s going to be.  It’s not uncommon that in a 90 minute class I’ll go from feeling bad at the start to pretty good at the end.  It can easily go in the other direction, too.  It doesn’t do much good to try predict how it’s going to be, so I just show up.  It’s taught me that I’m usually capable of more than I thought I could do.  Leadership Lesson? No condition is permanent.  Show up and deal with what’s presented.
  • Ego Can Lead to Injuries. This one’s kind of ironic because I wrote about the common denominators between injured yogis and injured leaders a few months ago.  It’s not much fun eating your own dog food, but I should have followed my own advice.  I learned this last month when I ended up with a really stiff neck for the better part of a week.  I got it from forcing myself into a headstand when I didn’t really have the mojo to do it one day.  It was a total ego thing – “I always do the headstand and, damn it, I’m going to do it today.”  I got the headstand, but also got a stiff neck.  Leadership Lesson? Your ego can get you in trouble if you don’t pay attention to all of the input.
  • Good Coaching Has a Ripple Effect.  A great yoga instructor calls out adjustments that students should make when they’re in a pose.  It could be “Jenn, lengthen your stance,” or “Jason, deepen your twist.”  What I’ve noticed is I benefit from the coaching that Jenn or Jason are getting.  I check my stance or deepen my twist and make a little bit more progress.  For the past six years, we’ve led a lot of group coaching programs in my company because leaders can benefit from the coaching that other leaders are getting.   Good coaching can have a big ripple effect.  Turns out that the same thing applies in yoga.  Leadership Lesson?  Pay attention to the coaching that others are getting.  It might just apply to you as well.

What leadership lessons have you been learning from the non-work domains of your life lately?