Body Cor­po­rate

Why ap­pear­ances mat­ter in the work­place; John Eales on the per­ils of pas­sion

The Australian - The Deal - - News - Amanda Sin­clair Edited ex­tract from Amanda Sin­clair’s Lead­ing Mind­fully: How to fo­cus on what mat­ters, in­flu­ence for good, and en­joy lead­er­ship more, Allen & Un­win, $ 32.99. Amanda Sin­clair is a pro­fes­so­rial fel­low at the Mel­bourne Busi­ness School.

IFIRST be­gan notic­ing the im­pact of bod­ies and an im­pos­ing phys­i­cal pres­ence in lead­er­ship due to my own par­tic­u­lar short­com­ings in that depart­ment. More than once, lead­ers and stu­dents of lead­er­ship have con­tacted me, keen to meet and talk about my work, which had in­flu­enced them in some pos­i­tive way or an­other. When some met me they couldn’t stop them­selves blurt­ing out some­thing like, “But you’re so small!” and then go on to add hur­riedly, “Never mind, you pro­ject big!”

I wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily con­soled by this re­ac­tion. It un­der­lined clearly for me that while so­ci­eties ex­pect that lead­ers will be tall, im­pos­ing or charis­matic, we don’t own up to this ex­pec­ta­tion. This is de­spite the ev­i­dence of stud­ies show­ing that, if you are a Western male man­ager, you are much more likely to be ap­pointed to lead­er­ship – and to be paid more – if you are more than 183cm tall. In Blink, Mal­colm Glad­well de­scribes this as the “War­ren Harding Er­ror” or the ten­dency to im­pute lead­er­ship to “tall, dark and hand­some men”. Western so­ci­eties ac­cord lead­er­ship to men who fit such a pro­file, even if, as in the case of Amer­i­can pres­i­dent War­ren Harding, he never once demon­strated lead­er­ship qual­i­ties or abil­i­ties.

The myth that bod­ies are ir­rel­e­vant in lead­er­ship is an un­der­stand­able re­sponse for those who wish it were the case. This in­cludes all those women and men of var­ied phys­i­cal abil­i­ties, of dif­fer­ent racial and cul­tural back­grounds, who don’t “fit” the tem­plate of phys­i­cal at­trac­tive­ness that so­ci­eties and or­gan­i­sa­tions recog­nise as “lead­er­ship ma­te­rial”. When we choose lead­ers, it should be ex­pe­ri­ence and ca­pa­bil­i­ties that mat­ter, but study af­ter study has shown that at­trac­tive­ness, or oth­er­wise, is of­ten im­plicit in judg­ments of lead­er­ship abil­ity.

This is par­tic­u­larly the case for women lead­ers. My own and other re­search has demon­strated that a vi­cious cy­cle oc­curs where women ex­pe­ri­ence higher scru­tiny of their bod­ies in lead­er­ship. They are told they must choose a care­ful wardrobe and re­fine their me­dia skills, not look too am­bi­tious or self-serv­ing. Yet they are also told they mustn’t look like they are wor­ry­ing about how they look! If so, they are typ­i­cally judged vain or self-ab­sorbed.

A Har­vard study gave young en­trepreneurs iden­ti­cal “pitches” to make to po­ten­tial in­vestors. The women were judged less de­serv­ing of fi­nan­cial sup­port than the men and, if they were at­trac­tive, they en­coun­tered a fur­ther penalty – pre­sum­ably for hav­ing got to where they were be­cause of their looks. In con­trast, at­trac­tive men were judged as most likely to suc­ceed.

One re­sponse to this is to in­sist, and act as if, bod­ies don’t mat­ter in lead­er­ship. I ar­gue that the sep­a­ra­tion in much of lead­er­ship the­ory be­tween mind and body is deeply un­help­ful to those in­ter­ested in lead­ing mind­fully. To lead with mind­ful­ness does not mean to ig­nore the body. Rather, the body is a source of valu­able in­for­ma­tion about us and oth­ers, of­ten made avail­able to us in ways not reg­is­tered in the con­scious mind.

The value of be­ing present – tak­ing the trou­ble to phys­i­cally “be there” – is a cen­tral plank of lead­er­ship. It’s been en­shrined in the idea of MBWA (man­age­ment by walk­ing around) and the de­ci­sion that many new and long-stand­ing lead­ers make to sys­tem­at­i­cally and reg­u­larly visit and talk to em­ploy­ees and clients. This tells peo­ple they mat­ter, at least as much as board mem­bers or moun­tains of emails. Se­cond, it sig­nals courage and a will­ing­ness to lit­er­ally stand be­fore oth­ers as one is, with­out the pro­tec­tions of staff or cor­ner of­fices in se­cu­rity-pro­tected top floors. In this sense, be­ing there in body is a political, democratis­ing ac­tion for lead­ers.

Look­ing af­ter the peo­ple in one’s or­gan­i­sa­tion or sphere of in­flu­ence is prob­a­bly the most ba­sic re­spon­si­bil­ity of lead­er­ship. Be­ing open to this re­spon­si­bil­ity doesn’t al­ways mean pro­tect­ing. In fact, it is of­ten about chal­leng­ing and sup­port­ing oth­ers to take cal­cu­lated risks, to do things they may find dif­fi­cult. In­dige­nous leader and school prin­ci­pal

Chris Sarra got into trou­ble for his some­times phys­i­cal ways of tack­ling a dis­tinctly phys­i­cal prob­lem: stu­dent ab­sen­teeism. He set about shift­ing the school cul­ture to one that val­ued phys­i­cal pres­ence, re­ward­ing at­ten­dance and im­prov­ing the school grounds to make it a good place for kids to hang out af­ter hours be­cause home was not al­ways wel­com­ing. He also used his own phys­i­cal­ity, as a re­spected rugby league player, to in­spire the kids to­wards self-re­spect and achieve­ment.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, many lead­ers “get” that the job is phys­i­cal. They ex­pe­ri­ence the neg­a­tive phys­i­cal ef­fects of work­ing long hours, of un­re­lent­ing pres­sure and the toll of stress and ab­sences on them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

Look­ing af­ter one­self, and be­ing car­ing and thought­ful about the phys­i­cal well-be­ing of those with whom one works, is valu­able in and of it­self. Of course, this must not be in­tru­sive or ex­pe­ri­enced as un­wanted so­lic­i­tous­ness. Yet peo­ple who work in phys­i­cally de­mand­ing oc­cu­pa­tions, such as po­lice and cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, are of­ten work­ing in cul­tures that are pun­ish­ing and abu­sive. It is valu­able to help them find ways of de­liv­er­ing lead­er­ship and what they need to do phys­i­cally with­out mir­ror­ing pun­ish­ing or self-pun­ish­ing norms. In this view, good lead­er­ship is not about phys­i­cally dis­ci­plin­ing our­selves to get through the work. Rather, it is about shift­ing the em­pha­sis in do­ing the work to en­able oth­ers to be both ef­fec­tive and to look af­ter them­selves. I am not un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the dif­fi­culty of modelling sup­port­ive lead­er­ship in a cul­ture which is pun­ish­ing or ne­glect­ful. But I have learned that some­times phys­i­cal ges­tures, acts of care to­wards self and oth­ers, may be both rad­i­cal and sub­stan­tial in their pos­i­tive im­pacts.

Through­out the past decade I have taught yoga along­side my lead­er­ship teach­ing, and have some­times come away feel­ing that I did far more good in that 60 min­utes of breath­ing, stretch­ing and re­lax­ing than in a whole term of lead­er­ship classes. In the four-day Mind­ful Lead­er­ship pro­gram that Richard Searle and I have of­fered, I lead a daily yoga class. For many par­tic­i­pants, it is the first time they have ever en­coun­tered yoga. Some have phys­i­cal con­straints (for ex­am­ple, have had knee or hip surgery), oth­ers feel phys­i­cally em­bar­rassed and awk­ward. They of­ten feel, and say, they “can’t do” yoga! Yet when we work to­gether gen­tly stretch­ing and feel­ing our breath and bod­ies, par­tic­i­pants al­most al­ways ex­pe­ri­ence the con­nec­tion to their phys­i­cal­ity pos­i­tively. They will leave a ses­sion or class feel­ing more set­tled, able to ac­cept and em­brace what­ever life is pre­sent­ing them.

Emerg­ing neu­ro­sci­en­tific data sup­ports that phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties such as yoga change brain struc­tures with as­so­ci­ated im­prove­ments in emo­tional state and ex­ec­u­tive and cog­ni­tive func­tions. A pi­lot study showed par­tic­i­pants in a yoga pro­gram later reg­is­tered less anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. Sub­se­quent stud­ies re­ported im­proved brain func­tion­ing in older adults as a re­sult of an eight-week yoga course. Work­ing mem­ory ca­pac­ity and task switch­ing, two mea­sures of ex­ec­u­tive func­tion, both im­proved. The re­search that doc­tor and au­thor Nor­man Doidge ex­plores in his two books, The Brain that Changes It­self and The Brain’s

Way of Heal­ing, pro­vide fur­ther ev­i­dence and case stud­ies of the com­plex in­ter­ac­tions be­tween mind and body. Sim­ple ac­tiv­i­ties, such as walk­ing and ex­er­cis­ing tar­geted mus­cles, re­store and en­hance brain ac­tiv­ity and broader func­tion­ing.

Phys­i­cal­ity is not some­thing to be ig­nored, sup­pressed or over­come in lead­er­ship, but a means of help­ing us live and lead more fully.

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