On the run-up to the 2008 presidential election I was asked by TV networks and radio stations to rate the candidates of both parties on their Leadership Presence. I gave them all letter grades, explained why I gave the mark, and how I would work with each one of them to upgrade their leadership abilities.
Everything went as planned but what was far more interesting was the response of the interviewers. Their reactions to a somatic approach to leadership reflected deeply held, and outdated, cultural beliefs about learning.
There were three main points.
The first was when an interviewer commented, “ They’re old (the presidential candidates), do you think they can keep learning? Is it really possible for them to change at this age?” While appalling that we would even consider that the leader of our country would no longer be a learner, it also reflects something deeper about our views on learning. Surveys reveal that eighty percent of employees believe that learning ends at college. When I would mention that I’ve seen people in their nineties continue to learn they looked at me like I said I had just seen the tooth fairy. From a somatic point of view learning means that we’re able to take an action that was previously unavailable to us. It’s time to re-evaluate our cultural beliefs about when and how learning can happen.
Learning through the body teaches us that we can learn throughout our lives.
The second point was when interviewers said indignantly “You’re a hard grader!” (My highest grade was a B-) Yes, I agreed I was a hard grader and that we should all be hard graders when choosing our leaders. When one lives a somatic awareness one’s standards change. We realize that we’re capable of much more than we think. We begin to see that we have a vast unused intelligence within us. We raise the bar on our learning and transformation to fully live our life.
The path of somatics asks us to live our full potential.
Third, there was a general consternation around how the body would reflect an emotional/psychological state, or a leadership virtue. There was an immediate default into “body language”, reflecting the rationalistic perspective of the mind/body duality. The term reinforces the idea that a separate mind pastes mental messages on our physical form that we can read. This is a superficial view of the interconnectedness of our actions, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and spirit. In somatics we experience that that body and the self are inextricably linked together. We learn how to move our energy through our soma so we’re able to embody the values dearest to us. Through training we can then observe how the body reflects our inner life; and if our speech is resonant, or dissonant with our actions.
Through somatic practices we can become self-healing, self-educating, and self-generating.
Published by North Atlantic Books, distributed by Random House,