Tom Kenward and Sue Binks (both senior consultants at prestigious leadership institute Roffey Park) found that the most frequently cited challenge among today’s leaders could be summed up in a single word: pressure.

Leaders, of course, have always experienced pressure: the pressure to bring different priorities and ideas together despite powerful tensions between them, to create an inspiring vision and bring others on board, to deliver results, and so on. However, today’s leaders are reporting pressures that are more acute and more negative in their impact than previous generations, almost certainly generated by the era of globalised, accelerated information sharing, liberalised economies and resource scarcity.

What can be done? For Kenward and Binks, the answer lies in what they call “presence.” Briefly, this is a sustained alignment of intellect, emotion and bodily awareness – the kind of congruence that must be present if pressure is to be managed effectively. Yet pressure itself can undo this congruence, pushing us defensively into our heads and making us distant from our hearts and bodies, or plunging us into intense states of bodily and emotional discomfort that overwhelm thought.

Daniel Goleman, a pioneer of emotional intelligence, argues that leaders must proactively manage three domains: self, other and organisation. When we’re not managing these effectively, there are warning signs that congruence is being pulled asunder. Leaders need to learn how to recognise them (when we pull our heads up and disengage from the pressure, we lose presence and therefore efficacy, as we do when we contract into ourselves or lean in to do battle).

Our bodies are relating to the domains that Goleman mentions all the time; we’re all Gestaltists, responding to the whole of self, other and organisation, even though we may not be aware of it. Developing new habits to regain alignment is the key to cultivating and sustaining congruence. In Part Two of this blog, I’ll say a little more about these habits.

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