poise, leadership, and mindfulness

I think a lot about poise: How to cultivate it, how to maintain it, what it means. I also think (and write) much about leadership. Concluded that the two overlap substantially. Further concluded that mindfulness forms the glue that holds them together.

Please permit me to elaborate:

Recently I developed my own description of poise for a witty Twitter and Facebook posting. Here is what I came up with:

Poise is an interesting mix of following tradition and inventing novelty. An interesting mix of following and breaking society’s rules.

This does not define poise, but it illuminates my vision of its practice. We follow tradition with etiquette designed to lubricate social interactions, but invent new ways of accomplishing (presumably noble) goals together as needed. We follow society’s “Golden Rule” but work to transcend society’s moral lassitude.

Realized that this describes a good leader.

Realized that this also describes the woman I want to become.

I have always been a natural leader. Not a natural executive or manager, just charismatic. Cut my teeth in leadership development as teenager organizing rock bands, an environment rich in people-skill development opportunities because you have to deal with creative conflict, egos, and drug addictions. (Compare to performing in a youth orchestra, where adults tell you what to play and how to play it, and the biggest conflicts are resolved by the same adults).

When your bassist is high and your guitarist demands the spotlight, you quickly learn to remain poise lest the whole endeavor falls apart.

But other than that I’ve never thought much about poise (until recently). I wore t-shirts and jeans exclusively, cursed like a punk rocker, and didn’t give a damn about etiquette. My best redeeming features were deep kindness and compassion. For better and worse, I moved forward in life by fully leveraging the “sexy rebel straight guy” ethos.

Likewise, I never thought much of cultivating leadership skills until recently. I just “winged it” when I needed to lead something. Also led culturally by inventing and promoting intellectual output, whether new music compositions or new ways of designing nucleotide sequences.

What changed? I decided to become a “lady”. (Please note that I used the word “lady” instead of “woman” here—they form very different concepts). This led to my search for feminine poise. This also led to a complete reevaluation of my workplace skills: I realized that my talent lies with people and technology, not just technology. Many a transgender woman reports this shift—I think the reason emerges from a combination of cultural expectation and consuming large doses of estrogen. Whatever the cause, I emerged ready to lead and/or facilitate in a formal manner.

But that’s my story. Lets get back to the intersection of poise and leadership, and throw in a discussion of mindfulness, because that might prove more useful to the world than my navel-gazing:

Leaders gain the confidence of their followers through poise. During the last presidential debates, Hillary Clinton made a conscious choice to maintain her presence and delivery rather than stop to confront Donald Trump for hovering in her space. While either decision would have been appropriate, she believed the best way to win voter confidence was through the action she felt showed the most self-control, the most poise.

Any loss of poise, though really often just a result of human frailty, knocks down a leader. Consider Donald Trump’s approval rating at this moment. The man can’t sustain a solid presence and has reaped the fruits of it.

Compare to Jesus, whom the Pharisees always tried to trap in some legal black hole. He (reportedly) always held it together with them, delivering nothing less than wit and wisdom. Jesus also provides a model of when it is appropriate for a leader to lose their cool: We consider his anger at the money-changers in the temple justified.

And here is the first place mindfulness comes in. I bet Jesus held complete in-the-now presence of mind while overturning those tables.

Poise requires mindfulness to execute, and leadership requires poise as I’ve demonstrated above, so the three concepts interact. In my example of Hillary Clinton’s debate decision above, she mindfully delivered the content while evaluating the circumstance. To manage this her mind could be nowhere else.

Similarly, in my work toward developing stereotypical feminine poise, my mindfulness skill strengthened as I learned to live my regular life while monitoring how I walk, sit, stand, talk, etc.

So my formula for leadership development from here on out involves mindfulness practice.

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Post Author: Emily

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