Balance strength with flexibility

As has been the case for many of my fellow earth dwellers, the lockdown in my country which started in 2020 meant that my usual exercise routines were suddenly disrupted. I like variety; thus I normally have a few different types of exercises in my arsenal. The one that caused me most pain was having to stop my dancing lessons. Besides the mandated hard lockdown in South Africa, at the beginning of the pandemic, I also had to consider the fact that dance (Latin and Ballroom) is a close contact sport. Too close for comfort when you’re talking about a virus that seems to be rather eager to jump from one person to the other. There was simply no way that I could go back to the studio until the worst is over. At the time of writing this blog, I have still not been able to go back. I recently received news that my dance instructor had tested positive for Covid-19. Thus, confirming that it is still not safe to go back. On top of that, an old childhood back injury had come back to haunt me and pulled me away from my wogging (walk and jog).

I therefore had to find alternatives that would be substitutes for what I had to give up – not only to give me the endorphins I gain from exercise, but also to counteract (admittedly only somewhat) the effects of less movement while working from home. This resulted in finding some favourites on YouTube, like Kukuwa, which is an African version of the more widely known Zumba, stemming from Ghana (go and see what you’re missing). It was only later, deep into the pandemic, that I started practising yoga again, after I found a great yoga instructor on YouTube. I say ‘again’ because I used to practice yoga many moons ago. Stopped because my studio closed down and I just couldn’t find it within myself to find another studio and start all over again with new people – social introvert that I am.

My first power yoga session was an unpleasant revelation. I could not believe how stiff I had become. Nobody warns you about the effects of aging. Growing up one would often hear adults exchanging complaints about aches and ailments, but nobody sits you down and explain what your body will eventually experience and how it will feel – and that you cannot escape it. So, it comes as a shock when your body is no longer able to effortless do what you used to sail through. Makes you feel betrayed. You think you’re still fairly nimble, because you dance, among other things, and then your flexibility is confronted with a real challenge and you fall apart at the seams. Thankfully, I decided to not run away and pushed through. I am now getting through most of the poses like silk with the occasional reminder that I am middle-aged.

Although the number one issue that yoga forced me to face is how inflexible my joints had become over time, it also teaches you that you should keep certain elements in equilibrium: Strength, stamina, flexibility, balance and stillness of mind. You need all these to keep your body at a level where it can carry you gracefully as you grow older. In addition, the one thing about yoga which I have come to appreciate is that it does put you in a semi-meditative state. It was in those moments that I started to see the lessons for leaders in my journey to getting back into form with yoga. Could therefore not resist sharing some of my thoughts here.

I have noticed an increase in conversations around agility across various professions. This is a natural consequence of the increase in volatility, turbulence, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in the environments organisations are forced to operate in. The upheaval caused by the pandemic has shown us all just how important agility is. Most organisations have found that they needed to adapt faster than they had ever imagined possible and some hard lessons were learnt in the process.

I have however begun to wonder whether we are not going to fall prey to overemphasising one organisational competence at the expense of other important components. The number one lesson yoga has taught me is that equilibrium is important. If you overemphasise flexibility at the expense of the others, you may not be able to tap into them when they are called for. It is important that leaders pause from time to time and ask themselves how they would rate the organisation’s current state of equilibrium, taking into consideration strength, stamina, flexibility, balance and stillness of mind.

We could look at the various aspects in the organisation through that lens. Let us take resources for example. I find looking at it through the lens of integrated thinking most helpful, i.e. looking at the six capitals, when considering the organisation’s resources. Strength would speak to the quality of the resources, for example highly competent staff and quality leadership would add to the strength of the organisation and its ability to deliver. Stamina would speak to how long those resources could last under strain. Flexibility would speak to how much agility is built into the utilisation of the resources. Balance would refer to the equilibrium among the resources being appropriate.

Another example we could use is organisational culture. The strength of the culture depends on how entrenched various components such as shared values and beliefs are. Stamina would speak to the longevity of a culture, bearing in mind the constant outflow and inflow of people. Flexibility would speak to agility and responsiveness as a way of life, i.e. ‘how things are done around here’. Balance would refer to the various positive components, that are considered as important for a particular culture, being in balance to the degree that the culture remains stable in the midst of turbulence.  

It does take a fair amount of stillness of mind to notice when things are out of balance. Achieving stillness of mind is easier said than done. There must be a deliberate intent to make time to find the eye of the storm and avoid constantly floundering in the trenches. It does take practice to get to the eye of the storm. The natural inclination, when there is more going on than what most can deal with, is to stay in the trenches and soldier on. I know that feeling all too well. Feeling so overwhelmed that the mere suggestion of taking time out and finding the eye of the storm sounds ludicrous. However, when one does not make the time, it is inevitable that imbalance will creep in and weaken the system. Practice makes perfect. Start with short periods blocked off in the diary. The more you visit the eye of the storm, the more comfortable the road to it becomes. And when you are in the eye of the storm, it becomes easier to evaluate the equilibrium in the organisation.

More to explore

Outsourced morality

It is incumbent on each of us to constantly evaluate whether our moral compass is still pointing to our true north. We need to continually ask ourselves whether our actions are informed by our own beliefs that we carefully considered, before we concluded that they are fit to be used in our moral compass. How certain are we that we are not just believing what we are because those around us believe it? Or, that we are believing what we are because those who we have crowned with a halo believe it? Applying one’s own mind is paramount if we were to avoid the temptation of outsourcing our morality to others.

Fear can be your friend or your enemy

Whether we like it or not, we were not designed to be fearless. Fear is an emotional response connected to a basic need we all have – to feel safe. In the evolution of the human brain, this had been encoded for a very good reason. Our fear response is designed to trigger an action from us. If it’s a lion, we run. If we were to convince ourselves that we should not show fear and stand our ground, the stand we take is probably going to be immaterial to a starving lion. His fear that you may also be a threat, would most certainly be overridden by his fear of starving to death. Human beings are in any event rather defenceless without our modern weapons.

Know your rhythm

It is important that we work with our rhythm instead of against it. That is a sure way to increase our productivity. In the last number of months, I have started to notice that the number one issue I am dealing with among my coachees is burnout. Often that is because of a lack of understanding of what their rhythm is. We look after ourselves as leaders because we need to give those we lead the best version of ourselves. Selfcare is part of our leadership responsibility.

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