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Staying Centered in a Virtual World

Staying Centered in a Virtual World

Welcome back to my conversation with John Hall and Raghu Viswanathan, both leaders in a global technology company. In earlier posts, we talked about some of the challenges of leading virtual teams, and the skills and characteristics of successful leaders of virtual teams.

Today, we’ll focus on how John and Raghu stay present and balanced in their own leadership. I first met John when we both spent a year training with Wendy Palmer and Pam Weiss, learning their approaches to incorporating mindfulness and somatic centering practices into organizations. I knew John had brought what he learned back to his work, including providing similar training for Raghu, and I was curious to know more.

Karen: How have you used somatic centering practices to support your success in leading virtual teams?

John: First, I’ve shared it. When I’ve had global meetings, with people from around the world, I’ve taken them through centering exercises. So we’ve had a chance to actually physically experience those exercises together, which supports people in staying centered and balanced.

The second piece is the power of us staying centered, while we’re on the phone, regardless of how excited someone might be on the other end of the phone. What Raghu and I have found is that through the practice of centering, we’ve been able to settle people down on the phone, and take some pretty volatile conversations down to a level that has been very manageable. What would you say to that, Raghu?

Raghu: I think that’s well said. The word I would use is balance. I use that word often on my staff calls, and people understand what that means, which is just being centered, being somewhat unattached. You know, things come and go, but you just need to do what’s right for the business, and what’s right for the team. I always tell my managers, “you manage a lot of diverse things – be clear about what you’re managing right now, and make sure it’s in alignment with what we need. Don’t get distracted by 20 other things that happen around you.”

John: On a practical basis, when we’re in a conference call with somebody remote, and they’re struggling or I’m struggling a little bit, Raghu will see me actually stand up, and physically come back to center, typically with just a little rocking back and forth. And by doing that, I can take that pressure put on me, and still have some strength and flexibility.

There have been a couple of calls where people have been literally cursing us out on the other end of the phone. And our training had remarkable results. We took some people who were outraged, I mean outraged, and just because we were keeping it together ourselves, and we weren’t pulled off balance or off center, we got them to settle down. Those calls are pretty memorable.

Raghu: That call you’re referring to was very timely, because we had just come out of a session with Wendy where we talked a lot about giving things time and space. It was this idea that sometimes you have to just give space. Don’t try to fill the void yourself. Let that void be there, let it sit, and let’s see what fills it. When John and I first heard it, we were a little skeptical, but then when we saw it in action, we were completely sold. (Laughter)

John: Yeah, when you’ve seen the results, it helps. One of the fun pieces about it for me, is that when we’re on a conference call, just like we are today, it’s not uncommon for me to stand up and just re-center myself. And nobody knows it but me. That’s one of the upsides of having remote teams, when you’re on phone calls. You can actually do some somatic exercises and get a hold of yourself, and pull yourself back together.

One thing that’s been important to us as a business unit is this thought that attachment leads to suffering. It’s little bit of a deep Buddhist thought, but in business people get so attached to business models, or results, that if it doesn’t go well, they’re really going to suffer. At the same time, you don’t want to give up on things. So we came up with this idea of being passionately detached. Passionately detached. You set goals, and you go with full vigor to achieve them. You give your best effort. Then without a doubt, along the way something happens plus or minus, and you have to adjust. This idea of passionate detachment been healthy for our business, especially in the last decade with all the economic ups and downs. It’s been a volatile time in business, and maintaining some balance has really helped.

Your turn: What practices do you use to stay centered and present as a leader? What results do you see from those practices?

Photo courtesy of OiMax, Flickr Creative Commons

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