Why breathing and stillness will make me a better leader

Taking business free range at Alptitude 2016 - photo by elements

Taking business free range at Alptitude 2016 - photo by elements

For a long time I enjoyed being busy. I felt it was necessary. If I wasn’t doing, I was failing. Sitting still and doing nothing actually made me feel uncomfortable.

I don’t want to get all Freudian but I partly blame my Dad. As a child whenever he’d catch me vegetating in front of the TV he’d yell at me to go and do something productive with my time. I still get an under current of guilty nervousness when I’m sat on the sofa watching an episode of Vikings with my wife.

I can’t blame it all on my Dad though. My mind has always been a little hyperactive. It rarely switches off, with thoughts rushing through it like trains through Clapham Junction at rush hour.

Whether I’m worrying about an email I need to send tomorrow or dwelling on how I cocked up a webinar (I forgot the mics had been muted 15 minutes into it) my head can be a buzz of senseless activity. This does not make for good leadership material. And it doesn’t do your health any favours either.

What I need to do is: Breathe. Meditate. Silence my mind. 3 actions rarely used amongst leaders. But why?

Too often we busy ourselves with work. We focus on maximising our outputs and smashing our to-do lists, falling culprit to doing work for works sake. We fool ourselves that being busy creates results. But success isn’t always about moving fast.

“Finding stillness inside, we create success outside.”

Those are the words of Michael Townsend Williams, author of Do Breathe: Calm your mind. Find focus. Get stuff done, cofounder of Breathe Sync, an app to breathe yourself better.

Michael Townsend Williams

Michael Townsend Williams

Michael helps leaders find balance in doing and wellbeing.

Or “Welldoing” as he calls it — the recipe for living burden free, calming your mind to release your best work.

Welldoing is a mash up of the worlds of mindfulness, yoga and productivity hacks — they feed each other.

As a leader you need to be able to provide vision and clarity. You need to able to push ideas forward and think creatively. Welldoing is the key to making this happen.

To lead others well, you first need to lead yourself, and Michael says that to make the right decisions and lead your people or movement in the right direction, stillness and breathing should be practiced daily.

"Being a better leader can only be done through self-examination and the awareness to change.
When you are stressed, your pre-frontal cortex switches off which makes it difficult to make your best decisions.
When your mind is cluttered you don’t have enough mental capacity to either take in new information or communicate it.
Breathing and being still enables you to access your innate ability to manage stress better and achieve clarity of mind.
Once you lead yourself better you will naturally lead others better too."

Practising welldoing

Michael shares 3 ways we as leaders can introduce a “welldoing” approach to our work, to calm our minds and find focus:

  1. Practice the 3 keys to breathing well
    This is based on how we breathe naturally as babies. You can practice it now. Breathe from your belly. Breathe in and out through the nostrils and breathe out a bit more than you breathe in. You’ll calm your mind and still your thoughts.
  2. Keep your mind clear by writing stuff down
    As David Allen who wrote ‘Getting Things Done’ said: ‘Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.’
  3. Cultivate the act of really listening 
    Not thinking about what you are hearing. Not analysing or judging. Just being fully present and engaged. Listening to others and being fully there for them.

Michael owes these three practices to his success.

"I have breathed my way through the trials of parenthood, the writing, publishing and promotion of my book and the development of my Breathe Sync business. My mission is get the world breathing better in the firm belief that as we all breathe better, we all feel, do and think better too."

In September, Michael will be sharing lessons in mindful living for entrepreneurs at our Happy Startup 2016 Summercamp and I’ll be first in line to get some “welldoing” goodness. He’s a great addition to the line up for Summercamp, which is a meeting of minds and an opportunity to take time out and take stock of your path with a tribe of awesome creatives, innovators and movement makers.

Michael has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to help the world breathe better. Imagine how your world would change if you could adopt a calmer outlook (I know I can)? Now imagine the incredible projects that could be born if the world adopted this calm outlook too. Help support his mission by hanging out with us at camp, or pledging.