“I rocked my presentation with the President of our company this week,” she said. “I had my content AND my sparkle!”
“How did you make that happen?” I asked.
“In the past, my Vicious Voice Tonya would scream ‘win at all costs: you have to WIN, you have to make sure you DON’T FAIL, you have to be PERFECT.’ So I would overly prepare, as if I were cramming for a test I had to get an ‘A’ on. I would have all the data, imagine all possible questions and be ready for them all. When questions were asked, I’d read my notes to ensure I said the right thing, which made me look nervous, disconnected and uninspiring. I looked junior, like I didn’t know my stuff. I’m usually the opposite in audiences with no senior executives.”
“What was different this time?”
“This time, my Wise Voice Yoda took over and said “Actually, no. You don’t have to be perfect every time. You know your stuff. You are human – sometimes that can be messy – show up with all of it and BE yourself.”
“What have you learned about yourself?”
“When I unwind the need to be perfect and don’t over prepare, I do better. Preparation is in fact, overdoing. This time, I granted myself grace. I was single parenting and had a ton of other work, so I did the minimal amount to be prepared, and I let go of the rest. I basically prioritized my family and granted myself the grace to trust it would all work out. I went in there and was my real self, which had me sparkle.”
Identifying Our 3 Centers of Intelligence
Neuroscience has proven that we have three brains, our ‘head’, ‘heart’, and ‘gut’ brains – otherwise known as our Centers of Intelligence. We use them to perceive, understand and act to be in alignment with our whole, true self. This is where we access our best selves, or what might feel like ‘flow.’ We are clear about our needs, empowered within ourselves and can make bold and inspiring choices.
- Head: This is where leaders often feel most comfortable engaging. It is where we plan, prioritize, analyze, decide, make meaning, think, synthesize, explore, and focus rationally and logically. Idea generation, creativity and brainstorming are often a combination of head and heart, because we are often able to think ‘outside the box’ when we feel safe, inspired and vulnerable enough to do so.
- Heart: Access to our emotional selves lies in the heart. It is where relationships are created and emotional intelligence lives. We in Western culture often feel the most exposed and least comfortable here, because our heart centers enable authentic expression, connection and inspiration to our and others’ true selves. This is where we emote and attune to the emotions and needs of ourselves and others by expressing feelings, being self-aware, socially responsive, empathetic and compassionate. It is where our values, aspirations, dreams and desires live. It is where we access what matters most.
- Gut: We often talk about a ‘gut feeling’ or are told to ‘trust our gut instinct’. This is where courage, instinct, action, resilience and physical sensations live. It is where core identity, self-preservation and survival lie, which can feel conflictual because it is also where our impulse for action and will to act with ‘gut courage’ in the face of the unknown also lives. This is what we access when we listen to that ‘little voice’, ‘take a leap of courage’ or when we feel ‘grounded’, ‘connected’ and ‘alive.’
How You Can Access Your Best Self
Imagine a rating system in the form of a traffic light for each of these Centers. Each Center can have one or more red, yellow or green lights.
For Rebecca above, in the past, she rated herself as having triple green lights in her head (i.e. “getting it right”, leaning heavily on data, over-preparing, over-relying on notes). She rated her heart and gut centers as red lights (i.e. she didn’t share stories or take risks with the leadership team).
She found her sparkle (i.e. had strong executive presence and created a strong and lasting impression) when she created more green lights in all three centers, which created alignment therefore allowing her to be inspiring and focus on what mattered most, and she reported having fun and feeling proud.
How did she create the green lights? This is what she did:
1. She knew her content. She shared it and her presentation covered the right, concise data for the Executive Leadership Team. She knew her stuff and didn’t prioritize it.
2. Rebecca emphasized storytelling about customer examples, became passionate about the impact they could create and painted a compelling vision. She brought the data to life with real people and spoke to what the President cared about most deeply – the customer and solving problems that impacted them.
3. She courageously engaged by listening to her gut voice about where and how to contribute. She didn’t focus on what she was about to say or “should” have said. She was fully present with the entire team. She was willing to emphasize key points and challenge where it made sense.
Where to Start
Imagine each of these centers is a real-time traffic light operating within you. The steps below are key practices to take on how you can prepare and engage:
1. Thoughtfully Pause. Get present and become self-aware about which area/s are most and least comfortable for you. Notice if you consistently operate with double green lights in your head and forget your heart and guts. See what situations trigger your heart, leading you to react emotionally without thinking. To what extent do you find yourself avoiding your gut center or, impulsively operating from it (fire-aim-ready)?
2. Consciously Connect. Engage with the parts of yourself you tend to ignore. Check in with your head to process thoughts and manage the stories and interpretations your mind is creating. When you connect with your heart center, you can access curiosity and compassion for yourself and others. Remember to perform a “gut-check” and listen to it – don’t let your head center override the message your ‘little voice’ is whispering that is often ignored, especially when you are considering stepping out of your comfort zone.
3. Choose Boldly. Based on the internal scan, look for how you can become yellow, if not green, in all three centers. Start with where you are and then focus on what you want to choose. This requires practice and coaching before the moment where you need it. Managing your Vicious Voices, replacing them with supportive new stories and behaviors and consistently making BOLD choices that align with your true self is the practice of BOLD leaders.
When you become present within yourself, you will be able to become present with others.
- Of the three centers, which one/s are most / least comfortable for you? Which one/s do you tend to underutilize?
- What stories and interpretations are coming from your head? What messages are you getting from your heart and how much do you share them with others? What is that little voice whispering to you from your gut?
- What would a “green light” look like for you if you were operating in alignment with all three centers?
Please feel free to reach out to me and my team if you’d like to connect about how to apply these ideas, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenges you are facing today.
Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.
Remember to find resources to inspire you here.
Yours in practice,