Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Clive Hyland.
We all love to be energised by the people we choose to follow and associate with; and organisational leaders who can sustain a positive energetic impact on their people are worth their weight in gold. Yet, so often, our lack of understanding of interpersonal energetic dynamics means that such outcomes are left to chance and many opportunities missed.
Energy is a currency we exchange every day. Indeed, humans, like any other species, are intrinsically energetic beings that have taken on a material form. We are directly connected to each other emotionally and instinctively via electro-magnetic wave forms which are a fundamental dynamic of our universe and which provide subconscious communications bridges between us.
To understand this better, we need to briefly consider the evolution of the human brain. The instinctive and emotional systems of our brains were established well before the human neo-cortex gave us the capability of rational thought and language. For many thousands of years, humans communicated in the same way that most mammals did: it was more body to body communication than mind to mind. The mental capacities and communication skills we have today were simply not available to the primitive human mind. Instead, the successful human cooperation depended entirely on having a mutual sensitivity to our body states, positioning and the basic noises we could make. If we could not talk through language to communicate, we could at least see, hear and sense each other.
The natural communication medium available to humans was energy, and we learned to communicate through transmitting and receiving of our respective energetic states. Many emotional states were (and are still) universal to all humans and could therefore be shared to achieve collective understanding. Laughter is an obvious example of a primal communication behaviour which allowed the sharing of a universal emotion, that of happiness. Similarly, we developed non-verbal gestures and energetic postures to communicate fear, anger, sadness, disgust and shame. These were the fundamental building blocks of human interaction long before language came along.
Why is this relevant now? Because we are not “just” humans, we are humans who were once mammals and who, in turn, were once reptiles and the mammalian and reptilian parts of our brain are still with us, still doing what they are supposed to do and still doing it as actively as ever.
The reptilian brain, more specifically the basal system, is the source of our instinctive responses and constantly serves to protect us from threat; the mammalian brain (the limbic system) looks for emotional connection and social bonding. The “problem” is that all of this goes on below the level of our conscious awareness. We are constantly communicating heart to heart and gut to gut, but our rational brain cannot directly access these networks. The fact that the electro-magnetic dimension is not visible to us, and that all of this exchange has been going on at a subconscious level, have combined to mean that it has been all too easy for us to assume that the source of human behaviour is conscious thought, something we could at least recognise and acknowledge.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The speed of the unconscious regions of our brain is significantly quicker than the regions where we process conscious thought. Consequently, our thoughts and reflections can only ever trail in the wake of our instincts and emotions. The best our rational thoughts can hope for are making sense of what has already happened and attempting to moderate how we will encounter and experience similar future events.
We have all been in situations where we can sense the mood of another person or group before anything is said or overtly displayed. We have all met people who have an energetic impact on us: the confident manner of a successful leader who transmits a feeling of assurance and conviction; the contagious enthusiasm of the extravert who wants to liven up proceedings; the sad demeanour of the victim who has lost faith and meaning. These are essentially energetic transactions that register first in the body and secondly in the mind.
Our bodies are communicating before the conscious mind has yet had a chance to make sense of it. Our hearts have their own neurological network which operates without significant dependence on the human brain. This is sometimes referred to as the “cardiac brain” and has a critical role in our experience of emotions. Similarly, located within our gut is the “enteric brain”, another sophisticated neural network which is central to our instincts.
This is the world of unconscious interpersonal impact, a potential that can be effectively harnessed as energetic priming, the hidden dimension of effective leadership. Leaders who have an energising effect on their people are far more likely to get a successful response than those who drain energy or create defensive energy. If leaders go into a situation feeling tense or defeated, there is a great chance that they will create exactly the same response in their colleagues. Those who approach similar challenges with clarity and confidence are far more likely to succeed.
This is a deeper challenge than simply controlling our behaviour. We can learn to behave “professionally” but if our feelings are transmitting negativity, our colleagues will see the behaviour as simply “toeing the line” or “putting on a brave face”. In these circumstances, the heart will determine what is true and the mind will follow.
This is not a nuance or simple irritation; it strikes at the core of organisational effectiveness. Insensitive leadership drives people into defensive behaviour, where they feel the need to put their own survival needs above those of the organisation because there is a lack of collective integrity and trust. The term “sensitivity” would itself not necessarily resonate well with modern corporate parlance; it smacks of being “soft” and indecisive. Sensitivity here should not imply pampering to emotional weakness or distraction; it should represent a true awareness of people dynamics and how they can be best influenced to achieve successful outcomes.
The result of insensitive leadership is a constant undercurrent of misalignment and tension: the cost of this conflict, if measured, would feature in big red numbers in any profit and loss statement or balance sheet. . On the other hand, directly impacting the energy of others and creating the right level of positive intensity has always been vital to high performance in the world of professional athletes; the same principle applies in organisations.
The real challenge here for leaders is being able to transmit the right sort of energy. We have learned that we cannot “con” people on an energetic level; the words may sound ok but integrity can only be transmitted if we are convinced ourselves. It follows therefore that handling our own energy as leaders is as crucial as any attempt to manage the energy of others. We often hear references to exceptional leaders having “gravitas”, so what is this? People who are seen to have gravitas have learned (probably intuitively) to “centre” their own energy. By understanding and trusting the internal source of their own energy (alignment between heart, brain and gut) they transmit energy rather than take it from others. They therefore become a source of energy supply and others in their presence will sense this and tap into it. In this state they are transmitting a strong electro-magnetic signal and group engagement can amplify this effect.
This challenge presents a significant opportunity for coaches. Coaches who can heighten the awareness of their clients to energy dynamics can open up a whole new level of connection and purpose. The coaching journey is an ideal opportunity to explore this, given the highly personal nature of the experience. Supporting a coachee to become more aware, not only of the significance of interpersonal energetic exchange, but also of his or her own world of bodily sensations and responses, is a rich vein of emotional and instinctive intelligence to explore with the real promise of golden nuggets to be found for those who search the hardest.
Having been brought up in the South Wales valleys and educated at Pontllanfraith Grammar School, Clive went on to study Sociology at Warwick University. He then embarked initially on a Human Resources career, which lasted for about twelve years, before switching to business management. There then followed a series of leadership roles in large corporate organisations before becoming the CEO of an IT outsourcing company. In 2005, Clive “returned” to coaching and has worked since then primarily with business leaders and their teams addressing strategic and cultural challenges.
He also runs masterclass programmes for coaches, trainers, HR and Learning and Development practitioners. Additionally, he has coached in sport, education, public services, charities, prisons and faith organisations.
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