Orchestrating Success

Orchestrating Success

OS 038: Leadership Skills: Being and Staying Centered

February 04, 2017

The head and heart cannot function without a unifying principle. That principle is to be found at the crossroads through which each element must pass. That crossroad stands at—and is—the center.—James Conlon in the Foreword to Toward Center, p. xv

Centering, which I discuss in this book, is a severe and thrilling discipline, often acutely unpleasant. In my own efforts, I become weak, discouraged, exhausted, angry, frustrated, unhappy, and confused. But someone within me is resolute, and I try again. Within us lives a merciful being who helps us to our feet however many times we fall. — M. C. Richards in Centering

Being centered means managing self. The Transformational Leader creates high functioning, high performing cultures by influence. Being centered is essential to the tone and mood of that influence. Transformational Leaders get results by personal influence, not by power of position.

In his book, The Musician’s Soul, James Jordan points out that the conductor must be centered on the podium to be effective. Being centered means physical, mental, and spiritual grounding. Being fully present as one’s self is the beginning of influence. The same paradigm is true for leaders in any field.

In his eight leadership concepts, Murray Bowen defines one concept as “Differentiation of Self.” Under this concept come many items including managing self, which includes managing one’s own anxiety. Anxiety is a form of influence, and it is not a desired form of influence.

Anxiety breeds anxiety: Just like when a cow in a herd of cows gets anxious when hitting the electric fence, and spreads that anxiety to the rest of the herd, anxious leaders create anxiety within any group emotional culture. Anxiety spreads even when the leader attempts to hide it.

Anxiety clouds rational thinking: When we move our being into an emotional state, the brain gets flooded with emotion and pushes aside rational thinking. The effective leader manages emotions and retains rational thinking.

Anxiety creates doubt: Clouded thinking and anxious thinking are the downfall of effective group process. The anxious leader appears to be unsure and transmits that sense of doubt to the others in the group. When not knowing what to do or what is happening, it’s best to pause and observe, asking good questions and listening to the answers, and observing what is happening with the team. Pausing and observing allows for clarity of intent to manifest in the team. Learning when to manage process and when to allow the team to struggle with finding their answer is a mature leadership skill and only comes with trusted relationships and experience.

Centered means confidence knowing that you don't need to have all the answers or solve all problems. Being centered is being fully present. The leader always ensures that the team is implementing the vision of the organization and reserves veto power for any decisions. Success comes with not having to use that veto power due to effective and clear principles and strategies. It’s the integration of strategy and performance that builds the DNA of high functioning in teams.

Musicians learn to be centered by managing their nerves. Being nervous paralyzes the inexperienced performer, whether musician, actor, speaker, etc., while the experienced performer learns to utilize the adrenaline that comes with the nervousness, providing a greater presence and enhanced sensitivities. This success comes with much experience and intentional rehearsal - perfect practice makes for perfect performance.

Centered is being balanced:

  • Balance is managing multiple priorities
  • Balance is not overfunctioning
  • Balance is managing self
  • Balance is knowing and connecting with inner self
  • Balance has nothing to do with equal
  • Balance is setting and managing reasonable expectations

Here’s what Richard Rohr wrote in his daily meditation on December 30, 2015: Say to yourself: "I don't know anything." Imagine you are an erased blackboard, ready to be written on, a tabula rasa. For by and large, what blocks spiritual learning is the assumption that we already know, or that we don't need to know. We have to pray for the immense guidance that is offered us in the beginner's mind. We need to say with the blind man, "Lord, I want to see."

This is true of leadership. If we assume we know, then we block our learning. Centering begins with emptying one's self and becoming aware.


Leadership is continuing to learn, continuing to grow, and continuing to expand awareness.