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Embodied Leadership Presence


By Pavini Moray Ph.D.

Many of my clients sometimes feel unhappy or unsatisfied with their work. Their professional lives are mired in the daily grind. There are continual fires to put out. Their boss is unfeeling. Their colleagues are manipulative. They feel belittled and beleaguered by the system in charge. They can feel stuck or trapped, needing the money, but their ‘real’ life happens after work.

This happens even when they are in leadership, maybe even more so. They look at me with inquiring eyes and ask, “What can I do to fix…” followed by stories of people not living up to their “potential” in the company’s eyes.

We all know leaders who mishandle their power and create harm through a lack of integrity. Many leaders are corrupt and don’t care about those they lead. Conversely, it is possible to be a leader who demonstrates care, efficacy, respect, and integrity. The people who come to me want to create change in positive and supportive ways.

I believe that leadership is a sacred role. We have to earn the privilege of another’s willingness to follow our leadership. One does not become a leader by receiving a title but by acting according to one’s values. A leader must learn to hold their power with skill and grace. And, in my mind, by developing somatic awareness or embodiment.

An embodied leadership presence is something you develop, not something you are born with. When you are a leader who lives inside your skin and feels yourself, you can meet challenges from a centered, grounded place. You respond skillfully according to your stated values. You hold your power ethically and know your impact on those you lead. As therapists, we are, in fact, leaders, too.

The best bosses have embodied leadership presence.

My best boss was a somatic educator. My primary duty for eight years was to sit beside him and help with his writing. He focused on helping people inhabit their bodies, feel their sensations, and practice feeling their aliveness. I was tasked with bringing his very alive body to life on the static pages of his text, crafting words so readers felt his bodily presence and, in turn, tuned into their own.

Before writing, we practiced embodiment exercises to ground and center ourselves. Throughout the day, we got up, moved around, stretched, and went outside for fresh air. Self-care, aka ‘body care,’ was essential.
His detailed attention to embodiment earned him the status of ‘my best boss.’ With a decades-long somatic awareness practice, he paid attention to his body in a rarefied way. He noticed the flow and depth of his breath and his minute muscle contractions, indicating sensations such as guarding, fear, or intuition.

His embodiment benefited his leadership in countless ways. While working, he paid attention to his inner experience. He had an exquisite and boundaried awareness of others—how we felt while working together mattered. Deeply empathetic, he also paid attention to what was his and what was not.

In addition to his embodiment skills, my boss also developed his listening ability. He frequently absorbed what I offered and incorporated my suggestions. When things were not flowing smoothly in whatever we were working on, he listened to me. It was easy to give him feedback because he received it mindfully. If we had a conflict, he often considered my thoughts and reactions later that day and returned the next morning saying he had decided to change course. It was okay to have boundaries and to say no to him. He made it easy to be a whole person at work.

He had an embodied leadership presence. He held his power with care. He understood the power differential between him and his employees. He was present and grounded. And he listened with his entire being.

His embodied leadership created a work environment where I felt cared for, supported, and invited to bring my whole self. His attention to my consent meant I felt willing and excited about my tasks. I never felt forced, mistreated, or micromanaged. Because my boss’s leadership was so attuned, I could do my most brilliant work.

If this description surprises you, I invite you to consider the best boss you’ve had. What about them worked so well for you? Was it what they did? How they were? How they inhabited their body and their power? How they listened to you?

How you are in your body conveys the type of leader you are. Choosing to live differently in your body to be a great leader is possible. For many of you, the following might sound like a primer for beginners in somatic
awareness. And, for many of your clients, especially CEO’s and managers in charge who are looking for tools to enact change in their workplace and who are not used to a somatic approach, these preliminary steps might be the path they seek.

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Pavini Moray (they/them) has started, failed, and succeeded at many businesses. As a serial entrepreneur, they have built private practices, a worker collective, and a for-profit company. These experiences have shaped them into an embodied, service-oriented leader. A Montessori educator at heart, Moray has developed a trauma-informed methodology for embodied relationship skills, teaching hundreds of students how to lead and learn. Moray is also a somatic coach specializing in trauma and relationships. Their identity as a queer, trans, non-binary founder gives them insight into outsider culture and accessibility. Moray holds an M.Ed in Curriculum and Design and a Ph.D. in Somatic Psychology.

Photo credits:
Malachi Cowie from Unsplash
John Hain from Pixabay