Try this. Stand in front of a friend and close your eyes. Get them to push you off balance. Then take a moment to stand relaxed and straight, breathe deeply and calmly and visualise sending down roots into the earth and drawing up energy from the ground beneath your feet. Then imagine the energy of the universe flowing into you and filling you up through the top of your head. Lock those energies in place by raising your fists and pulling them sharply back. Then try and get your friend to push you off balance again.
This is what a roomful of executives found themselves doing at Cranfield School of Management in Bedfordshire, as it showcased a new course in managing personal energy. The group tried other exercises. How close can people move towards you before you feel, even with your eyes closed, that they are infringing your personal space? Where are the "holes" in your personal energy where people can get to you? How can you deflect opponents by simply turning and allowing them go past?
The two-day programme is due to be available this autumn at Cranfield's Praxis Centre, which is known for pioneering an holistic approach to management development. Mary Mills, business director of the centre, says: "Praxis is known for pushing out the boundaries and we always offer what we do to students in other parts of the school."
Cranfield is not alone in exploring a mind, body and spirit approaches to management education. Columbia Business School in New York, began teaching students to meditate last autumn, and researchers at Harvard Business School are looking into the power of meditation in the workplace while holding classes for students. An executive MBA programme at the University of Cape Town in South Africa uses Zen monks as part of its leadership programme, while in the UK "mindful manager" programmes can be found in many schools, acknowledging the importance of self-reflection and inner awareness. Ashridge Business School has a room permanently dedicated to silence and meditation and teaches a mindful leadership course. Last year, it published findings from a research project suggesting "a significantly upwards shift in general levels of satisfaction for individuals who commit to a period of meditation. This is a promising finding in relation to an exploration of the beneficial impact of meditation for the workplace."
But the workplace already knows. Steve Jobs was a regular meditator, while Apple, Google and Deutsche Bank are among a growing number of companies offering yoga, massage and reiki to their employees to promote clarity and reduce stress.
Cranfield's energy management courses are run by Lizzie Wright, 47, an energy coach and Third Dan in Karate and Aikido, who combines talking about touchy-feely things like "finding your inner truth" with powerful displays of martial arts. "Leaders are felt not heard," Lizzie Wright told managers on the initial course. "There's an invisible language of power and we are making choices all the time about the signals we send out. Some people are just at peace with themselves and you can feel it. They don't, for example, need to do that thing of coming into a room for a meeting and looking at everyone in turn with a sort of awkward half-smile. They just come in and you can immediately feel that they are there."
She discovered her own inner energy when she had to pull herself through life-threatening illness. Now she coaches private clients and companies, including organisations such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and BT. "When I work with companies what I'm doing is helping them look at and reflect on their personal perspective. Everyone is exhausted by what happened [to the economy] in 2008 and the trickle on from that afterwards. They're keen to get on with other things. But if they haven't got their vital energy they are only half as effective as they could be. I help people harness their personal energies and also look at how they can share that power in their organisation without compromising themselves."
Georgina Wistow, director of organisation development and design for BT Innovate and Design, attended the Cranfield course and thinks putting attention on inner resources is timely after recent financial upheavals. "Leaders have come to prize short-term execution and delivery, but as we go into a period of growth and health people have got to show up as authentic leaders. The past three years have been about noise, attack and challenge, but being an authentic leader always comes from inside.
"You have to choose your metaphor," she says. "I was talking to a friend who is struggling at work and squaring up to every battle. I pointed out to him that 35 to 40 per cent of his battles were about proving the other person wrong or himself right, and that he could decide what battles mattered to him and let the others go. I explained about how in martial arts you can pivot and let your opponent go by and he understood that, whereas he might not have responded to ideas of 'being in your own truth'."
Jo Gausden, organisational development business partner with VocaLink, was interested in the course but says: "How often in an office is it realistically possible to go into your own space and do some of the things she was suggesting? I think you probably have to learn to do it more in your own head."
However they do it, Wright insists that modern managers must manage their own energies. "If you are a weak fish, the shark will attack you. But I can tell you categorically that you can get your power back."
The Power of Personal Energy runs in London on 19 June. Contact the Praxis Centre on 01234 754502 for more information
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