“What did you do to him while I was away?”
My boss has just come back from holiday and was asking me about the change he could see in a team member I’ve just taken line-management responsibility for. He’s like a different person: more engaged, volunteering information in meetings, and quick to propose solutions to the day-to-day challenges inherent in the work we do.
My boss was impressed. He thinks I’m a good manager of people, but this change was clearly particularly striking. What did I do? I like to think I worked a little modest yogini magic. Really I just gave him my time and my full attention. I acknowledged the operational difficulties in his role, I encouraged him to recognise the unique and valuable contribution he brings to our work. I allowed him to see that where he is now in his role and in his understanding of the work is good, and is enough. I gave reassurance.
And somehow this acceptance of today has set us up for greater things in future. Like my boss, I can sense his greater enthusiasm and confidence. And he’s already brought me some ideas for improvements that he’d like to work on in the months ahead!
I’m proud of this interaction and the outcome it gently generated. It took some effort for me, with the perennial pressure of delivering more for less, to resist the urge to drive everyone forward on full power all the time. And I haven’t learned this new approach from reading Harvard Business Review or any management seminar at the Business School.
I’ve learned it by coming to my yoga mat every day, where I give myself permission to stop pushing on and accept where I am, where I practice being open and free of expectations, trusting that gentleness and loving exploration can yield more than dogged pursuit. I’m gradually embodying the idea, patiently repeated by my teacher week in week out, that keeping mind and body open are more important than straining to get into perfect alignment. Honest compassion (what the concept of ahimsa suggests to me today) creates the truest expression of a pose on the mat and, I’m finding, permits open and understanding relationships off the mat — with family and friends most naturally, but also now with business relationships.
In the office there’s still a place for key performance indicators, year to date budget reviews, and critical path analysis. Just as on the mat there’s still a place for strong practice where muscles work hard, and bumps and bruises can happen playing at the limits of asana.
But behind these are the stabilising forces of acceptance, and trust, and compassion. This for me is the best (though the quietest) meaning of how I might practice ‘corporate yoga’ — not with the boardroom repurposed for trendy lunchtime asana practice, but finding an authentic approach to working life that is simple although far from easy to apply, and that is basic in essence but profound in practice.
“Start from where you are” my teacher once told me. I don’t think I could then, but I’m beginning to understand what this might mean and how I might apply it on and off the mat.
In business speak, there’s the annoying tag “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team'”; in yoga it’s all about being One. However you conceptualise it, I have one happier team-member and an impressed boss. That’s good enough for me!