Developing Breath Control Can Make You a Better Leader

For forty years we have seen a consistent correlation between our clients' change leadership success and their level of self-mastery. The greater their self-mastery, the greater their success. One of the most practical and immediate self-mastery techniques is breath control.

You might be wondering, “What does breath control have to do with maximizing my results from change?” In fact, as a results-oriented pragmatist, you might shun a blog on breathing. “Oh, the soft stuff. This isn't for me.” But be forewarned—this blog may hold key insights that will radically improve your change leadership capabilities. So, take a deep breath and read on to discover how simple breath control techniques can make you a better leader.

You have heard us say before that the unique people and process challenges of transformation require that leaders transform their “industrial” worldview and command and control style. They must become more co-creative, responsive, facilitating, and compassionate. This requires personal change, not just organizational change. Breath control can become invaluable to you because it will dramatically increase your capability to change personally.

The Power of Conscious Breathing Exercises

You do not have to think about breathing, it just happens. You do not even need awareness to breathe, let alone conscious awareness. Even if you are knocked unconscious, you will keep breathing. In fact, your programming to breathe is so deeply ingrained in your nervous system that you cannot keep yourself from breathing.

How you breathe – the state of your breath -  reflects your internal state, moment-by-moment. In other words, your breathing pattern changes as what you are thinking and feeling changes. This is also true of your other metabolic functions, such as your blood pressure, heart rate, and hormone secretion.

When you are stressed or anxious, your breathing will move high in your chest and become rapid and shallow. Your blood pressure will go up, your heart rate will increase, and your endocrine system will secrete fight or flight hormones in large quantities.

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The nice thing about your breath is that it is easier to alter than these other three functions. You can learn to slow your breath down, deepen it, and bring it back down into your belly. Doing this when stressed will immediately make you calmer, more focused, and more perceptive. Breathwork is an effective tool because you can easily alter your breath to achieve immediate shifts in your awareness, thoughts, and feelings.

You must be consciously aware to engage in breath control. On autopilot, you simply breathe in whatever way your internal state dictates, but when you are consciously aware, you can alter your breath. Any time you are breathing consciously, you can also become conscious of anything else that is present in the situation. Consequently, attending to your breath can be a very helpful trigger into greater conscious awareness. The two go together.

Deciding to employ conscious breathing as a self-mastery tool delivers two very powerful benefits: it triggers you into greater conscious awareness throughout your day, and it enables you to have better influence over your internal state of being and how you are thinking, feeling, behaving, and reacting. When the complex and challenging dynamics of transformation build, you want to be clear headed! Managing your breath will help keep you that way.

Circle Breathing

A great place to begin practicing conscious breathing is with a simple breathing technique called circle or passive breathing. Download the tool: Introducing Circle Breathing to get started. 

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About the author

Dr. Dean Anderson

Dr. Dean Anderson is an international speaker, bestselling author, and strategic advisor to the C-Suite. For forty years, Dr. Anderson has been guiding visionary leaders of America’s Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and global non-profit organizations to transform themselves and their organizations to Achieve Breakthrough in business results, culture, leadership, and executive team performance. Dean is the co-founder of Being First, one of America’s most innovative transformational consulting firms, and a co-creator of Conscious Change Leadership, an advanced Body of Work that integrates personal and organizational transformation. Dean received an honorary doctoral degree from Brandman University for this pioneering work. Dean co-authored two cutting edge books that have become classics in the field of organizational transformation: Beyond Change Management: How to Achieve Breakthrough Results through Conscious Change Leadership, and The Change Leader’s Roadmap: How to Navigate Your Organization’s Transformation. He and his co-author, Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson, have published over 50 articles on human performance and organizational change, and are the co-developers of The Change Leader’s Roadmap Methodology.