More than once, I’ve been caught saying something negative about someone, thinking that they would never catch me. Somehow, I thought that if they couldn’t hear me, when I said something gossipy or judgmental, it was ok. Kind of like speeding unless the cop is behind me (something I do all the time!) Except there I would be standing outside someone’s office talking about someone, and they would walk up. You would think it would only take a couple of times for that to happen for me to realize that I needed to be responsible for what comes out of my mouth. Sometimes, I’m a slow learner.
Years ago, I was on the tennis courts in Charlotte when I was telling someone a story about another person I knew in Texas named Joe. I can’t remember what prompted it – but it kind of came out of the blue. I hadn’t thought of Joe for years. I can’t remember what I said, but I do remember that this was something I would not have wanted him to hear me say.
A few minutes later, I was headed to the restroom when I looked over at one of the courts and saw Joe’s twin playing tennis. My first thought was “Wow, I must be feeling guilty about talking about Joe, because that guy looks like Joe.” My second thought was “Boy, that guy really looks like Joe.” About then, Joe’s twin looked over at me and did a double take. Our jaws dropped at the same time. Here in Charlotte, 1000 miles from where we knew each other, was Joe. The real Joe. Not a twin. The odds of me seeing him within minutes of having gossiped about him were infinitesimal – yet there he was. Of course, I was relieved that my gossiping happened well out of his earshot. But I couldn’t escape the fact that I had just been talking about someone I had not thought of for years when he was in the same tennis park I was in.
On CBS Sunday morning last week, they did a story about a man with “locked in” syndrome. He was considered to be in a vegetative state, and the medical staff would often talk about his impending death in front of him. They assumed he could not hear.
Dr. Jill Bolte Tayler tells the story in her TED talk titled “My Stroke of Insight” that when she was recovering from her stroke, she was aware of everything going on around her, even though she appeared to be completely out of it. Both the man in the CBS story and Dr. Taylor recovered and both report that they could hear everything being said about them. In her TED talk, Jill Bolte Taylor admonished medical staff to “Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into the room.” The energy that the variety of people coming day in and day out mattered to the non communicative woman lying in bed.
In the past couple of weeks, Warwick Schiller, one of my podcast guests from last year posted a video from a horse expo titled “How your energy affects the horse.” The video shows a horse being led around an arena with his owner. Both the horse and owner are clearly anxious, worrying about what might be about to happen. The horse is nipping at her, dancing around, and throwing his head. The owner is stiff and her arm is braced as if to hold this horse outside of the danger zone. When the owner handed the rope over to Warwick, the horse immediately changed. First the horse tested his boundaries, both by reaching the end of his rope and then by seeing if he could run over Warwick. Then we get to see a completely different horse as Warwick begins to describe how his energy affects the horse.
Just like we can’t see the wind, we can’t see energy. But we can see the effects of the wind in the trees – and in this video, we can see the effects of Warwick’s energy in the horse. Warwick doesn’t do any of the controlling behaviors that you might often see people recommend. Instead, he created energy to bring the horse’s thoughts back to him and allow the horse to be present. As Warwick said, “Present is when your mind and your body are in the same place at the same time.”
I am often asked by my clients to help them achieve “executive presence.” When Warwick took hold of the lead rope in this video, an anxious horse soon became a calm horse with the different energy of the handler. It’s very much like what happens with the calming influence of someone with “executive presence” when they come into the room. The horse in the video needed his handler to be present.
Take the word executive out of the sentence, and now you can see that what the horse and clients are asking for is one and the same: Presence. Being here now. Being congruent. Allowing things to unfold in their natural rhythm. Dancing with the give and take of energy. Remaining composed under pressure. Making good decisions in the face of danger. Offering reassurance when things get dicey. Showing them that they can do it. Taking nothing personally. Real leadership.
We may not be able to see our energy, but we feel it. Even when we don’t know what we are feeling. We walk into a restaurant and turn around and leave because something didn’t feel right. We meet someone and get a bad vibe. We think and say negative things and then assume there’s no impact. Unless you are me and get caught by someone that should have been 1000 miles away.
These insights have been percolating for a long time. The more I’ve been working with horses, the more I’m realizing that I have to take responsibility for the energy I bring to them. Energy is their main form of communication. I don’t get the luxury of saying one thing and meaning another. That kind of incongruence is the energy a deadly predator brings right before the sneaky attack.
How do you think about the energy you bring to different situations? What do you do to keep yourself present? What brings you back if you leave the moment?