Three Leadership Lessons Yoga Can Teach Us In A Digital World

Jutta Lachenauer

On a recent business stay in India, I joined a yoga class in downtown Bangalore. I became part of a group of eight women who met daily to practice yoga after work. The class took place in a quiet space nearby a small temple. No street noise could penetrate its walls. No phones were buzzing. We heard only the soothing voices of the temple’s monks singing their prayers.

It wasn’t my first yoga lesson. I had started practicing yoga years ago in Germany, as part of my fitness routine and meditation practice. Over the years, I have tried different types of yoga classes and styles, some more physically challenging, others more geared towards finding my spiritual inner core.

Despite all my previous practice, my first class with the yoga group in Bangalore was humbling. Most of the group’s members expertly balanced and twisted their bodies with ease, while I struggled to follow suit. My legs and arms did not always bend the right way, but it did not matter. While we all went through the same postures as a group, and everyone in the room worked on their own goals at their pace. It reminded me that yoga can teach us some valuable leadership lessons in the digital world.

1. Focus

One of the core benefits of yoga is gaining focus. Going through the different yoga postures has a calming influence on the body and the mind. Every pose, from beginner to more advanced, requires your full attention and focus.

Maintaining focus is a valuable skill for leading teams in a fast-changing environment. Clarity of mind enables leaders to focus on what it is important to navigate their teams through industry transformations and future-focused organizational changes. Focus also helps us tap innovation for its business value by focusing on adopting technologies not for their coolness factor but their potential to create new products and business models.

The best yoga pose to practice focus is the headstand. Nothing requires more attention and focus in yoga than balancing your body on your head (at least for me).

2. Determination

Not every yoga posture is easy to learn. It takes determination and steady practice to master both beginner’s poses and more advanced postures. Leaders don’t shy away from challenges. They tackle them every day with determination. By maintaining a clear focus on goals, they find ways to build the right team and skill sets and use the right technologies to overcome hurdles.

For me, one posture that requires determination is the crow, or crane, pose. While it requires some arm strength, the real challenge is convincing your mind that you can balance your body with both feet lifted off the ground on your arms. To master this pose, you need to understand where your center of gravity is and how to distribute your weight to balance your body.

Imagine the opportunities when you take off the blinders at work.

3. Challenge yourself every day

Learning and growing as an individual, a team, and a company requires being comfortable with change and being ready to leave one’s comfort zone. Yoga practice challenges you to overcome your perceived physical and mental boundaries.

Consider the scorpion pose, known to be one of the most challenging yoga poses. It resembles the position of a scorpion ready to strike, with your body resting on both forearms and your legs mimicking the scorpion’s tail. This advanced pose that I have yet to master. It requires enormous core strength, flexibility, and mental readiness.

Practicing different styles of yoga over the years has taught me to constantly challenge myself, not only at yoga practice but also at work. Applying yoga techniques at the office helps me to adapt to a fast-paced environment and help others to do the same.  It also gives me the mental power to create a quiet space to stay creative and innovative.

But don’t just take my word for it: Recent organizational leadership studies have been analyzing the impact of mindfulness on leadership efficiency. According to a study by Prof. Megan Reitz and Prof. Michael Chaskalson at Hult International Business School,  mindfulness increases leadership efficiency, but the development of mindfulness depends on the level of practice that the leader does. Based on their study’s results, leaders who practiced mindfulness for at least 10 minutes every day progressed significantly more than others who did not.

The more practice, the better. After all, practice makes perfect.

For more insight on business leadership, see Women In Leadership: Don’t Ring The Bell Yet.

About Jutta Lachenauer

Jutta Lachenauer is the editor-in-chief and head writer for #devWire, the SAP Board Area newsletter for the developer community. With an extensive background in corporate communications, executive communications, internal communications, and change management, Jutta is a trusted advisor to senior management executives.