How a Pharmaceutical Company Accidentally Confirmed the Power of a Simple Tool to Improve Leadership of Yourself – and Others
Your effectiveness as a leader has a direct impact on many things in your life and business: Your income, your ability to influence and persuade the people you lead, and perhaps most importantly, on the purpose you feel and your ability to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
So it’s not surprising that leaders like us constantly seek tools, tips and resources to become more effective as leaders. We know that investing our time in learning these new ways of being and leading will pay off many times over.
Often, accessing such tools requires significant investments of money and/or time. But the tool I’ll share in this article is something you can learn and do without any cost or obligation — and it takes just a few minutes to learn.
A Pharmaceutical Company’s Unexpected Leadership Discovery
About six weeks ago, Mary Morrissey and I were co-leading a private mastermind called Brave Thinking Masters Pinnacle. The members of this exclusive group are powerful leaders who are doing amazing things in the world. Brave Thinking Masters Pinnacle helps them improve the effectiveness of their thinking.
For our January retreat, we brought in an amazing content expert to add value to the group: Dr. Gay Hendricks, a world-class leader with a Ph.D. from Stanford. Gay is author of 40 books, including The Big Leap, a great book that I highly recommend, and a tremendous contributor to the fields of relationship transformation and body-mind therapies.
Gay’s purpose that morning was to help us set our intentions for the retreat. He started with a story that I’m going to share with you here. This tale illustrates the power of the mind and introduces beautifully the practical tool I want to give you.
Gay had been asked to oversee and review a pharmaceutical company’s study about the effectiveness of a new anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication it was bringing to market.
As was standard practice for this type of study, the experiment divided participants into three groups. The first group was taking the actual medication. The second group was assigned to take a “medication,” but in their case, it was just a placebo or sugar pill.
The third group was not given a pill to take. Instead, they were instructed to take three deep breaths anytime they felt anxious, depressed or even a little bit down.
At the end of the experiment, the researchers analyzed the results. They found that the medication did have an effect. However, the sugar pill had about the same level of effectiveness, which apparently is a common discovery in these types of studies.
When the researchers analyzed the data from the third group, however, they were stunned. This group had the biggest change in their emotional state — far greater than what was created by either the medication or the placebo. The simple act of taking three deep breaths was more effective than taking medication. This probably wasn’t good news to the pharmaceutical company, but it is great news for the rest of us.
Important: Before we go any further, let me make it crystal clear that you should not take anything I share in this article as advice to discontinue any medications you may be taking.
Nor are any of my comments meant to indicate any opinion about whether or not an individual should take medication for any type of mental, emotional, or physical health condition. Such decisions should only be made with the advice of your doctor.
How Breathing Can Improve Leadership
I found it curious – and empowering — that three simple breaths could be so effective to ward off the effects of anxiety and depression. Although I am not currently struggling with anxiety or depression, I know that many people are, especially during the pandemic. Regardless of your experience with these conditions, it’s safe to say that we all face situations as leaders where we get stressed out.
Perhaps I’m in a high-pressure meeting. Or maybe I’m faced with a decision where there might be tens of millions of dollars on the line. Talk about a moment that might increase anxiety, or stress, or tension!
You might face other situations that increase your stress. Maybe you’re trying to make a decision about how to hire or whether to invest in a marketing campaign. Perhaps you need to have a sensitive conversation with an employee or you’re entering into a negotiation where the outcome could change your life. We all have high-pressure, stressful situations. Having tools that can help us be more effective in our thinking is critical as a leader.
At Brave Thinking Institute, we’re blessed to have a master coach named Kristen Welles. She is a founder and fellow at Harvard University’s School of Coaching and an amazing teacher, speaker, and coach.
Kristen teaches a particular type of breathing activity that is incredibly effective, which I am going to share with you here.
If you’re skeptical that a breathing activity can make a difference, trust me – I understand. I was skeptical, too, until I experienced the results myself. Hearing about the study that Gay reviewed removed any lingering whispers of doubt that I may have had about the incredible power of breath to calm our emotions and clarify our thinking.
3 Breaths to Better Leadership
We’re going to take three deep breaths, using the following pattern:
- Take a deep breath in through your nose.
- Pause for the count of three.
- Breathe out through your mouth, as if you were blowing through a straw.
For each of the three breaths, focus on a different thought:
- On Breath #1, focus on gratitude. Ask yourself, “What can I be grateful for?” For example, you could be grateful for this moment in time or for the opportunity with which you’ve been presented.
- On Breath #2, focus on abundance. Remind yourself that no matter what you’re facing, there is enough. Remind yourself that you are enough. Remind yourself that when you partner with the power breathing you (I call that power God, but please choose whatever name resonates with you), you are enough.
- On Breath #3, focus on the idea that there IS a solution. Feel your complete trust and knowledge that a solution exists for whatever problem, challenge or question you are facing.
You’ve probably read, heard or been told before that deep breathing can help you center and calm yourself. I’ve found that the way that Kristen teaches it — combining breath with thoughts — is exceptionally effective as a leader. Whether you are leading a team or only leading yourself, this practice will help you open up physically, mentally and emotionally.
When to Use This Leadership Tool
I use this tool whenever I feel myself getting a little stressed out or anxious, when I’m facing a difficult decision, or where I’m noticing a constriction in my body and in my thinking. The thoughts I use, combined with the breathing, help me open up. And the more open I am, the more I can stay in solution.
When I stop and execute on this breathing activity, I can absolutely tell you that my thinking is better. My decision-making is better, and I am in a position where I absolutely am a more effective leader.
And here’s what I know: When I’m a more effective leader, I’m making more money. I am better at encouraging my team, and the people that I’m leading feel more satisfied in what they’re doing. The number of times where I’m causing trouble, or pain, or chaos in my own business — which definitely is something that leaders do — is diminished or mitigated when I’m a more effective communicator.
I invite and encourage you to experiment with this tool in the coming week. If you’re feeling bold and want to commit yourself publicly, type “I’m in” or “I’m in, I’m going to use that tool” in the chat below.
I suggest using this technique two or three times a day consistently for the next week. Then come back and share your results in the chat below.
I guarantee you that if you use this tool, you will be a better leader. You’ll accomplish more, and you’ll feel more grounded as you’re facing whatever it is you’re facing in the world right now.