Small Shifts with Big Impact: Using Micro-Practices to Uplift Consciousness, Well-Being, and Performance in the Leaders You Coach
The senior leader I’m coaching feels stuck. For decades, Angela prospered in operational roles by leading with her brilliance. She was the expert, dogmatic about her opinions (and typically right), and if needed, she knew how to bully her views to the top. Yet her new role as beverage company COO required her to “play well with others.” This meant contributing to collective leadership rather than leaning on individual know-how alone, and this was a skill outside her repertoire.
As we dove into our coaching relationship, Angela realized her real challenges were deeper. Years of relentlessly proving her worth combined with little time for self-care had left her burnt-out, mercurial and unfulfilled. Not only did others work around instead of with her (for who wants to accidentally poke the bear?), but she was also tired of the constant struggle within herself. Angela craved a new way of being.
Like Angela, a growing number of leaders are ready to shift to healthier, more sustainable ways of leading and living. But this shift isn’t easy. Pressures from every direction—cultural norms, business deadlines, family expectations, internal anxieties—frequently channel leaders’ energies toward depletion, even when they desire a better, more life-enhancing approach.
We can all relate! And, as coaches we know we can’t use a shovel to dig out of this hole—that only makes the hole deeper.
I believe we each have a place of wisdom and well-being inside us. So, my executive coaching work, in large part, helps leaders reconnect with that place, becoming more effective in the outer world by first turning within.
Fundamentally, this is about leaders consciously shifting their state of being, and that requires clear intention, focused awareness, energy and the discipline to experiment with new actions, big and small. Big actions—such as a leader authoring a bold vision to guide their success, crafting a career path that draws on their unique genius, or identifying a legacy that inspires them—provide a larger framework for navigating life and work with greater clarity, connection and joy. These big actions are essential for the long haul of leading with positive impact.
Yet transformative power also lies in the present. Just as important as the big actions are the smaller, easy-to-use practices leaders can master in 5–10 minutes to reboot mind, mood and physiology toward operating from wisdom and well-being every day.
For instance, here are three micro-practices I taught Angela to apply. Try these out for yourself:
- Put on a Half-Smile: Facial expression and emotional state go hand in hand. (Don’t believe me? Grimace and notice the effects.) Put on that soft, relaxed almost-smile—the Half-smile—of the famous Mona Lisa. When you turn up the corners of your mouth, stress-fighting neuropeptides are released throughout your body to help you unwind
- Breathe Away Stress: Few people can solve thorny problems instantaneously. But, you can change your outlook through a few minutes of mindful breathing. It’s simple. Become aware of your breath. (Your act of awareness has likely deepened your breathing already.) To further relax, inhale to the count of four and exhale to the count of six. Repeat at least three times
- Stretch into New Forms. Physically stretching generates vitality and connection with yourself. Get up from your chair and move your body into new shapes—swing, twist, bounce, fake-yawn—to bring about new thinking and energy
These micro-practices may seem simple, but the benefits can be huge. Able to be applied anywhere, anytime, Angela says these practices are causing her to pause. Instead of reacting out of habit, she is becoming more purposeful and generative in her response. And that internal space of well-being is essential if she is to bring forth something healthier and fresher to her leadership and life overall.
As part of executive coaching, I use hundreds of micro-practices to help leaders and leadership teams uplift their consciousness, well-being and effectiveness. As examples, here are two additional ideas for you and your coaching toolkit:
- Slow Down to Move Ahead. Make the deliberate choice to slow down with your next activity—savor your meal, engage fully in a conversation, or walk with a gentler pace. Truly being in the moment allows greater happiness and appreciation to show up organically, creating expansive states of being from which to live and lead
- Bless It. Send a blessing to the meeting underway, the people in it, and the circumstances that made it possible. Don’t stop there: Bless the space in which each of you can show up well in the workplace and the world. Extend this practice to bless everything! (Why not?!) It adds positivity to the world, and it builds a reservoir of goodness
Effective leadership is about using presence and power to unleash the human potential for vitality, exceptional performance and positive impact. Teaching your client micro-practices they can use on their own (and with their teams) every day helps them not only explore more conscious and healthier ways of leading for their future, but also demonstrates more empowered ways to show up right now.