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Alan Watkins

Coherence - The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership


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Coherence – the brilliant future for leaders


For decades we have been led to believe that addressing behaviour is the key to consistently improving performance. It's a logical argument, after all behaviour or what we do affects the results we achieve but what about all the things that affect behaviour? If we want to permanently improve performance and results then we need to understand what’s going on at a much deeper level of the human system. In fact there are four levels below behaviour that determine the results we get and if we don’t control all of these levels right down to the physiological level then whether we achieve the results we want becomes a lottery. Failure to control all four levels driving our behaviour is why leaders perform badly sometimes. It is also why sports people ‘lose form’. They are simply not controlling all the levels that drive behaviour.  Learning to control all levels of the human system and not just the surface behaviours is what coherent leadership is all about.

Think about it as an iceberg.

Above the waterline is the visible behaviour and the results, but dive down below the surface and it becomes clear that what we do (our behaviour) depends on what we think, what we think depends on what we feel and what we feel is really the awareness of the raw emotional energy in our system and this energy in motion (e-motion) is a composite of a myriad of individual physiological data streams that are occurring inside our body 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Therefore improved performance is a cumulative process that starts with greater mastery over the first internal ‘line of development’ – physiology.

Going to the heart of the matter

Most executives and senior leaders struggle with energy levels at some point in their career. The pressure can be intense and lack of energy can negatively influence performance and the ability to deliver results. Physiological coherence protects this vital resource of energy. In fact, coherence not only protects the energy, it can help leaders recover the energy they had ten years ago and literally feel years younger. 

Coherence is the biological basis to what elite athletes call the ‘flow state’. A state of maximum efficiency and super effectiveness where mind and body are one. Physiological coherence concerns the whole body, but it starts with the heart and it is largely made possible through the conscious control of your heart rate patterns initially using specific breathing techniques.

Putting emotion and feeling back into business

Achieving physiological coherence is essential to influencing your behaviour, but that comes through mastery of your emotional state, what you are feeling and thinking. Traditionally emotion has been seen as something that does not belong in business.  Not only is this belief wrong it’s unhelpful and damaging to health, happiness and performance. We may not be aware of the energy in our body, i.e. how we’re feeling but e-motions are present within our body every second of every day and this emotion alters our commercial abilities in a whole variety of ways .

We may look calm, we may even think we are calm because we are so used to ignoring our emotional data but the physiological signals tell a completely different story. The physiological signals running through our body are consistent with the state of anger. Such mismanaged emotion is the superhighway to disease.  For example, heart disease and cancer alone account for about two thirds of all premature death and there is now robust scientific evidence that mismanaged emotion are central to both.

Not only that, but when we perceive a threat or some sort of ‘danger’ – which could be as simple as a stressful meeting or someone challenging our point of view – we go into ‘brain shutdown’. Most of us have experienced that moment when our mind has gone blank under pressure. That happens because we haven’t mastered our physiological and we have no physiological or emotional coherence. The good news is that it is perfectly possible to avoid this ‘DIY lobotomy’ and gain consistent access to our very best thinking on demand.

Most leadership development coaching focuses on the acquisition of skills knowledge or experience, which isn’t really development, it’s learning.  Learning is still very important but the real transformation of leadership comes from ‘vertical development’ or increased maturity and sophistication. Vertical development is the equivalent of a wholesale upgrade of the operating system, whereas learning is equivalent to the addition of a few more Apps. Such development requires a technical understanding of the stages of adult development and how to measure it. Over the last 15 years we have been cracking the code on adult development in business.  This work has drawn on the very latest insights into medicine, biology, neuroscience, quantum physics, systems theory, psychology and emotional intelligence.  Many of these fields are never even discussed in the world of business, but I’ve worked with many CEOs who have embraced ‘complete coherence’ and transformed for the better not only how they show up at work, but what kinds of partners and parents they are.  

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Alan Watkins


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