The Path to 'Centered Leadership'

April 29, 2014

Lunch came with leadership lessons on April 28, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Women and Business hosted a talk with one of the nation’s top workplace consultants.

Joanna Barsh, a director with McKinsey and Company, spoke to a crowded room on themes from her latest book, “Centered Leadership: Leading With Purpose, Clarity and Impact.”

She touched on topics ranging from fear of change, finding energy each day, and giving yourself a break.

Barsh outlined the five dimensions of Centered Leadership, and said that in concert, they can work to help a person achieve their professional goals. The dimensions include:

  • Meaning - What do you care about? What gives you energy?
  • Framing - How self-aware are you? Do you take time to “see your own movie?”
  • Connecting - What do you do to build trust from others? Are you judgmental?
  • Engaging - How well do you balance fear versus hope?
  • Energizing - Do you allow yourself to recover? Are you burnt out?


Easy on Yourself, Easier on Others

Successful leadership, Barsh said, often requires a self-awareness and a change in mindset. She noted that some of the most driven people are held back by their own self-criticism. That’s because those who are hard on themselves are often prone to judge others unfairly. It is better, she said, to recognize that everyone is human, and to practice acceptance.

“For many women, it starts with themselves,” she said. “If you are self-critical, it’s almost impossible to not to criticize other people.”

Barsh also warned against letting fear dictate decisions. Fear can “be adrenaline-inducing” but is not as powerful as hope, she said. She asked attendees to consider a fictional job opportunity, then asked them to think only about the positives of the new opportunity and the negatives of remaining in place.

The 'Performance Zone'

At one point during the lunch session, Barsh asked attendees to stand up and yell out their favorite ice cream flavor, then high-five people around them. The point? To show how people can give themselves a quick energy boost. 

Personal energy, Barsh said, is essential to successful leadership, and usually comes when a person is doing what they enjoy. But she noted the difficulty of staying in the “performance zone”—where energy is both high and positive.

“We want to do it, but if you’re an athlete, you know that’s impossible,” she said. “You need to give yourself permission to go into recovery.” 

Read more about Joanna Barsh and “Centered Leadership” at Follow Barsh on Twitter at @joba42.