Intentional leadership

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Frank Heckman’s ‘leader-follower exercise’ about following and leading: effective non-verbal communication, experiencing the other’s intention, consciously or subconsciously.

Follower-Leader exercise:

  • Form pairs and both hold out your hand with the palm facing down.
  • Be and remain silent during the exercise.
  • As leader, place your hand under your partner’s hand, in such a way that they touch only very lightly.
  • As follower,
    • rest your fingertips lightly on the back of the leader’s hand;
    • close your eyes.
  • As leader,
    • stay where you are;
    • intend to get your partner to follow;
    • gently start to move your hand—high, low, far, close, round, straight.
  • Switch roles and repeat: the follower becomes the leader and vice versa; repeat the exercise.
  • Discuss the exercise: what’s interesting about it?
  • Make a bit more challenging, and repeat:
    • slowly walk through the room, in addition to moving your hands;
    • stick to the movement of high, low, far, close, round and straight.
  • Switch roles and repeat.
  • Discuss what happened to you (unless it was too intense an experience for you, then call in professional help or something):
    • Were you aware of the effect of your intentions (direction, speed, commitment) on your partner?
    • What is it like to lead or to follow?
    • What do you prefer, to lead or to follow?
    • What is an essential precondition for this to work? (hint: a safe space that fosters trust)

The above exercise stands for many kinds of situations in which we manifest ourselves. The underpinning is to notice how it feels, to be aware of your own body and movements and those of your partner. Frank Heckman has started many a Journey with this exercise, saying that if people would only apply and master the following three guiding principles, even the toughest challenge would be a piece of cake.

  1. First of all, to lead one needs ‘presence’, which means as much as feet on the ground, all senses open, be here, now (no mind wandering off to appointments later in the day).
  2. Second principle is ‘contact’, that is, experiencing the whole person whose hand is touching you. That slightest touch reveals a whole world to you. Call it connection or empathy.
  3. The last principle kicks in when the first two are in place: ‘attention’. With attention you can lead your partner safely (closed eyes) to any destination. Energy flows where the attention goes. Without a single word being said you and your partner communicate many thousands and thousands of bits of information in this exercise. As performers make sure you get a grip on these three—regard them as valuable commodities: ‘presence’, ‘contact’ and ‘attention’.