Coherence: The Science of Exceptional Leadership and Performance

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This month, Dr Alan Watkins’ first leadership book receives a well-earned update. The release of edition two is the perfect time to dig a little more into just what made this book so special when it was launched in 2013 and why it’s so relevant to today. We ask author, Dr Alan Watkins, what it’s all about:

Q.      Let’s start at the very beginning, what is coherence?

Coherence is the state that athletes often call ‘being in the zone’ or the ‘flow state’ when they are performing at their peak, with maximal effort, but it looks and feels almost effortless. However, coherence isn’t just found in athletes. We can all become more coherent in our everyday lives.

Coherence happens at a physiological, emotional, cognitive and behavioural level. At a physiological level it happens when our heart sends a coherent electrical signal to the brain, the brain synchronises with it and allows us to perform better, with greater clarity, more awareness and increased insight.

Many people recognise that their heart might beat faster when they feel nervous, their palms may sweat – those are physiological manifestations of our emotions. What many people don’t realise is that our physiology, emotions, and behaviour are intrinsically linked. But more than that, we have the power to control our physiology, emotions, and behaviour to ensure that we’re able to think more clearly, make better decisions and ultimately to be exceptional leaders.

Q.        In the book you talk about vertical development, what does that mean?

If we’ve learnt anything over the last few years, it’s that the future is hard to predict let alone plan for. It’s no longer enough to simply learn new skills or gain more experience and knowledge. Now leaders must develop vertically or be at risk of failure. This means that leaders must ‘level-up’ and unlock new capabilities that were not available to them at their previous level.

Most people are familiar with the idea that children go through specific stages of physical or cognitive development. With each new level they are capable of more sophisticated things that were previously unable to do such as walking or thinking in the abstract. This is ‘vertical development’. Adults can also go through stages of vertical development – leaders become more capable of doing things they couldn’t have done in earlier stages of their careers.

Vertical development is not about acquiring new skills, it’s about fundamentally increasing our ‘processing power’. In Coherence, we share a ton of ideas and ways that people can access this increased capacity. It’s a complete game changer for performance and leadership.

Q.        What’s made Coherence stand the test of time when so many leadership books come and go?

I guess it’s a combination of two things; first, it works. We use the techniques I shared in the book when we coach senior leaders and their teams. The new edition includes all the upgrades we’ve made in the last eight years too. Every day we see the difference it makes. Coherence and vertical development make us better leaders, better partners, better parents, and better friends.

Second, there are many people out there we have yet to reach. Leaders are struggling to cope in today’s complex world. They are on a pressurised performance treadmill. Many people are looking for something that can make a real difference – in the long-term. We can’t just tell people they must work harder or make more of an effort. We need to address the fundamentals of performance to enable people to be exceptional without burnout. 

Q. You’ve convinced us to buy the book! But one tip to keep us going before it arrives?

There are lots of tips in the book to help leaders and employees develop greater levels of coherence and embed it into their everyday lifestyle. I would say the most important step is to take ownership of your own physiology and emotional state. Breathing techniques are a great place to start – if you can learn how to breathe rhythmically and smoothly through the centre of your chest this will stabilise your physiology and prevent brain shut down under pressure. If you apply the developmental skills in the book, it will change your life forever.

Coherence: The Science of Exceptional Leadership and Performance is available online from Amazon.  

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