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April 6, 2023
Why checking your heart rate could be the key to leadership development
On World Health Day, we explore why your heart rate is inextricably linked to your leadership performance.
Leadership development is usually about assessments, training courses, secondments and coaching. That’s all valid, but we believe that your heart rate – or more specifically heart rate variability (HRV) – could be key to understanding and transforming performance. Here’s why.
The right energy to lead
There’s no doubt that leaders need plenty of energy to get the job done. It’s very hard to make the right strategic decisions if you’re tired. Clear thinking and coherent decisions not only require energy, they also require the right quality energy.
There is a way to measure the quality and quantity of your energy and that’s via your heart rate variability (HRV). You can track your HRV and you can do it in just 24 to 72 hours.
At Complete, we’ve been tracking the biology of leaders during a normal working day using HRV technology for more than 20 years – that’s well before smart watches came on the scene. The biological phenomena revealed by an HRV assessment can underpin a leader’s ability to deliver improved results. Fundamentally, we can quantify the amount of energy a leader has as well as the quality of that energy.
The stories HRV can tell
HRV has been studied widely in medical and scientific circles over the last ten years because it is such a powerful metric. In tracking the performance of a complex system, like a human being, the ideal metric is one that is sensitive to changes in your life. You want the ‘goldilocks’ of metrics; not so sensitive that the tiniest fluctuation in life circumstances causes a massive shift, and not so insensitive that it takes an earthquake to create a noticeable change in the metric. Heart rate variability is just about perfect.
HRV will not tell you whether you made the right decision last week, but we know from our analyses that someone who has a chaotic HRV pattern tends to be less perceptive. On the other hand, someone who is more coherent – in terms of their HRV – often reports that they are more clear thinking and make better decisions.
There are more than 19,000 published scientific papers looking at different aspects of HRV. HRV is intimately linked to brain function and crucial to effective decision making. It is also related to individual identity, which is highly relevant to authentic leadership. You can find out more about all the research evidence in our HRV white paper.
Can you improve your HRV?
Simply, yes! We can learn to affect our HRV and, as a result, think more clearly and retain more energy. With some practice, we can create a coherent HRV signal. There’s no magic pill, it’s just a question of consciously altering our breathing. With a rhythmic breathing pattern, we can create cardiac coherence. The conscious control of our breath is nothing new; sport, playing a musical instrument, yoga and meditation all teach its importance. We now need to bring this fundamental skill to our working lives too.
A physician and neuroscientist, Dr. Alan Watkins is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance.
Over the years he has coached thousands of individuals to greater levels of performance, transformed organisational cultures and helped leaders discover new ways to succeed. Alan has become a confidant to many of the world’s top leaders over the past 22 years.Read bio