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7 principles to being a leader: Start with better breathing

Susan Freeman’s advice for those who seek a new path to become better leaders requires an open-your-mind (and body) spirit.

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 5:00 a.m. May 3, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Leadership consultant Susan Freeman's new book, "Inner Switch: Seven Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership," will debut May 9.
Leadership consultant Susan Freeman's new book, "Inner Switch: Seven Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership," will debut May 9.
Courtesy photo
  • Leadership
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Executive coach, author and speaker Susan Freeman recently received a phone call from a client who joyously wanted to thank her for helping him with something that, on the surface, seems rather elementary: breathing.

The client, in business to business sales, told Freeman he had a prospective customer meeting that began ominously. The prospect, a gruff procurement manager, had his arms folded with a frown when Freeman’s client walked into the room. The manager had a look, Freeman’s client told her, that screamed, “if you are trying to sell me something today, I have bad news for you.”

So the client paused. He did some centered and deep belly breathing for 30 seconds. Then he calmly went into his sales pitch. And he walked out, Freeman says, with a $50,000 equipment sale. “He called me from the car after, and was so excited,” says Freeman.

The breathing side of better leadership is one part of a larger mission Freeman has been on for several years: to incorporate eastern philosophy into western leadership strategies. In a previous Leadership Matters column, in October 2021, Freeman talked about how she integrates yoga-based eastern wisdom and mindfulness techniques with the get-it-done mantra of Corporate America and the modernized West.

Now Freeman, who runs her own company, Tampa-based Susan S. Freeman, has a new book to back up that belief system, “Inner Switch: Seven Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership.” The book will be available May 9.

Freeman, an ad executive for Young & Rubicam in New York City in the late 1980s, has written about these topics before, and uses them in her leadership coaching and training. The new book puts it all together, she says, in a new way that any leader can grasp and utilize. “Effective leaders must have the capacity to be present and related in their bodies while they are working toward their goals,” she writes.

During a recent interview, Freeman says the seven principles, which don’t come naturally for most people, can be learned. “These can be readily applied by any manager to help them go from reactionary to responsive leadership,” Freeman says. “You can learn to have more of a presence, to feeling and being instead of thinking and doing.”

The seven principles include: 

New days

1. Open: Go beyond habit. 

Freeman encourages leaders and her clients to think beyond the ‘that will never work mindset,’ and constantly be curious. In other words, maintain a beginners mindset, something akin to Jeff Bezos’ Day One philosophy with Amazon, that every day is a startup day. “See things as if you’re seeing things for the first time,” she says. 

2. Learn: Reorient your focus. 

Part of this principle, Freeman says, is recognizing 90% of our thoughts come subconsciously. To focus in the moment, when leading or in any other pressure situation, Freeman suggests asking yourself three questions: Where are my thoughts? Am I in this moment, or is my brain running into the future? And what is within my own control right now? 

3. Let go: Explore your edges. 

Freeman says this is the practice of not being reactionary to everything that “falls in front of you” as a leader. It’s also about no longer expecting people to “behave in the way we think they ought to (so) we can start to truly connect with them as they are.”

4. Drop in: Shift from doing to undoing. 

This principle, to become a non-judgemental observer, is both the “meatiest” among the seven, Freeman says, and the one with the most pushback from clients that it borders on being too touchy-feely. Yet by “dropping in,” or, Freeman says, not being reactionary and negative in a moment of conflict or unease, it’s also one of most pertinent principles. 

5. Integrate: Live with Intention. 

This is a core eastern philosophy and yoga tenet, to unify the body, mind and spirit. “Everyone has problems. Everyone has conflict situations,” Freeman says. “Only you can control how you react to those.”

Keep pushing 

6. Connect: Create real communication. 

This principle, to “listen with attention and speak with respect,” utilizes a few other chapters in Freeman’s book. For example, in order to have valued and trusted relationships with people in your organization or on your team, it helps to be non-judgmental, curious and in the moment, Freeman writes. 

7. Illuminate: Become an inner switch leader. 

Like No. 6, this principle incorporates several other parts of the book. That includes being more present, centering your breathing and, Freeman writes, considering “your heart a vital component of leadership.”

Freeman, in the book and our recent conversation, recognizes for many leaders, these principles can sound far-fetched, time-consuming or too “out there.”. But like a good yoga practitioner, she also suggests patience, and repetition. “Developing new habits isn’t easy,” she writes. “Start with small steps in the direction of your intention, and don’t be afraid to experiment. When you fall off the wagon, simply pick yourself up and get back on.”



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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