Plan Your Career Using Your Three Centers of Intelligence
Navigating Your Career as a Whole Leader
As a young manager, I believed my future success depended on mentorship. I was convinced I didn’t know what I was doing and my inner imposter voice assured me that I would soon be discovered as a fraud. In those early years, while acclimating to the politics and cultural intricacies of a large organization, I followed most of the advice I was given. When someone suggested I was a good fit for an open role, I applied. It never occurred to me to pause and assess my own feelings.
Eventually, my career planning became an authentic expression of my strengths and passions. In order to make that shift, I had to learn how to listen to parts of myself that I had ignored. Engaging the Three Centers of Intelligence — showing up as a whole leader — is one of the most practical, easily accessible frameworks I know for making these big choices.
The Belly Center
“I feel it in my gut.”
“I know it in my bones.”
Our Belly Center is our direct connection to our instinctual drives. It tells us when action is needed, when a boundary has been violated, and when we want to move toward something in our lives. It gives us a grounded certainty about our experience. “Here I am,” it says.
When I am in touch with my belly center, I experience a visceral certainty about things. I recognize familiar sensations and access information I can’t always reach with my brain.
When I say yes to a commitment that isn’t a Full Body Yes (and this happened just a few weeks ago), I feel tension and nausea in my gut. It’s like a tight fist is squeezing me there. If my belly could speak, it would say “NO!”
When I was a manager, tuning in to my belly helped me lead with confidence and check in for that deeper yes. When I noticed that I felt like a floating brain with no connection to my body, I called up practices that helped me tune back in and lead with deeper alignment. That alignment built trust with my team and helped me feel less exhausted by the end of my busy day.
The Heart Center
“My heart is not in it.”
“The heart of the matter is …”
“It breaks my heart.”
Our Heart Center provides deep insights about our connection with others and ourselves. When we connect to our emotional intelligence, we can respond to life with compassion and make choices that are in alignment with our values. This center asks the question, “Who am I?”
When I am in touch with my Heart Center, I feel an expansive flow in my chest. Quite often, in the moment of re-connection, I feel an upwelling of emotions I have been ignoring. When I am open to the truth of my emotional life, I feel more tenderness for myself and others.
When I am cut off from my Heart Center, I lose my curiosity about other people. I get stuck in my righteousness or my initial assumption about an action that is needed. I make other people wrong and I make myself wrong.
During my 14 years at Genentech, I noticed patterns about the emotions I told myself were acceptable at work and those that were not. When I brought my compassion into my leadership, I built deeper, more trusting connections. When I spoke honestly about my feelings — anger, sadness, excitement — colleagues sensed my authenticity. When I noticed that I was putting overwhelming pressure on myself, I could tune into my heart and start to heal through self-acceptance.
The Head Center
“I knew it without thinking about it.”
“I can witness my thoughts without believing them.”
I frequently see quotes on Instagram that say “listen to your heart, not your head”. I understand the sentiment but that sounds like a false choice to me. When our three Centers of Intelligence — Belly, Heart, and Head — are engaged and aligned, we move through the world as our best selves. The Head Center and Heart Center offer different kinds of knowing that don’t need to be in conflict. The Head Center is often confused with the overwhelming onslaught of thoughts our mind produces. When we get attached to our thoughts without curiosity or self-reflection, we lose access to its true brilliance. In reality, this Center of Intelligence helps us discern what is true about our experiences. When we are tapped into our spacious mind, we access the understanding and insight that is always available to us. The Belly says, “I am here”. The Heart asks, “Who am I?” The Head asks, “What can I trust?” When my Head Center is open and engaged, I feel less rushed. I can watch things that are happening in my environment and listen to my inner dialogue without getting hooked. Fully-formed solutions present themselves and I experience them as “downloads”.
Our brain is highly valued in corporate culture. In meetings, we often ask each other for thoughts about a topic or begin statements with “I feel” and then describe a thought or recommendation rather than an emotion. As intellectual as we are, I see the Head Center as one of the most underutilized resources in leadership today.
When I coach executives and emerging leaders, we work with the Belly Center as a valuable asset in decision making, communicating our needs, and understanding what is wrong when our lives feel “off”. We partner with it to get a clearer sense of our “yes” and “no”.
We work with the Heart Center as a valuable asset in relationship-building and change management. We talk about how to receive painful feedback and work with our layers of responses to create meaningful growth in our careers. We explore the brilliance of our heart when it comes to envisioning and setting goals for our most fulfilling lives.
We work with the Head Center as resource for creative problem-solving and recognizing insights. We talk about the benefits of unstructured thought time and capturing “aha”s that may not make sense at first. We learn how to recognize true discernment as we seek clarity about the next steps in our careers and lives.
What can seem like a paradox to new clients is that while all that knowledge is available within them, it takes some practice to become attuned to the cues. It is my privilege to guide them as they explore their inner world and the tremendous richness it adds to their careers and lives.
Adapted from a piece originally published at www.laurenstreb.com.