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In previous blogs we have explored the Flow Cycle and how it applies to you as a leader. We started with the concept of Struggle and then followed on with a blog about what must come after Struggle; Release. Now we explore what the actual Flow state is and the positive effects it has on individuals in Flow. As we have explored in other blogs, the concept of Flow was really brought to life by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in his study of happiness. He defined the Flow state as:

“…being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

His work is being further explored and expanded by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal at the Flow Genome Project , where they have defined Flow as: “ A state of being where we perform at our best and feel our best.”

Flow, from a leadership perspective is the Holy Grail of Leadership. Think about it, as a leader if I can create the state of Flow in others through generative leadership behaviors, I can bring out their best, and thereby, bring out the best in my organization.

We have all been in the Flow state in our lives. Think about times when you were so into something that you literally became one with the task. Whether it was in your garden, your yoga studio, working on your art project, on a long run, or in a deep conversation with a great friend, Flow shows up and amazing things happen. Among them are:

Concentration increases:  In Flow, our ability to concentrate on the task at hand is greatly increased. Our bodies produce powerful neuro-chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and anandamide, which allow us to focus on what is in front of us. This ability to concentrate is just one of the benefits of being in the Flow state.

Creativity is enhanced: In Flow our creativity is also increased. Anandamide, released by the body in Flow, increases our ability to think laterally; that is the ability to create linkages between seemingly unrelated ideas, a hallmark of breakthroughs and original ideas.

Goals become clear: In Flow the goal at hand comes into focus, with each subsequent step lining up, providing a mental pathway to the next action in the project or endeavor. Tasks become easier and problems seem to solve themselves.

Time is altered: In Flow, the perception of time can alter greatly. Minutes can seem like hours as we can literally slow down time, and on the other end of the spectrum, hours can seem like minutes, when we are so into a task that we forget about time.

Ego falls away: In Flow, we forget about our ego and lose awareness of ourselves. We become the task, the problem at hand, the moment, and forget ourselves, our problems, our being.

Focus narrows to the task itself: As the ego falls away in Flow we know only of the task, the object, the process we are in. Things such as bodily functions (such as the need to go the bathroom, or the need to eat or drink) disappear and we are unaware of them.

It is in Flow that we are at our best. So it makes sense that if we can spend more minutes of our day in the Flow state, the products we produce, the conversations we have, the outcomes that we create, will be better. This is why as leaders it is critical that we strive to take both ourselves, and those around us, into the Flow state to meet the challenges that face us.

As for me, I just realized that I am hungry and I have been having a blast in the writing of this blog…I think I was in Flow. But alas, we cannot stay in Flow indefinitely; we now must enter the last phase of the Flow cycle, Recovery. But that is for another time, it is time for me to go for a run, and then get something to eat.

About Croft Edwards

Croft Edwards, MCC, leadership coach and speaker, is a thought leader in the field of leadership and organizational change. He is the President of CROFT + Company, a global leadership and organizational change firm with clients spanning the spectrum from oil companies and manufacturing firms, to government entities and non-profits, to small businesses and start-ups. He has coached hundreds of leaders at all levels of organizations from front-line supervisors to CEOs and Social Entrepreneurs. His speciality is the study of LeadershipFlow, the melding of the emerging study of Flow with the field of Ontological Coaching which looks at how leaders show up in their use of language, moods and emotions and the body. Croft is also a retired Army officer with a decorated career as a command and staff officer in the United States Army, both active and reserve.


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