22. Cracking the Code: Exploring Emotional Literacy and Embodiment

This is Part 1 in our emotional literacy and embodiment series. Our special guests are returning alumni with Divinia Knowles, Founder of the COO Roundtable and Maddie Fox, a leadership coach.

12/21/20235 min read

Bethany and Brandon discuss the concept of “reading the room” and “the pause”.

We discuss the following with Maddie and Divinia:

  • How far can you push as a challenger COO to the CEO?

  • What is emotional literacy and embodiment?

  • How do you move from your head and into your body

  • Can you have emotional literacy without embodiment?

  • Is embodiment a personal journey? If so, what does that mean?

  • How do you stop yourself from taking on other people's emotions?

  • What was your personal journey to embodied leadership?


Divinia was COO, CFO & a director at both Mind Candy and Pact Coffee, where she also served as interim CEO. She has held or still holds chair and board seats at too many companies to list and is occasionally an angel investor. Divinia re-trained as a coach in 2017 and combined it with her previous experience to become the COO Coach, working with start up/scale up COOs/CEOs to help guide them through successfully starting up, scaling up and exiting. And in addition to all that, she is also the Founder of the London COO Roundtable, a community that brings operations professionals together to define what it means to be a highly effective startup and scale up Chief Operating Officer.

Divinia Knowles references

COO Roundtable - https://www.cooroundtable.com/

LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/diviniaknowles/

Divinia’s email - divinia@diviniaknowles.com

Maddie has over 20 years experience in HR and Learning & Development working with various organizations from corporate to fast growing tech, in Europe, the US and Australia. She is an ICF accredited executive coach, leadership and HR consultant with a wide range of experience, however specialising in developing leaders from emerging leaders to seasoned CEO’s, building high-performing sustainable teams and helping clients successfully navigate change. Her style is eclectic, using research, theory and direct experiences to ensure individuals find ways to effectively embed new behaviours, build resilience and deliver results. More recently she has been working in VC backed start-ups, series A-B, working for mostly founder led businesses as a Chief People Officer, Leadership Coach and Advisor. Clients include Blippar, Lantum, Trint, Mixcloud, amongst others.


  • Emotional intelligence and leadership in the workplace. 0:05

    • Brandon and Bethany discuss emotional literacy and embodied leadership with guests Devaney and Maddy, focusing on reading the room in tense team situations and galvanizing the wider organization around new initiatives.

  • Reading the room in meetings. 1:31

    • Bethany and Brandon discuss leadership skills in meetings, with Bethany focusing on reading the room and Brandon using a surprising tactic to get teams to work together.

    • Participants in a meeting shared their emotions using a "vibe check" technique, allowing for a more empathetic and understanding atmosphere.

  • Emotional preparation for presentations and leadership. 4:47

    • Brandon emphasizes emotional preparation for presentations to connect with audience.

    • Actors tap into true emotion by embodiment, leading to powerful connections with others.

  • Embodiment and pausing to manage emotions. 8:07

    • Brandon and Bethany discuss the concept of creating a pause in emotional situations to think about new options and respond thoughtfully, rather than react impulsively.

    • Bethany shares her personal journey of discovering how to pause and choose her responses, rather than reacting instinctively, through therapy and embodiment practices.

    • Bethany felt angry and frustrated about a decision made by her company's head of marketing, and she expressed her feelings by pacing and feeling her physical sensations.

    • Bethany eventually realized that her anger was not about the specific decision, but about feeling disempowered and unheard in her role.

    • Bethany shares her experience of self-imposed torture due to misinterpreted emotions in a board meeting.

  • Giving feedback to founders in a supportive manner. 14:33

    • Maddie and Bethany discuss the best approach to giving feedback to founders, including waiting for the right opportunity and being perceptive to the founder's needs.

    • Bethany shares her experience of observing and waiting for the right moment to give feedback, rather than scheduling a specific meeting.

  • Emotional intelligence in leadership roles. 16:41

    • Divinia emphasizes emotional literacy as a crucial aspect of leadership, highlighting the importance of understanding one's own emotions and being able to articulate them in a constructive manner.

  • Embodied leadership and emotional literacy. 18:25

    • Emotional literacy is key for leaders to read the room better, as they often don't know how to name their own emotions or understand others'.

    • Bethany shares her personal experience with embodied leadership, mentioning she went to a yoga class religiously for a year and a half but hasn't done yoga since.

    • Maddie shares a conference example where she incorporated embodied practices and received positive feedback from some attendees, highlighting the importance of setting seeds for future understanding.

  • Emotional intelligence in leadership teams. 22:44

    • Divinia notes that many leaders live in their heads and struggle to connect with their own feelings, leading to a lack of emotional intelligence in leadership teams.

    • Divinia uses embodied practices and emotions wheels to help leaders articulate and understand their emotions, creating a common language for the team.

  • Embodied leadership and commitment. 25:16

    • Maddie highlights the importance of embodied leadership, where a leader's commitment is reflected in their body language and actions.

  • Personal growth through embodied leadership. 26:28

    • Bethany shares her personal journey of embodied leadership, from impatience to patience and calmer environments.

  • Embodiment and emotional literacy in a work environment. 28:19

    • Divinia and Bethany discuss the challenge of embodiment without emotional literacy in a work environment.

  • Embodiment and emotional literacy in leadership development. 30:02

    • Maddie discusses the concept of embodiment in leadership, highlighting the importance of being fully present and aware in high-pressure situations.

    • She argues that practicing embodied leadership allows individuals to pause and make conscious choices in response to challenges, rather than defaulting to habitual reactions.

    • Maddie provides an example of a leader she coached who improved their emotional literacy and relationships by practicing somatic practices, becoming more curious and open to others.

  • Embracing body leadership and emotional expression in business. 34:17

    • Bethany shares her personal journey of embracing her body and emotions in leadership, finding abundance and presence in meetings.

  • The challenges of embodied leadership. 35:48

    • Divinia notes the complexity of being an embodied leader, open to others' emotions while maintaining effectiveness.

  • Empathy and emotional overflow in helping others. 37:11

    • Brandon struggles with taking on others' emotions, leading to burnout and decreased empathy.

  • Self-care for leaders in high-stress work environments. 38:16

    • Leaders must prioritize self-care to avoid burnout and lead effectively.

  • Coaching, emotional expression, and leadership development. 40:09

    • Divinia shares her journey of understanding the importance of resilience practices in coaching, emphasizing the need to recognize and respect clients' emotions.

    • Bethany seeks advice on how to help others start their own transformational journeys, acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

  • Personal growth and leadership development. 42:53

    • Maddie and Divinia share their personal experiences with self-awareness and personal growth work, highlighting the importance of taking time for oneself and recognizing the impact on all areas of life.

    • Divinia shares her journey of self-discovery through coaching, from early experiences with a functional leadership team to later struggles with dysfunctional teams and personal emotional takeovers.

    • Divinia highlights the transformative impact of coaching, including sessions with her founders coach, Penny, and personal training in Gestalt, embodied somatic, and TA practices.

  • Embodied leadership and community-building. 46:33

    • Bethany seeks community for embodied leadership practice, feels lonely.