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strategy and business
 / Winter 2007 / Issue 49(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Dance of Power

But the equation between sports and leadership, and the metaphors it has inspired (“he fumbled that one,” “let’s aim for the bleachers”), seem outdated and culture-specific in today’s highly diverse global organizations. Changing demographics and technologies have made competitive sports less relevant and inspired a backlash that finds one expression in the exaltation of the nerd.

This leaves leadership with something of a mind–body problem, for without the focus on sports, how can leadership be “embodied”? It’s an important question, because manifesting a leadership presence is essential, as anyone who has attempted to exert influence over a dog, a horse, or even a young child using only the force of rational intelligence can attest. A solely intellectual approach leaves something fundamental out of the leadership equation, negating that aspect of human nature rooted in the animal world that was probably programmed into our limbic brain early in our species’ development.

Strozzi has tried to address the gap by developing an insistently physical yet nonathletic program of leadership training suited to an era in which the definition of “what a leader looks like” is rapidly evolving. His methods are also appropriate for organizational cultures in which networks and teams are replacing hierarchies. In top-down organizations, leaders can exert power by virtue of position, but in decentralized networks, people won’t follow unless they buy into what is being proposed. Hence the popular emphasis on “walking the talk,” another way of saying that a leader’s principles must be embodied.

Lieutenant Colonel Fred Krawchuk, operations commander for the U.S. Army in the Pacific, was drawn to Strozzi’s work “because of how Richard integrates the physical and the intellectual.” In the military, as in business, says Krawchuk, “We place way too much value on being action-oriented. We think leaders are the guys who say, ‘Let’s just get it done.’ But that shortchanges thoughtfulness and reflection. How do we bring these qualities together? We develop awareness. If we can be fully present with other people and grounded in ourselves, we can integrate observation with our capac­ity to act.”

Nancy Hutson, who recently retired from Pfizer, where she was senior vice president for global R&D, sounds a similar note: “Richard works with body, language, and mood to help us be more aware of ourselves and more attuned to others. This gives us a foundation for building trust rather than just assuming it, which is what most people in hierarchies are used to doing. Richard’s emphasis on practicing leadership rather than being a leader also subverts the hierarchy, since being a leader is all about position.”

That Strozzi offers a way out of the mind–body dilemma seems fitting, given that he has struggled with his own version of the problem all his life. Like most teachers who develop a distinctive corpus of work outside the framework of institutions, Strozzi has made his teachings reflect what he has learned during his personal quest. In his case, that quest draws paradoxically from both the 1960s counterculture and the military, from academia and the worlds of sports and martial arts. By inclination, temperament, background, and experience, he has been well positioned to bridge cerebral and visceral ways of being in the world. His chosen instrument of reconciliation has been aikido.

A quietly intense and strikingly handsome 63-year-old, Strozzi travels the world to deliver internal leadership programs for corporate and military clients. But now the world also comes to him. He teaches a menu of courses at the aikido practice center, or dojo, that he has built at the Strozzi Institute on an idyllic ranch in the green northern California hills between Petaluma and Bodega Bay. The setting is what most people envision when they daydream about chucking the corporate life and heading for a place of pastoral perfection where they can follow their passion to the utmost while somehow managing to earn a living.

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  1. Klaus-Peter Gushurst, “The New Leadership — Sober, Spirited, and Spiritual,” s+b enews, 1/08/2004: Explains how leadership styles today combine the classic values of discipline and execution with the contemporary values of openness and natural expression. Click here.
  2. George Leonard, The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei (Dutton, 1999): Evocative overview from the man who introduced Strozzi-Heckler to the military.
  3. Nikos Mourkogiannis, “The Realist’s Guide to Moral Purpose,” s+b, Winter 2005: Four ideals of leadership that appeal to our deepest instincts — and that can inspire a company to long-term success. Click here.
  4. Randall Rothenberg, “Noel M. Tichy: The Thought Leader Interview,” s+b, Spring 2003: The University of Michigan leadership teacher says that the essential leadership skill is teaching. Click here. 
  5. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Anatomy of Change: A Way to Move Through Life’s Transitions (North Atlantic Books, 1997): How to gain a new awareness of one’s potential and range of choices using practices drawn from aikido and Lomi body work.
  6. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Holding the Center: Sanctuary in a Time of Confusion (Frog, 1997): Strozzi-Heckler calls on personal experience to analyze the balance between instinct and choice, and between power and generosity.
  7. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets (North Atlantic Books, 2003): Is it possible for a soldier in the age of high-tech warfare to act morally? Strozzi-Heckler explores this question.
  8. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, The Leadership Dojo: Build Your Foundation as an Exemplary Leader (Frog, 2007): An exploration of three critical leadership questions: What does a leader do? What are the character values most essential to exemplary leadership? How do you teach these values?
  9. The Strozzi Institute Web site: More information about Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s organization. Click here.
  10. For more business thought leadership, sign up for s+b’s RSS feeds. Click here.
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