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


The Dance of Power

In the silence that followed, he invited anyone who wished to repeat the experiment. Several students felt compelled to try. “They were frustrated,” says Strozzi. “I was smaller and much older than they were. And I had nowhere near their level of physical conditioning. But aikido is not about being strong, it’s about being balanced and aware. You can’t force things. You have to feel the flow, then choose your moment.”

The six-month program proved arduous, demanding, intense, and at times frightening. Many soldiers resented every new practice that was introduced. During the silent meditation retreat, resistance flamed into rebellion: Wasn’t blending really about submission? Didn’t harmonizing contradict the rest of their training? And why on earth were they not supposed to smoke? But as the months passed, the entire staff noticed that the men were becoming more flexible, more responsive, better able to express emotions other than sarcasm or fury. The emphasis on being centered made them recognize when they were off center. This helped them identify what triggered their aggression, which in turn made them more self-aware. In Strozzi’s formulation, “Control follows awareness.” Control made the men more relaxed. “Instead of relying on armed musculature, they were able to develop an authoritative presence.”

When the Trojan Warrior Project was completed, a battery of tests showed off-the-charts progress. Participants improved by between 50 and 150 percent in their ability to control pain and body temperature, their ability to remain alert and motionless for significant periods, and their ability to recuperate from injury and stress. They also made dramatic gains in flexibility, physical endurance, coordination, and team cohesion.

Over the next few years, Strozzi would develop similar programs for Navy SEALs, Air Force rescue jumpers, and counterinsurgency operatives in hot spots like Afghanistan. In 1994, Major General Jim Jones, commandant of the U.S. Marines and former supreme allied commander of NATO, along with Assistant Com­mandant General Richard Hearney, asked Strozzi to create a corps-wide aikido-based program that would become part of basic training for every marine. Hearney was concerned about the values held by younger marines who had been raised in single-parent homes. He felt as if the technical training they received was not enough and was concerned about helping the marines adapt to a changing geopolitical environment. Having been exposed to tae kwon do while a platoon commander in Korea, Jones believed that the discipline, fierceness, and motivation that the practice instilled in the South Korean troops gave them advantages that the young marines would need to face a world of change. In 1986, as a batallion commander at Camp Pendleton, he began teaching martial arts to recruits; as a result, alcohol and drug abuse, along with domestic violence, unauthorized absences, and brawling, decreased. Morale soared.

The Fort Devon pilot also resulted in a significant increase in the participants’ leadership ability, as evidenced by one unit’s performance in leading the action in the 1993 battle of Mogadishu in Somalia. “That was not an original goal, but it was an outcome,” says Strozzi. “The soldiers who’d been through the program had learned to carry themselves in a way that inspired greater confidence and trust. Because they were calmer, they were much better in a crisis. Because they had more awareness of what triggered their aggression, they took more responsibility for their actions. Plus, they were far more attuned to what other people were thinking and feeling. All these changes translated into a leadership presence.”

Fort Devon inspired Strozzi to begin thinking about how he might adapt the program for business and government leaders, bringing 21st-century military practices to the civilian sector. In doing so, he stands as part of a long tradition. Classic industrial-era behemoths such as General Motors, Ford, and IBM modeled their structure, operations, and internal development processes on those of the industrial-era military. The top-down emphasis on command and control and the compartmentalizing of strategy from tactics were adopted from military organizations: The brass made decisions and frontline operators executed them. The old Bell System modeled its serried ranks to precisely reflect those in the U.S. Army. “He’s a lieutenant colonel” sufficed to explain where an employee stood. Training was delivered in accord with status, designed to bolster the muscle and efficiency of the system.

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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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