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


The Dance of Power

But the centralized corporate headquarters and huge industrial plants of that era, like the standing armies mustered to fight conventional wars, were made obsolete by diffuse and weblike technologies, shifting demographics, and deregulated global markets. The military has sought to address the unconventional threats it now faces by emphasizing joint command, network-centric warfare, frontline decision making, and real-time operations. The civilian sector has sought to deal with similar challenges by promoting integrated work teams, matrixing, just-in-time delivery, and more direct means of communication.

The new environment requires leaders who are comfortable being at the center rather than the top, exercising intuitive and collaborative skills rather than issuing commands — leaders whose words are consistent with their actions. Strozzi’s military and civilian students and clients use the practices he has refined to develop an internal balance that manifests itself physically, an advantage in a world that values authenticity over positional power.

In the Dojo
On a gusty December day in 2006, a disparate crowd gathers at the ranch for an advanced leadership program: a few pharmaceutical executives, several “high potentials” from West Coast tech firms, a martial arts master from Jakarta, a professional race-car driver, and the head of a partnership for social justice. On entering a barnlike wooden structure with floor matting, sweeping windows, and lethal-looking staffs arrayed along the walls, people remove their shoes and start to limber up.

Strozzi enters, lithe and graceful, and moves to the center of the room. “Listen up,” he says briskly, more coach than teacher. Everyone forms a circle and listens as he outlines the program for the day. The session will start with an exercise that helps participants test the power of their spoken commitments, their ability to translate ideas and beliefs into actions that can be practiced until they are embodied and compel belief.

People pair off. “Take time to look at your partner,” says Strozzi. “Feel the ground under your feet. If you’re not grounded, you can’t establish intimacy. Put your hand on your partner’s chest. Do it with conviction. Feel how he or she is breathing. Tell your partner one thing you are committed to doing. Practice it a few times, being concise and clear. Then ask your partner to describe what he or she feels from you when you’re talking. Maybe you think your declaration is straightforward, but your arm collapses when you speak, or your eyes shift. Your somatic being has to support your message. If it’s not aligned with your words, people won’t believe you. You can’t say ‘trust me’ and then lean away.”

The next exercise is a “two-step,” in which everyone executes a series of simple moves before the group. “Step into the center, then turn. Speak your commitment as you walk forward. Then do it again three times.”

A software manager volunteers to go first. She takes a deep breath and declares: “I am committed to helping my team through our latest reorg.” As she speaks, she walks down the line. People watch intently. A young man who has joined a nonprofit straight from the military speaks up. “Can I give you some counsel? It seems to me that you are hurrying when you walk. That way of moving could undermine the commitment. Your people could read you as being too rushed to give them clarity or support.”

“I didn’t realize I was hurrying. Thanks.”

Nancy Hutson, the former Pfizer executive, tells the class how her team used a two-step to develop trust and cohesion. “We start with a premise: We are moving together to find new medicines to bring to people. Then we practice moving together as we say it. We coordinate our gestures until we kind of catch a wave, a place where we’re all breathing together and moving in the same rhythm.”

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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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