In this ongoing series of conversations with gifted leaders I am exploring #LeadershipFlow in action. What is it? How does it help leaders navigate change and inspire others to reach for more?
Richard Strozzi-Heckler, PhD has been a big influence on my coaching and my study of leadership, so I am very excited to have him share his thoughts. He is the author of several books including The Leadership Dojo and, In Search of the Warrior Spirit. In 1995 he founded the Strozzi Institute located in Sonoma, California, their work is to teach people to identify barriers, change behaviors, and to help them embody new skills and abilities. So you see, this is right where I am in my exploration.The methods he uses at the Institute are grounded in somatics – the term somatic comes from the Greek, meaning ‘of the body.’ This emphasizes martial arts, ancient wisdom traditions, and body related disciplines in combination with best leadership and business practices.
Croft: As you know Richard, I want to talk to people who I perceive as powerful, effective leaders who have immense embodiment of leadership, and from my perspective – live in flow. What I call leadership flow is when a leader shows up consistently in an authentic and powerful way. I use a few statements that are a good roadmap to facilitate change. The first one is: the most difficult person you will ever have to lead is yourself. And that leads to what I call the first piece – which is self-mastery. How have you gotten to where you are, and how do see your grounding and your immense background in Akito as critical to the concept of self-mastery?
Richard: My overall view is that we find ourselves in a critical historical moment. We’re being asked to take a very strong look at our sustainability on the planet and why and how we continue to pollute our air and water, stain the soil, and then think there’s going to be a continual growth pattern inside of limited resources. Leaders need to reimagine and revise that thinking. Also, we have reached a terrible divide between those who have and those who don’t have. It is essential for exemplary leaders to look hard at this disenfranchisement and to tackle it. Thirdly, I would say that we are in a time of increased conflict and violence in the world where more noncombatants are killed than combatants. In order for leaders to contribute to a solution it is required that they personally engage in practices of self-mastery. This topic has been a fundamental interest of mine and it started with sports. I went to university on a track scholarship and became an All-American and ran in the pre-Olympic meet and Central American Games in Mexico City.
I’ve been doing martial arts since age 12 or 13 and have had a great admiration and interest in those individuals who achieved mastery in those areas. When I was first learning, this notion of a mind, body, and spirit connection really wasn’t explicit at all. But I sensed that being an exemplary martial artist or a powerful athlete required more than just what was happening in the body – this was the beginning of sport’s psychology. Yes, you needed a strong well-trained body but there was another quality that was required, a sense of presence, of attention, concentration, focus, and commitment. I sensed it wasn’t enough just to build bigger, stronger, faster, more muscular body; those individuals who were successful had cultivated something else as well. I was drawn to the interior – what was being accomplished internally. This notion of self-cultivation or self-mastery became a lifelong interest. It is a task of modern leaders not to just learn the tools and the skills of leadership but to ask themselves who is it that is doing the leading and what’s necessary for this person doing the leading to bring their best game, be their most genuine self, be most aligned with who they are and how they’re doing things? How to create a larger vision of what they are taking care of in their leadership role?
This has been my personal practice through the various disciplines that I still work on. And it’s been my life’s work – how can we express this very powerful notion to people in leadership positions? By leadership positions I would include those solely in charge of their own lives, those who lead countries and everybody in between – PTA, Little League, company start ups, Fortune 100 companies. I’ve always gravitated towards people who have been on a path of self-cultivation and I’ve been very fortunate to be accepted by teachers who have helped me along that path.
Croft: It sounds as if your growth came as you started down a path that was interesting to you and it started to unfold; each layer added complexity and opened new doors to more studying?
Richard: I would say I found it more than just interesting – it was fascinating to me. I was magnetized to this idea and to the person who was on the path; how the path had shaped them. Of course the discipline or path itself was also significant, but the presence of the teacher was a major draw. If my meditation teacher or aikido sensei or capoeira teacher or escrima teacher taught dishwashing I would probably be a dishwasher.
Croft: Because he was so powerful or he embodied it?
Richard: Because it was who he was every moment. Did I love the art? Absolutely. But what I wanted was to learn how to move a certain quality of energy or Being-ness through me. How does this show up in our everyday life? I could see how they embodied that. They had powerful technique but I knew that technique came out of a certain consciousness. To learn about that certain embodied consciousness was where my hunger was.
Croft: Going back to when you first started talking about the breakdowns with modern leaders, this connects to my to my second statement – that leaders have two fundamental roles, one is to provide a vision of a future that others want to follow. But you can’t have vision without first doing the internal work. Is it your sense that one of the challenges with many leaders is that they are caught up in the power game, or pursuing the material things, but their growth isn’t internal?
Richard: Our actions, moods, intentions, behaviors are directly shaped by the work of self-cultivation. If we don’t do this internal work, our performance as leaders will suffer. The demands of the world are insistent in drawing us to material things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the material but if it isn’t guided by our internal work then we will lose our North Star, our purpose, and then we’ll only be caught in the quagmire of trends, fads, competitiveness, greed and so forth. Without being on a Path of Awakening it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of respect, kindness, interdependence, and love. Look, everyone can get distracted, but if you have cultivated a strong network around you, then you can count on someone to say – hey, you need to look at this, put your focus here.
Next week, in part two we will continue this exciting interview with Richard.