Q&A with Richard Strozzi-Heckler on
1. What makes Leadership Dojo different from other books on leadership?
This is the first book on leadership that organizes around somatics, or integral body awareness, as a way to develop leaders. Illustrating how leadership can be embodied and not simply be an intellectual concept, the central idea is that we can learn the virtues and skills of leadership through mind/body practices. No other book on leadership has this approach.
2. Explain the title of your book, Leadership Dojo.
Dojo is a Japanese word that roughly translates “place of training” and the origin of the word means place of awakening. The idea is that training is critical for transforming oneself into a leader. With the proper practices in the proper context we are able to embody the values, purpose, and skills that make an exemplary leader.
3. What makes you qualified to write this book?
There are three pillars to my work. A body oriented psychology in which I earned my Ph.D.; the marital arts, primarily aikido in which I have a sixth degree black belt, and meditation in which I’ve been a student for almost forty years. This unique background has been critical in the formation of my ideas. In addition, I’ve been researching and working in the field of leadership, team building and self-mastery for over thirty years and I’ve worked with thousands of individuals on five continents. My work has spanned the U.S. military, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, churches, urban gangs, entrepreneurial start-ups, and more.
4. How does The Strozzi Institute fit into the work you do?
Our work at Strozzi Institute focuses on leadership and team building. We do public courses as well as work in organizations, government, military, and non-profits. The material in this book comes out of the work of the past thirty-five years at the Institute.
5. How does the lack of leadership show up in our social fabric as well as in the business world?
We are at a time in which we have more choice about how to set the future of our own lives. Instead of being with a single company our entire career or simply going on the path of those that preceded us, we can design and choose what we want based on values and character traits instead of greed, fear, and mindless ambition. People are looking for meaning and purpose and how to live a balanced life. Scandals like Enron and the lack of integrity in our political leaders clearly show that we need a new standard of leadership, both in business and in our personal lives.
6. How have you brought this work to the military? What were the surprising results and the benchmarks for success?
My work with the military began 1985 when I was part of the team that worked with the Army Green Berets in the Trojan Warrior Project (My book, In Search of the Warrior Spirit, chronicles this innovative program). We were tasked to enhance physical fitness, mental fitness, and team cohesion. We produced off the chart results in all areas but what was most interesting was that when these men returned to their units their superiors said they were much better leaders. Remember leadership wasn’t an expectation of what we were supposed to produce. Due to the success of this program, I also worked with the Navy SEALS, the Marine Corps Martial Art Program and NATO in Afghanistan.
7. Why is the body important in leadership?
When people think of the body, they think of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or the cover of Men’s Health. These are air brushed, fabricated images of the body that take away from the wisdom and intelligence that live in us. When I refer to the body, I’m speaking about the domains of action, mood and emotions, coordination with others, learning, and dignity. Furthermore, it is through practices that involve the body/mind that we can develop these areas. When we learn through the body we are able to take new actions instead of just accumulating new data and concepts.
8. Is your approach to leadership radical from what is taught today?
When people consider leadership training and team building they think of power point presentations, reading case studies, and listening to lectures. These have their place but nowhere are people asked to bring their attention to their bodies. When you think that we learn how to build a leadership presence through physical practices, you can certainly say our approach is innovative and revolutionary. Individuals and organizations return to us because we produce results.
9. Do you believe there is a lack of good leadership in the business world? If so, how can your teachings help create better leaders?
Generally in the business world and university MBA programs there is a kind of random, hit and miss approach to cultivating leaders. People understand the importance of leadership, they have models of leadership, but no one can intelligently articulate how to train leaders. What’s missing is the “how’ of developing leaders. That’s what our work focuses on.
10. Is it possible for anyone in business to change their personality for the better? Are there some people who will not or cannot change?
People who are in the business environment are like people everywhere. They want to take care of their families, they want to contribute, they want to own a home and contribute to their communities. There are some who are inclined to do transformational work, there are those who slowly come to see the value of changing and evolving, and there are those who are skeptical and resistant to the idea. I believe anyone can change if the will and passion are there.
11. Do you believe that people are less happy now, even with more affluence, than our ancestors, because we do not live and work “holistically?”
It seems to me that less of us can answer the question of why we’re working so hard and to what purpose. We have more “things” and yet people seem less fulfilled. At the same time stress is adversely affecting our health. We are reaching a time in which it’s necessary to confront how we’re leading our lives and how our leaders are leading their teams, companies, and the country.
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