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Mastering leadership

Ubiquity, Volume 2002 Issue August, August 1 - August 31, 2002 | BY Ubiquity staff 


Full citation in the ACM Digital Library

Richard Strozzi-Heckler on moving to the next level.

Richard Strozzi-Heckler on moving to the next level.

Richard Strozzi-Heckler has a fifth-degree black belt in Aikido and a Ph.D. in Psychology. He is the author of five books including the nationally acclaimed In Search of the Warrior Spirit. He appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in October of 2000 for his groundbreaking work in leadership training with the U.S. Marine Corps. He is the President of the Strozzi Institute, where he has been doing research and teaching in the areas of leadership development and self-mastery for the past 30 years.

UBIQUITY: Let's start by having you tell us about the Strozzi Institute.

RICHARD STROZZI-HECKLER We are the Center for Leadership Mastery. We've been in operation for more than 30 years. We work with people in formal leadership roles and people who are committed to leading their own lives. There are 30 million independent contractors in America right now. There are a lot of people out there who are thinking "It's important for me to design and lead my own life. A company or organization is not going to take care of me. How do I do that?"

UBIQUITY: What characteristics do people need to be leaders?

STROZZI-HECKLER We say there are three things necessary for leadership: One, you need to have the technical expertise in your own field. Two, you need to have the intelligence to deal with complex issues and multiple commitments. And third, there's a particular kind of self that you need to be. People have to want to be around you. You have to show up as having integrity, being accountable, and having the capacity to build trust, generate positive moods, and mobilize and motivate people. We're in that category. When people want to go to the next level or move through a certain transition in their life we engage with them in the new practices and new ways of being that are necessary for them to move ahead.

UBIQUITY: Do you, like some programs, target a particular class of people, for example, businesspeople?

STROZZI-HECKLER We're looking for emerging leaders. People who feel that they're still on an upward trajectory. This could be a 30-year-old or someone who is 55 and embarking on a new path or career.

UBIQUITY: Suppose someone called up and said, "I'm a 45-year-old computer scientist. I've heard about your program and I want to be a successful leader. I don't have any experience as a leader or as a manager. What could you do for somebody like me?"

STROZZI-HECKLER My first response would be that you've come to the right place. We get a number of people who are in the engineering/computer science field who, in order to move forward, need to move into managerial and leading positions. And they really don't have any background in managing or leading. They certainly have the ambitions and the intelligence for it, but people seem like a mystery to them. They find immediately that dealing with people is very different than dealing with computing machines. We build the relational skills of leadership for people so that they're able to motivate people, mobilize them into action, build trust, and listen deeply to their concerns. The distinguishing difference for us is that we produce practices in which new actions become embodied. We're not in the business of people writing notes in a fancy journal. Our commitment is for people to learn to be able to take new actions -- to actually show up differently to others.

UBIQUITY: Do a hypothetical scenario. Suppose I was this engineer and said, "Well, that sounds like what I need all right. Where do I go and what will happen when I hit the ground?"

STROZZI-HECKLER I would suggest that you enter into our four-day course in which we build an executive presence. There would be a number of other people who are working with the same issues either as individuals or sent from their companies. We would introduce you to the notion of how you show up as a presence to other people. Your physical comportment in the world produces certain kinds of perceptions about you. Are those perceptions that will move you forward? We do exercises where you're on your feet moving with people. There are times where people are giving you assessments. The teachers are continuing to reshape you so that you have what we call an executive presence or a leadership presence.

UBIQUITY: How many people would be in a typical group?

STROZZI-HECKLER It would be between 35 and 40 people. It's enough people that you get a good mix in terms of a variety of people to be doing different practices and building networks with, but small enough to stay intimate.

UBIQUITY: Suppose I gave the additional information that I just hate speaking on my feet. Would that be a challenge?

STROZZI-HECKLER You would take a big leap forward in the capacity to be able to speak publicly in front of other people, not only from speeches that you've prepared but also on how to build narratives on the spot to bring people into alignment with you.

UBIQUITY: Expand on the physicality of the program. In other words, how does the body play a role in all this?

STROZZI-HECKLER The body is critical in our work. First, I must say that when we speak about the body I'm not talking about the body we see on magazine covers such as "Men's Health" or "Vanity Fair", but body as a domain of mood, a domain of coordinating with other people, and domain of learning. In a sense, when we say body we also say it indistinguishable from the self. The practices are simple and straightforward. They're designed from the martial arts, linguistics, philosophy, business applications and a body-oriented psychology. Whenever you're under pressure, for example speaking on your feet or having to create a conversation with a peer or somebody you're managing, the historical conditioned tendencies will come forward in your body. You'll hold your breath in a certain way. You'll posture a certain way. You'll choke yourself down a certain way. We produce practices in environments where you become aware of how you do that, and then you can return to a more centered presence.

UBIQUITY: Would a person in your program do large group exercises? Role-playing? How does it work?

STROZZI-HECKLER We make it relevant to the concerns the students are working with. We give a demonstration and then we have people break up into pairs, small groups, and then eventually in front of the entire group. Working with a partner, you will begin to embody the distinction one on one. We'll then ask people to do the same practice with a different partner. Your conditioning will show up for you in much the same way, but just enough different because of the partner, either because of gender or size or how you view them that you can look at yourself even more closely.

UBIQUTY: You must have quite a number of different exercises. Can you pick an example that would help people understand what's involved?

STROZZI-HECKLER Here's one example. It comes from the Japanese concept of rondori, which means chaotic movement. A rondori is at the end of a black belt test where different people attack you all at once. At one point in my martial arts training I thought, "That's what our lives are like. We're being attacked by multiple directions: assessments, faxes, e-mails, requests." We have to handle multiple commitments at one time. So, we have a practice where the group makes a circle. Everybody comes in the middle. Inside the circle, you speak your commitment about what you're trying to produce for yourself in leadership. Then one at a time, these people will come towards you with their hands towards your chest or towards your side or towards your back. You have to move in the group in a centered way to either move with them, avoid them, or send them back where they came from. With all these things coming in, our claim is that by practicing this it will help you maintain a leadership presence when you return to your professional and personal life. Instead of going into your head or locking yourself down or becoming resentful, you move back into a centered and an embodied position.

UBIQUITY: This would be a sensible point to ask about you. Tell us about your background.

STROZZI-HECKLER I have been doing martial arts for more than 45 years. I'm ranked in a number of arts but have been doing Aikido for more than 30 years. I've written five books and more than 100 articles and essays on different aspects of this work. My Ph.D. thesis was on how people learn and become high performers. I just finished a large project for the United States Marine Corp Leadership Project in which every Marine who goes through recruit training and OCS will go through this program and be able to continue to go through it in advanced stages throughout their career as a Marine.

UBIQUITY: Where would this take place?

STROZZI-HECKLER This takes place at all the recruit training depots and at OCS.

UBIQUITY: You must have a pretty big staff.

STROZZI-HECKLER I have a pretty big staff and a pretty big virtual staff, too. My commitment this past two years has been to train more trainers to be able to fulfill on what I do. We work with businesses in the health, manufacturing, financial, and technology sectors as well as the military and government.

UBIQUITY: Where are you located?

STROZZI-HECKLER I'm in Sonoma County, which is about an hour-and-a-half north of San Francisco. I live on a working horse ranch, and my kids show both goats and sheep in the 4H fair here.

UBIQUITY: Have you had any enormous successes?

STROZZI-HECKLER About four years ago I made a declaration that I wanted to have a million people be touched by this work of embodying actions instead of just knowing about them, being able to pragmatize feeling and sensing along with our cognitive abilities. The Marine Corp project certainly fulfilled on that in training a million people. That work was highlighted in the "Wall Street Journal" in October of 2000. I've also done a number of large programs for AT&T, which I think were a great success. We're helping a standalone division of a would-have-been Fortune 500 company recover from huge losses and a great reorganization when they split up.

UBIQUITY: Since it's a leadership program, I would imagine that it doesn't immediately appeal to somebody who has frankly no interest in being a traditional leader, in other words, somebody who really wants the program, period. Is that true with anybody?

RICHARD STROZZI HECKLER We specify leadership in two ways, people who are actually in a role where they're managing or leading people, and people who say, "It's time to design and lead my own life." It's for those two groups of people. If somebody says, " I'm happy going to my job, shutting the door when I leave and then doing what I'm doing at the end of the day and taking part in the great drift of my life," then it probably wouldn't be for them. We want people who are looking to create something for themselves and others.

UBIQUITY: What about the mix of people you get at a particular session? Is there a mix of senior executives and junior executives and non-executives and so forth?

STROZZI-HECKLER It's a pretty even mix of men and women and junior and senior executives.

UBIQUITY: Speaking of levels, you have a couple of different programs other than one you've been talking about. Tell us about those.

STROZZI-HECKLER The next level is where we move more into emotional intelligence and working directly on issues in business or whatever they're doing. It's much more involved with not only individual teamwork but also with how you build teams. Because it happens over three weekends the recurrence allows the material to become more embodied. We also bring much more language into the work in the different speech acts, like requests and assessments and promises and offers and how you build those into an embodied action. The third piece, the school of embodied leadership, is a program in which we go deeper with building teams, building practices they can take away, the ideas of purpose and meaning, and sustainability. I would say that 45 percent of our work is directly inside organizations. They bring us in and we develop custom designed programs.

UBIQUITY: You mentioned your relationship with AT&T. How do you explain that they saw the light? How do you explain that many other companies haven't seen the light about this kind of training or education?

STROZZI-HECKLER What I've seen is that ultimately there will be one person, usually around the top, who will say, "This is important and I can see that it might be slightly marginal from how things are being done, but I'm going to take a stand for this." It's usually that one person who takes a stand and begins to generate possibility for the entire organization. That person will usually introduce one of my staff or me to someone at the next level. When they see the power of the work they say, "We need this as part of our whole culture."

UBIQUITY: Do most of your clients come from the West Coast?

STROZZI-HECKLER Our clients come from all over: Mexico, Ireland, England, Europe, South America, and all over the US. We just worked with an executive from Hong Kong.

UBIQUITY: Who is your competition?

STROZZI-HECKLER I think generally competition are those consulting firms that work with people more at a level of the self. Quite frankly, I think that in terms of the work of embodiment, in bringing the body into the picture, we're pretty much ahead of the pack.

UBIQUITY: It sounds like a great program.

STROZZI-HECKLER Well, I'm passionate about what I do and I see that it makes a positive difference for people in their professional and personal lives.

UBIQUITY: Tell about the program at that involves horses.

STROZZI-HECKLER My wife, Ariana, is a master equestrian. She has worked with horses all her life and has won awards nationally. The people in the course first learn the distinctions of center, ground, extension, being connected to what you care about, authenticity and clear and direct communication. They then longe the horse and the horse, not speaking English, will respond to the energetic presence of the person. If you beat a horse it will move but its spirit will be broken. If you're too sweet and coddling it won't respect you. It's the same when working with people. You're always looking at what's too much and what's too little. The horse is an interesting animal because it's like us. It's hierarchical, it's social and it's looking for a leader. If you don't lead, it will lead. You must have this right blend of being firm without being stiff, and relaxed without being slack. That creates a kind of magnetism with the animal, where they sense that, "This is somebody who will both take care of me and lead me, and so I'll go along with it."

UBIQUITY: It sounds like you have an ever-expanding future.

STROZZI-HECKLER Well, my joke is that anybody that has a body is part of our market. So, that includes a lot of people.


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