The Leadership Dojo: Build Your Foundation as an Exemplary Leader
By Richard Strozzi Heckler, Ph.D.
Leadership is one of the most enduring of universal human concerns. Since the beginning of civilization, leaders and leadership have been written about, extolled, criticized, and debated. But for all of its controversy, the necessity for exemplary leadership is always present.
Every age and culture makes its own unique case for leadership, and this is equally true for ours. The explosion of technology in the past twenty years, the increasing awareness that people are the key factor in organizational success, machines steadily taking over routine work, the percentage of knowledge workers growing, and organizations developing both economic and social agendas all require that more individuals, despite their roles, step into leadership positions.
Everyone needs to be a leader.
Moreover the deterioration of the natural environment, the increase of the international arms race, the erosion of public education, the breakdown of the family, and social anomie and fragmentation argue against traditional hierarchical leadership. No one is so naive today to think of today's leaders as the all-powerful, all-knowing speakers of truths, ensconced on the top floor.
Arguably the quality of life in the twenty-first century will have everything to do with our quality of leadership; and whether we like it or not, all of us are increasingly being asked to take leadership roles in our lives. What we need is a renewed vision, a new interpretation of learning, and a training of leaders that produces commitment, passion, values-centered action, and a centered presence.
The test of contemporary leadership is to attend to the force of history, act fully in the present, and build narratives and practices for a generative future. This is the exemplary leader who embodies grounded compassion, skillful action, and pragmatic wisdom.
Categories of Leadership
Leadership can be divided into two categories: leadership as a role and leadership as a way of being. The principles of the Leadership Dojo address both of these groups: those who are leading others and those who are leading their own lives.
Leadership as a role is the category with which we are most familiar. Beginning with hunter-gatherer bands, through agrarian societies, and expanded upon in the Industrial Revolution there is a historical record of individuals called upon to formally lead others. In contemporary life, this is the individual who is a leader within an organizational setting. This includes the private, public, military, government, and social spheres. The roles can be chief executive officer of a corporation, chairperson of a board, manager of a team or division, director of a nonprofit, military leader, PTA president, business owner, project leader, or community organizer.
The second category of leadership - leadership as a way of being, which is more of a modern phenomenon-consists of those individuals who are leading their own lives. At more than thirty-five million, independent contractors in the United States (a group considerably larger than those working for the federal government) represent a sizeable and growing population. More and more people are realizing that their companies are not going to take care of their futures, and it's necessary for them to take charge of their lives. These are the growing legions of small business owners, coaches, consultants, facilitators, mediators, trainers, artists, teachers, craftspeople, and writers.
What is required of today's leader? We can group the capabilities of modern leadership into three broad categories:
2 Technical skills and knowledge of his or her industry
3 Being a particular kind of person or self
Intelligence. Today's leader has to have a certain level of intelligence. Intellectual might is necessary in order to think through complex issues, navigate through a wide range of commitments, hold multiple horizons of time, manage a diversity of people, analyze data, and think both tactically and strategically.
Technical skills and knowledge of his or her industry. Technical skills such as accounting, analyzing reports, business planning, running a division, strategy, financial implementation, and so forth are necessary skills for leaders. It's also necessary for a leader to be sufficiently knowledgeable in his or her area to be successful, whether it's finance, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, advertising, marketing, technology, health care, raising children, or running a dairy.
Being a particular kind of self. The focus of the Leadership Dojo is the development of the virtues, character, and ethical and moral values that make up the exemplary leader. I call this the "Cultivation of the Self." In the Leadership Dojo, the premise is that the "self' is the leader's primary source of power. Clearly, intellectual capacity and specific technical skills matter, but alone they do not make a powerful leader. It's the self that is able to mobilize and motivate others, coordinate effectively with them, build trust, and generate positive moods. We have seen time and time again that the value one has as a person, that is, the self that one is, ultimately becomes the deciding factor in success as an exemplary leader. In Chapter Two we examine what it means to cultivate the self in leadership. And remember, we mean both leaders who lead others and those who lead their own lives with meaning and purpose.