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Lead as an Aikidoka

By Michaël Ameye, Executive coach and 6th Dan of Aïkido

Ancient body practices can be a source of wisdom for modern managers. Aikido comes from the Samurais’ combat techniques and is the result of centuries of accumulated experience. Yet very modern in its way to transform opposition into collaboration. Aikido practitioners seek the perfect balance between interaction and centering. Too much centering and you become rigid. Too much interaction and you lose control.

Body, brain and emotional states are in constant interaction. Aikido may be considered as a philosophy in action. It is based on understanding the nature of any opposition or resistance, then conducting them in a gentle but firm way towards a direction that both parties feel “ok”. And this is the very essence of Leadership.

Authentic leadership requires flexibility

Leadership is about the capacity of human beings (and more generally mammals) to create the motivation to follow and contribute. In a managerial position, your role is to get the job done. There are many ways to achieve this: put pressure on people, force execution, threaten / reward, seduce, complain or manipulate. But none of these tactics are really sustainable. With authentic leadership you make your team understand the importance of achieving a result, facilitate their engagement to contribute, create a climate of trust and collaboration. This requires flexibility in the Manager’s behaviour and interactions.

How Aikido can help you achieve this flexibility?

In Aikido, we learn to first make a step aside and go with the opponent’s movement, then only lead the movement on our way or on a common way. Imagine your impact when facing opposition if you are be able to get it work for the common goal…

To this purpose, you must first understand the intention of the person who opposes you. Instead of focusing on the point of resistance, you open yourself to the other’s viewpoint. You may want to ask yourself the question: “what do they really, deeply want so that they oppose me like this?” and consequently ask yourself: “How could I take into account their need in my idea, my goal, my project?”

In order to be able to do it with authenticity you need first to find balance in yourself. Otherwise, you “get yourself in the way”. In Aikido, you have to keep balance for both yourself and the other. It’s because in the movement, the opponent will lose their marks and will mainly rely on the contact with you to keep their way. They will try to keep control of the situation with your interaction as the only guideline.

First, work your resilience!

As a Manager, the first step is to be able to reach a state where you are calm, relaxed, open, flexible in your thinking, and ready to welcome the other and their thought patterns, different from yours. This is one of the many aspects of Resilience.

There are many ways in the world to cultivate Resilience. They have in common the practice of letting go of one’s certainties, focusing on the present moment, embracing good and bad events as opportunities to grow and to come closer to whom you really are.

In Aikido we transform tension into movement, we shift heaviness into lightness, we challenge stability with surprising turns. As a Manager, you are expected to create motivation (movement) in your team(s) and yet to offer a certain wisdom and steadiness through your posture.

Tips for a daily practice

We suggest that you begin by practicing the following exercises, every evening:

  1. Find a moment of your day when you were connected to something positive. Even in tricky situations, you may find some hidden gift, for instance the gift of awareness, the learning that you came up with, the decision you took, or a new direction decision that you took. Remember how it felt. Breath in and out while keeping fully aware of the sensations connected to this feeling.

  2. Find a moment of your day when your curiosity has been triggered, when you learned something new. Remember how it felt. Breath in and out while keeping fully aware of the sensations connected to this feeling.

  3. Find a moment in your experience of the day when you accomplished something, even a small step, a discrete progress. Remember how it felt. Breath in and out while keeping fully aware of the sensations connected to this feeling.

  4. Find a moment of your day when you felt satisfaction, pleasure, even if it was a short or fleeting moment. Remember how it felt. Breath in and out while keeping fully aware of the sensations connected to this feeling.

  5. Daily practice is the equivalent for your “emotional brain” of watering flowers. Let it grow.

Getting inspired by the wisdom of Aikido will help you find balance in yourself and look at any situation with open and new eyes, ready to “go with the flow”.

If you have to face opposition, you will be able to welcome it. Your voluntary and welcoming leadership posture will help you accompany the “push” or “pull” of the opposition in a direction that will bring you and your opposing partner to explore new territories together.

By finding the right balance between stability and movement, between flexibility and steadiness you will discover a new way to engage people on their way to achievement.


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