Leadership Aikido

Have started re-reading a book I picked up almost 20 years ago. It’s called Leadership Aikido by John O’Neil. Here are some of the keys points.

Old-style industrial-era command and control leadership is not sustainable. He describes he Green Glass Age to reflect the coming together of the environmental concerns and biological advances – the green – with communication and computing power – the glass (glass being the colloquial term for silicon wafers and fibre optics).

The way to the new style of leadership can be understood and learnt by the lessons of a particular form of defensive martial art known as Aikido (the way (Do) of life forces (Ki) in harmony Ai)).

Leadership is about overcoming internal enemies:

  • Failing to grow emotionally
  • Failing to make creative connections
  • Failing to emphatise
  • Failing to manage the ego
  • Failing to overcome alienation and boredom

by mastering these practices:

  • Cultivate self-knowledge
    • Get creative – usually through the creative arts
    • Find a passion
    • Learn from painful experiences
    • Take time out – quality is more important than quantity; daily meditation or sabbaticals
    • Launch self-knowledge ventures; have an objective in mind
    • Heed your dreams
    • Begin something new
    • Change one small thing
  • Practice the paradoxical art of planning
    • Decide on which of the three aikido planning styles matches you and your organisation; amoeba-like, value-centred or holistic
    • Remember that good planning is flexible to surprises and requires nimbleness
  • Speak the language of mastery
    • Discover the myths that motivate or trouble your constituents
    • Update or transform disparate myths into one aspirational common story
    • Find the most powerful, meaningful imagery in that myth
    • Express those images in practical language
    • Also, good speakers –
      • mirror the thoughts and feelings of their audience
      • bind their audience to the culture
      • use their personal presence along with overarching ideas and values to create unity
      • provide a hopeful vision of the future
      • share information and never hoard it
  • Let values drive your decisions
  • Turn failures into success
  • Heed the law of unintended consequences

While some of the examples seem to be square-holed to make his various points, as is often the case with books like these, there are useful tools and lessons to be learnt. These includes the use of a mandala to reflect on opposing forces which have to be balanced in the leadership journey. Some of the concepts smack of New Agey-ness but it’s worth reading through these terms to get to the concrete underlying point.

O’Neil is vastly experienced and knowledgeable. Considering it’s about 20 years old it stands the test of time and is worth a look.

Zaheer Ismail