Aikido, as a martial art, is also a good study of energy, yours and your opponent’s, and in a larger context can be applied to life and leadership. You may already be practicing some of the skills mentioned in this article; a mental-physical practice like aikido can help you to fine tune these skills further.
Think of what you bring to the mat at a dojo as a microscopic, intense study and fusion of your body, mind, and spirit. These three elements should all be in tune as you move as ‘one’. Hence why aikido is often referred to as a ‘moving meditation’. You can practice the same in your leadership style.
1. Blending, merging with vs attacking a problem. Get out of your own way
Aikido differentiates itself from other fighting martial arts. Instead of being confrontational or tackling a problem head-on which may not be the best method, you take the path of least resistance and non-conflict, merging, blending your energy with your opponent’s to create a flawless movement. Similarly, when you face a challenge at work, you do not tackle the problem head on but work within it to find a solution and the best outcome. Work out the kinks. The only way is through.
2. Sincere, pure intention
In aikido, the intention has to be true in your practice. Due to the fast, subtle movements, the student and her partner have to be sincere with their attacks and response for the movement to be true. Without proper technique execution and care from both sides, your partner can get hurt. As with executing a business plan or leading your staff, be bold — you want to be clear on your objectives and execution. You want to lead with clarity of mind. No half-hearted attempts.
3. Using your optimal energy and resources
Do the ‘breath throw.’ Aikido stresses on the optimal use of energy. Circular movements and a slight turn of the hip make a stark difference to your practice, you discover much power lying within you. There is a movement in aikido called kokyu nage, or breath throw. By gathering your energy at your center, you then are able to throw your partner onto the mat without much force. Keep track of where and how you are deploying your resources. For a successful product launch that sweeps your awaiting customers off their feet, you want to be focused, not all over the place. Maintaining focus and center helps you and your employees to stay true to your vision.
4. Flex your muscles. Empathy and listening
Aikido is big on developing skills in empathy. There is no competition but a repetition of movements with different partners. Each partner brings his own experience and his perspective. You blend with his energy, and him, with yours. As a good partner, you need to adjust to the different levels of ‘communication’. Your team at work will have various expectations and background. You want to be a flexible communicator and most importantly, a listener.
5. Self mastery. Rinse and repeat
The study of aikido is a lifelong journey. Despite its repetition of movement, it is never static, like stepping into a running stream — you get something new out of it each time. O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido (also known as O-Sensei / ‘Grand Master/Teacher’) remarked that he only truly understood the essence of aikido at the later stages of his life. Just like playing a musical instrument, you get better with practice. Rinse and repeat. And you’ll be a great leader.
Aikido, inspiring a team or running a business share a similar strand, like creating a work of art.
May you create your masterpiece.
Vanessa Radd holds several leadership roles in the media industry and is the Digital & Content Officer at IAF. @vanradd