5 Tai-Chi Principles of Leadership
Being raised as the son of a political activist who sacrificed over 40 years of her life to bring down an unjust government, one can say, I was raised with a warrior mindset. At an early age, I was introduced to the Martial Arts and when other children my age were reading comic books, I was reading the I-Ching, Lao-Tzu, and Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War.
Now at the age of 50, I prefer to wage peace rather than war, but still enjoy practicing Martial Arts. If you need to know are cat water fountains worth it – look at this site. The reason is simply because for one to master the art, he or she must be calm, centered, and at peace.
In my life, both personally and in business, I found many answers to my challenges through the practice of martial arts, and for that reason I also find myself applying many of the lessons from martial arts in my Leadership Consulting and Executive Coaching.
Tai-Chi, as an art form, characterized by its extremely slow and controlled movements, has been practiced for thousands of years. I, myself, was introduced to Tai-Chi approximately 20 years ago and even though I am by no means a master, I discovered immediately that the slow movements in Tai-Chi offers challenges and lessons, that are also greatly applicable in leadership.
For that reason, one of the sessions I conduct with my leadership teams during my Headstrong Performance workshops is “Tai-Chi for Leaders”, where leaders learn, through practicing basic Tai-Chi movements, how to improve essential self-awareness and self-control skills utilizing the 5 Tai Chi Principles.
This exercise is for many participants a profound, and memorable experience, so I thought it might be useful to share the leadership lessons based on those 5 principles.
Principle 1: Relax – Remain Calm
In a combat situation, where adrenalin and cortisol levels flood our bodies and brains with the purpose to make us stronger during the fight or flight response, our bodies and minds tense up. Even though this may have an evolutionary advantage surviving in nature, there is also a disadvantage. When we are tense, our movements become rigid and our minds focus on escaping the threat rather than on strategies to overcome the challenge.
However, when we can train ourselves to remain relaxed and override that primal temptation to be tense, our bodies are able to move faster and be more agile, while our minds are able to think of winning strategies, thus putting us at an advantage.
In leadership, we often find ourselves in challenging situations multiple times per day. These challenges can quite easily be interpreted as threatening, resulting in a similar primal fight or flight response as in actual combat or when facing a natural predator.
Our ability to remain relaxed and agile, during times of challenge, enables our brains to come up with many more suitable options rather than responding with an emotional knee-jerk reaction.
More profoundly is that remaining calm and relaxed during times of perceived threat has a calming effect on those around us, who in turn relax and infect calmness on their surroundings and as such results in a more agile and resilient organization.
Principle 2: Separate Yin From Yang – Pause Before You Act.
While practicing the many movements of Tai-Chi, each movement is executed deliberately and precisely. To achieve this the practitioner deliberately separates action from inaction, utilizing the moments of inaction as an opportunity to put the body in the most ideal position to allow for the most effective execution of the following movement.
In times of challenge, it can be tempting for the leadership team to respond reactively, surgically, and emotionally with an attempt to overcome the challenge as quickly as possible so business can continue as per normal. One example could be the surgical removal of employees or departments, to minimize cost during times of financial decline. Even though such actions may be appropriate in some circumstances, in others they could cause serious long-term damage to the organization in the long run.
The Tai-Chi approach to overcoming challenges would be that of “pause” rather than “react” and utilize that pause to take a deep breath and relax and then to position oneself in a deliberate and precise fashion to be able to execute the most effective strategy, that ensures optimal healing of the organization after the challenge is overcome and in such minimizes the long term fall out.
Principle 3: Keep Your Back Straight and Head High.
Keeping our spines long and our heads upright enables us to move efficiently without losing our balance. As our bodies fatigue, we may begin to lose control of our posture, which can cause slouching of the shoulders. Slouching results in a decrease of biomechanical effectiveness, thus decreasing the effectiveness of technique.
Neuroscience is confirming that how leaders carry themselves greatly influences the mental and physical health of those in our direct environment. In times of challenge, if the leader displays a posture of exhaustion and defeat, such as slouching and hanging his/her head low, the members of the team undergo a number of neurochemical, and hormonal changes, that not only affects their outlook on the crisis, but actually increases their blood-pressures and alters their health status.
In other words, how the leader carries him- or her-self, has a direct influence on the health of the organization, both in the short-term, and in the long-term. Therefore, our ability to keep our heads up, our attitudes positive, and spines long is an essential skill in leadership. Interestingly, self-awareness and self-control are also the pillars of emotional intelligence required in transformational leadership.
Principle 4: Pretty Lady Wrists – Be Elegant.
The appearance of appearing soft and elegant is a characteristic of Tai-Chi. This softness spreads from the center of the body and extends all the way through the arms and wrists to the fingertips. For energy to flow freely, all joints must be in an open position. For that reason, the wrist should typically not be bent, nor should it be rigid. It should be open and straight, giving the appearance of pretty lady wrists.
Interestingly, the appearance of softness is in fact an illusion. Softness is the vessel that enables energy to flow freely from the center of the body into the fingertips. It is a state of readiness to enable the martial artist to strike with extreme speed when required. Much like the snake that lies in a coiled position, it appears to be resting, when in fact it is ready to strike instantly and precisely.
Energy management is an essential skill for today’s leaders. In the hectic lives of today’s busy executives, managing energy is not a simple task. With so many distractions and changes it can be extremely tempting to expend too much of our energy on one challenge and thus finding ourselves running on empty when we might need it for others.
By applying the same principle of softness and elegance in our daily lives as Tai-Chi practitioners do, it is possible to minimize unnecessary energy expenditure. By keeping an open, authentic posture, and remaining as relaxed as possible through many of our tasks and challenges in a day, we can assume the position of elegance while simultaneously being ready to act swiftly and with precision, where required.
Another advantage is that an open and authentic posture displays a greater level of approachability and trust in those who seek our leadership, while simultaneously, acting with precision helps us ward off unnecessary conflicts and overcome the necessary challenges with grace.
Principle 5: Move From Your Hips – Be Centered.
While performing the numerous movements in Tai-Chi, it can be extremely tempting to focus outward on how our hands and feet are moving. However, what is essential in Tai-Chi is to initiate all movement from the center of gravity, our hips, as this is the source of our energy and power. In other words, the focus of the Tai-Chi practitioner should not be from the extremities to the center, but rather from the center to the extremities.
When we lead, it can also be extremely tempting to focus outward. Undesirable cultures, disengaged employees, and underperforming teams and how those factors are affecting the business, are just a few examples of an outward to inward focus.
However, if we were to utilize the Tai-Chi approach, the focus should be from inward to outward. In this case, asking the question: “How is my behavior or attitude contributing to the manifestation of this undesirable culture, disengaged employees, and underperforming team and how can a shift in my behavior, or attitude help improve the status quo?” is a form of self-leadership that will likely produce much greater leadership success than attempting to force or influence the behavior of others using the outward focus approach.
When put together, these 5 Tai-Chi principles, when applied in leadership and business can greatly improve our own performance, while simultaneously fueling the capacity for a healthy company climate.