Leadership Paradigm Shift

The challenges we face in the 21st century are often complex, where multiple causes lead non-linearly to multiple effects.

Complex problems are best solved by participatory processes that surface the wisdom of multiple perspectives.

New leadership models foster co-creation and co-ownership.

Leadership paradigm shift

Why Martial art is the Key to Value based Leadership?

I am frequently asked ‘which style of martial art should I enroll?
Martial arts
An important question and decision to make for those that ask. Thus, long ago, I have already prepared an answer which mostly ‘disappoints’ the people asking me:

If you are to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro would you ask  “What is the Best Route to Climb Kilimanjaro?”

Might be yes to the above or might be no!


‘Yes’ if you can define what ‘best’ means to you and ‘no’ if you already have knowledge about the mountain.

As one would expect there are several routes by which you can reach Kibo or Uhuru Peak, the highest summit of Mount Kilimanjaro: Machame, Marangu, Mweka, Londorossi Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Umbwe and Northern Circuit. They all differ in something but at the same time they all provide the same final aim or goal - ‘to reach the top’.

All routes lead to the top. Why then do we need so many? The primary issue lies within a person that wants to reach the peak. Are we able to do it fast, slow or we’d like to have panorama views or (most probably) we need altitude acclimatization schedule!

Therefore, personal preferences are different and consequently different routes satisfy them.
The same is with martial arts. Some arts are slower (Tai Chi), some are more brutal (MMA), others more lethal (sambo). But, eventually, all are having the same meaning – to acquire martial arts knowledge and experience to fight and to protect. Therefore it is ours to get the proper fit for ourselves.

Within years of practice I’ve learned that there is also another issue that I’d like to share. It illustrates even deeper the aim of the Kilimanjaro story above. Namely, if we carefully watch great martial art’s masters we could definitely see very similar postures, movements and use of the fighting techniques. In majority of martial arts it actually does not matter from which school or style they came. They present the peak of martial arts’ knowledge – like Uhuru for Kilimanjaro. And the ‘routes’ (style of martial art) they took to master it could have been very different ones!

Why is this so?

Does the answer lay in sustainable development leadership?

I upgraded the classic Einstein quote ‘We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’ by adding ‘with the same people!’ To me it seems particularly relevant to sustainability challenges needed in todays’ world.
Critical thinking
Prior to argue it let me first describe what sustainable development is?

Sustainable development has been defined in many ways, but the most frequently quoted definition is from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
  • the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.

I rationale that we should aim to achieve this necessary different approach to be able to change the devastating path we are currently on and as a contrast to today mostly used economy and leadership.

In my previous posts I have already described my concerns about neo-liberal economy approach, private ownership, different views (names of) current leadership tactics. Now we are just a few weeks past the COP21 in Paris on global climate changes that draw a commitment to ‘pursue efforts’ (not to take actions) to keep the temperature increase to only 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – admittedly, a formidable technical and political flowery phrase.

Unfortunately, this is not enough anymore! We are in need for a completely different attempt than we see today – like Einstein said.


SustainabilitySustainabilityAs already Al Gore, in his foreword to the book World changing: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, pointed out that a shift where individuals join together to create a “turning point in human civilization ... that requires great moral leadership and generational responsibility … to build that future, we need a generation of everyday heroes, people who — whatever their walks of life is — have the courage to think in fresh new ways and to act to meet this planetary crisis head-on.

For this we need very unique and changed leaders than they are today and beside that much more conscious followers!

From the first conference on climate change in Tokyo back in 1987 a lot has changed but not enough has been done. While the international community and the politicians continue the talks on sustainable development and green economy time passes and pollution, poverty, destruction of our planet, depletion of natural resources have gone almost beyond the point of no return.

What we see today is the current leadership, depletion of resources and pollution not slowing but rising. The gap to sustainability is real and urgent, especially because complex problems we face require innovative /different thinking and networked / civilization(s) actions lead by such (new) leaders. And yes, not just those on the top positions but a whole generation needs to be inspired, motivated and engaged to think and act in a way that matches the scale of the challenge.

Things Agility Can Teach Us About Leadership

More and more we hear about ‘agility’ in project management, agility leadership, agility in martial arts and canine agility …

dog agilityWhat exactly is agility?

Dog’s agility, easiest to explain, is a competitive sport in which a dog is directed through obstacles in a course that is timed and watched for accuracy. Easy that one!?

Let’s frame what is ‘agile project management’ - it refers to iterative and incremental method of managing the design and to build activities in a project with aim to provide new product or service in a highly flexible and interactive manner. A bit harder?

martial art agilityFurther, we find that agility training is fundamental to any (great) martial artist as well. In martial arts it is definitely true that some genetics play an important role in the development of agility; nevertheless, with the adequate practice anybody can improve his/her agility. That’s understandable.

Going even deeper to define agility we meet the use of the word ‘agility’ in leadership, too. What does it mean? Leadership agility is a mastery competency needed for sustained success in today’s complex, fast-paced, business environment. Such a leader has the ability and/or agility to operate in any manner and to think and react in a number of different ways. Does this sound more complicated?

Seeing very different connotations and the use of the same term, let’s pose a question – “How could we suggest a common denominator and explain it?”

Insecurity drains the life out of employees

Not long ago a majority of workers worked for the same company for 20, 30 or more years. It was a normal occurrence. At the time many of my friends were asking me how can I shift so much and so easily from one employer to another? That was easy enough, since nothing was “pushing me” out of a company except my curiosity and new, different challenges. Same as today? No, not the same here. Those were different times and different society back then.

In 2014 Hewlett-Packard only eliminated 34,000 jobs, while JP Morgan Chase has cut 20,000 from its workforce and JC Penney and Sprint announced cuts … In '70s and '80s, not so long ago, a modification of labor market began and we were able to observe anti-worker policies forming up. Nowadays a new business model (not so new any more) is disentangling the ties between employers and employees, fueling the perception that it is good to have employment flexibility.

In today’s business spheres where results of globalization, outsourcing, contracting, downsizing, recession and even natural disasters are all together killing ‘a job security’, how does one deal with such uncertainties?

InsecurityIt is well known that people can deal with short bursts of pressure pretty good, but that chronic uncertainty throws them in a vicious cycle of stress and fear. According to the research done by Stuart Whitaker at the University of Cumbria, having an insecure job has a more damaging impact on people's health than actually losing a job.

When we do not know whether we’ll have a job next year or, even worse, next week, how do we plan the life? Could we consider a loan to buy a house, start family or save for college or save for retirement? In the face of job insecurity, thoughts like these bring only panic and more pressure. Can we still spend with easiness if we are so insecure for the jobs we have?

When people fear that the world around them will fall apart, when our future becomes foggy, when feelings of powerlessness paralyze us, we tend to start to flip out. We pile on more work than we can handle, we are afraid to take sick leaves. Some people start to function on drugs, coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and other substances.  We drop everything that is good for us – we stop to care for our physical well-being, we stop practicing, we do not have fun with friends or have and enjoy vacations and so on.

Why ownership matters?

I was reading the article The Seven Deadly Sins of Economic Liberalism a friend of mine Lucas Juan Manuel kindly sent to me. The article describes private ownership that generates wealth as:
Economic liberalism triggers a socio-economic system based mainly on financial speculation jointly with inappropriate economic measures and structural/social reforms.  Let’s take Euro area as an example.  The EU implemented painful austerity measures in order to reduce the high level of government debt in many country members.  But it was, and still is, a wrongly-conceived austerity
There are many ‘enterprises and entrepreneurs’ arising from political clientelism (crony-ism and patronage), and those kind of enterprises and entrepreneurs do not generate wealth and prosperity in our societies because they are not competitive.  This kind of capitalism is deeply disappointing for the real entrepreneurial spirit (genuine enterprises).
 In this way, wealth, well-being and prosperity are being concentrated in the hands of a few and the income gap between a country's richest and poorest people enlarges dramatically. “Obviously, this way of capitalism is inherent to political corruption and prevents equal opportunities in the economic and social spheres.”
Personal ownershipAlthough somehow hidden, ownership nevertheless matters in all the above described topics. There are different approaches to ownership of a property. The question is whether all of them are sustainable for the advancement of a society as a whole?

Let’s define different ownerships and their (potential) effects.

‘Personal ownership’ is where assets and property is belonging to an individual, also known as individual ownership. Contrary, the ‘collective ownership’ assets and property belongs to a collective body of people who control their use and collect the proceeds of their operation. Very similar is ‘common ownership’ (or non-ownership) where assets and property are held in common by all members of society. Any country owns property (‘state ownership’) where assets are state owned or owned by certain state agency consequently having jurisdiction over in terms of use. And finally, assets owned by a government or a state and available for public use to all their constituents are called ‘public property’.

Biggest Relaxation Mistakes and how to avoid them

Long ago sports evolved from martial arts (like: Greek Olympic games) and were transformed into competitive play with rules and winning points. Sports carry in itself some cultural impact on competitors. Martial arts of today, especially Chinese, are mostly later inventions. They have typically risen at the end of 19th century. It was the time when China and other Far East countries understood cultural impact of sports and had nothing else to offer regarding sports. So they began to export martial arts and other techniques.

The core of all – not only Chinese martial arts – is so called ‘natural movement’. It is a way of movement that has originated in Nature and is connected to energy consumption (see: Least of effort in leadership).

Long ago, when physical strength was necessary to fight, ‘natural movement’ was commonplace. All styles of martial arts, breathing techniques (see:  Best Ways to Relax Successfully), meditation, yoga etc. are supposedly methods to regain natural movements. Those are very straight forward and very simple once we know how to do it, but quite a bit hard to (mostly) re-learn (recall) from our childhood years. And when we do, we realize how powerful natural movements are. In the Nature all species depend on them to survive. That is why masterful martial artists when old move so simply, so powerful and are able to subdue much younger competitors.

There are different techniques to learn natural movements! Some of them are very popular today:

  • Meditation allows your body to settle into a state of profound rest and relaxation and your mind to achieve a state of inner peace, without needing to use concentration or effort.
  • Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice. The purpose of yoga is to create strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body.”

But are the above techniques fairly represented and taught?

Reasons your Focus is or isn’t going to Work

If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favorable to him” by Seneca.

Yes, we have to focus!

Y generationThe so-called Y (or better interrupt) generation has big difficulties to handle it what I see daily in my classroom.

Focus is the thinking skill that allows people to begin a task without procrastination and then maintain their attention and efforts until the task is complete. Attention is a mental muscle and like any other muscle, it can be strengthened through the right kind of exercise.
During my university years I spent many hours practicing ballroom dancing on the competition level. Vienna waltz was our warm up procedure but not just one round, but ten or more in a raw. I have learned that the secret to not get disoriented is to focus on a point far in the distance and visually always following the spot (or your partner’s face) extracts the entire surrounding environment. The same goes if you lead a company: you must find a beacon and drive your organization passionately in that direction.

Organizations and countries need people with strong focus on (important) goals. They all need a talent to continually learn how to do things better or best. Without such high-innovative performers there is no innovation, productivity and change.

Therefore, focus is the state or quality of having or producing a clear visual definition – a center of interest or activity we do. So, being focused means thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions. It is an important tool that can and will shape your life. In a longitudinal study tracking the fates of all 1,037 children born during a single year in the 1970’s in the New Zealand city of Dunedin particularly compelling results came out (Source: The Focused Leader, by Daniel Goleman, 2013):
For several years during childhood the children were given a battery of tests of willpower, including the psychologist Walter Mischel’s legendary “marshmallow test”—a choice between eating one marshmallow right away and getting two by waiting 15 minutes. In Mischel’s experiments, roughly a third of children grab the marshmallow on the spot, another third hold out for a while longer, and a third manage to make it through the entire quarter hour.

Steps to Turn Control into Delegation

ControlIn my blog ‘Can Obedience nurture Trust?’ my thoughts were about shifting from blind obedience to trust. Control and delegation are a part of the same story. Let’s challenge them here now.

Control is the act or power of controlling or regulating people's behavior … or to exercise restraint or direction over; to dominate. All responsibility is with a control-holder.

History has repeatedly shown how problematic is to effectively restrain power from someone once it has been granted to if a strong system of control, checks and balances is in place. People tend to – when given control or power – exercise them far beyond the legal, actually given, authority. Such anomalies are not excluded in business.

What is Delegation?

To delegate means to give to another person a task or duty or activity meanwhile retaining responsibility for the outcome. The latter is the key since while delegating, you are still responsible for the outcome!

So, where lays the difference between the two if responsibility still remains in the same hands?

Well, control, as we have seen, can be misused when delegate hardly.

Best Practices describe why Punctuality matters

In martial arts “punctuality” is the key. Why?
Why I think so, I’ll explain later, let’s see how punctuality is defined in Wikipedia: the characteristic of being able to complete a required task or fulfill an obligation before or at a previously designated time. "Punctual" is often used synonymously with "on time". It is a common misconception that punctual can also, when talking about grammar, mean "to be accurate".

In business world punctuality means organizing your time effectively; to be more productive as you start or get on time; in some countries to be respectful to your hosts and well, yes – also disrespectful in others; in short, punctuality affects the individual just as much as it affects the workplace to operate more smoothly as a whole. Punctuality reduces stress as well as stress leads to poor workplace performance.

Does then being punctual strengthens and reveals your integrity?
George Washington
It is said that when George Washington’s secretary arrived late to a meeting and blamed his watch for his tardiness, Washington quietly replied ‘Then you must get another watch, or I another secretary.’

When you make others wait, you rob minutes from those that came early or on time.

I recall leading a project group in a government environment: we had meetings in a place where most of attendants had their offices. The reason was not to spend time of most participants on commuting. I usually arrived few minutes earlier. Once, after several attempts of asking people to be on time, I have written on the big wall table names and numbers. Everybody seemed a bit wary while watching me. When the last person finally arrived I summed up the numbers and multiplied with average hour salary for our group. We lost almost an average monthly salary while waiting.

The importance of being punctual is not universal and varies from country to country, even within country and from culture to culture. In some places like south Europe, Latin America or Pacific Islands, life moves at a different pace than in northern hemisphere and meeting times are meant to be more incoherent.

Does then being punctual build up and reveal the extent of control a leader has?

Things nobody tells you about Soft vs. Hard

“Soft can beat hard” is a saying in martial arts. It is hard to understand that one can be soft in martial arts and still win, isn’t it?
Let me explain a bit further. When talking about martial arts people mostly split them into two main categories:  Yin styles and Yang styles, named by China Yin and Yang concept (see: Dualism vs. Yin-Yang). If we transform this naming to western concepts then Yin styles could be referred to as soft or internal, while Yang as hard or external. Behind this naming and division is basically the way how we perform them. Like in Tai Chi which is predominantly practiced with slow nature and gracious movements and consequently labeled as Soft - Internal. In contrast, Yang as hard and external refers to the development of combative skill, brute strength, power and stimulating workout. For the latter Karate or Wing Chun could be examples.

But, if we, over the years, observe how one practices martial arts we note how everything changes due to experiences. Most Shaolin animal styles like White Crane for example, many Tibetan styles and/or Okinawan Karate are trained especially ‘hard’ early in one's life. Later on those styles soften as the master grows old and at the time knows the ‘ideas’ behind. Finally, at the top level the knowledge of any martial artist starts to resemble more to Tai Chi than e.g. stereotypical Karate. Majority of my older teachers converted their style to softer variation.

Is aging the only reason behind softening of martial arts’ styles? Normally the masters are still very vital, full of power and speed that dominates any novice with even higher speed and more force?

There definitely has to be another reason.

Cross-Culture Will Radically Change Your Leadership

All of you have probably visited places where you sensed that “things” are different than those at your home place?

Paradoxically, we set our knowledge and belief as a reference / universal point when judging other cultures. We compare what we know or believe to new and different views sometimes curiously wondering how wrong they are. You are basically trapped in stability issue of which I have written in Leadership and stability, such stability that you have fallibly perceived as security due familiarity with your ‘not changing’ home place culture.

Unfortunately, in this you are wrong. There is nothing stable in this Universe. Changes and differences are all around us, also when meeting other people, cultures or leadership styles.
Differences are the outcome of Gerhard Hofstede project when asked to unify IBM corporate culture across the globe. The study was conducted within IBM between 1967 and 1973 and covered more than 70 countries. Hofstede built a methodology of different countries and cultures and how they interact based on six different categories of cultural dimensions:

    Hofstede China-US
  • Power Distance that expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. 
  • Individualism vs. Collectivism which focuses on the questions about whether people prefer a close knit network of people or prefer to be left alone to fend for themselves. 
  • Masculinity vs. Femininity where masculinity represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material reward for success; and femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. 
  • Uncertainty Avoidance that expresses the degree to which the member of a society feels uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. 
  • Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation where Long-term orientation dimension can be interpreted as dealing with society's search for virtue and are careful how they shape today not to distort tomorrow.
  • Indulgence vs. Restraint that identifies the extent to which a society allows ‘relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun’.

Commonly used and cited methodology unfortunately is a perfect “Descartes model of dualism” so appreciated in Western hemisphere way of thinking (see: Dualism vs. Yin-Yang). With different dimensions it brings some diversity but does not allow or imply the changes within cultures.

Is there a solution that may contribute and add change to cultural dimensions methodology?

How Would a Leader Rock With Fun

Does fun have anything to do in leadership?

LaughDid ever happen to you when you were still young that out of nothing (or for something that today would not even notice) you burst out laughing loud in a classroom? Did other mates follow?

Grown up, have you ever been in a situation when you could not stop laughing even you are aware it is not appropriate time/place? Probably, you have not.

And if it happened to you, you very likely tried to hold back and hush up knowing that the sound of (roaring) laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. Therefore, laugh should not interrupt the important meeting or should it?

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘work and fun’? So, do we have fun at work or we work for fun …?

The heresy?

It is well known that when we laugh we change physiologically and psychically. We stretch muscles throughout our face and as well our body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, we breathe faster sending more oxygen to our organs and tissues. Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study and found out that laughter appears to burn calories, too.

StressIn the post Best Ways to Relax Successfully I was talking how relaxation lowers stress. Laugh was purposely not mentioned as you have to have fun to do what was written in previously mentioned post. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress.

Without any study behind I can argue that most people do not equate ‘work & fun’ together. Furthermore, as shows The Employee Engagement we are further and further distancing from engaged employees. The disengaged majority of employees probably wish it could be true to have fun at work but they have never really experienced it or been allowed to have it. And, by not allowing it, what a failure to raise productivity, development and much more. Studies demonstrate that when people are having fun at work, employee turnover is reduced. And not only turnover …

Now, think for just a moment. Think about your personal experience: when last did you have some fun and after felt more energized, focused, willing and able to get more things done?

How to use Praise, Blame and Appreciation!

“To belittle is to be little!” (unknown)

A Wing Chun practice on a hot evening at the end of spring: we were already well warmed up and our martial arts instructor told us to make pairs to begin a drill of punching, carefully chosen to practice a special sequence of repetitions (see about it in Pushing hands). Repetitions are the ones that bring ingrained knowledge to the surface at the right time. You start to respond in a subconscious way. When attacked we mostly don’t have time to think what to do. Therefore, our body should react suitably.

Every few minutes we changed partners. This improves the techniques as each of us is somehow different – smaller, harder, heavier, quicker. Meanwhile the instructor usually practiced with a guy who had no partner or he thought that needs an extra practice with him.

It was my turn at the time. We began exchanging of punches with a moderate speed to be told later by the instructor to quicken it and some other sequences were added. I pushed a bit harder knowing that instructor is much better than we are and can withstand faster, more dynamic, mixed type of punches. Then, in a heat of practice when sweat was running from both, I hit him with a very precise punch but still under control. With a high pitch voice the instructor stopped the practice. I thought he will explain and praise me. Being a teacher myself and also a father I’m always proud if my students or kids surpass me.

No, that was not about the praise!

BlameHe started to shout at me! Pretty angry he said that I should control my punches as he controls them, otherwise he would injure or even kill with a punch. He might as well demonstrate it if it is what we want …

Others, me particularly, were unpleasantly surprised and in sort of stupefied. Nobody was able to understand his anger and behaviour. Is this not a martial art’s environment where hits and small injuries are part of training? Nobody was actually hurt. No blood was spilled … just some small red mark on his cheek demonstrated what happened few seconds before.

What went wrong?

Best Ways to Relax Successfully

Is a stress-free and meaningful life possible today?

We are daily bombarded by requests, actions, interrupts. The media pressure us with what we should possess or buy, how we should look, what to eat ... We are pressed by our surroundings, neighbors, friends to ‘comply’ with standard of living they value. Our bosses tell us when and what to do no matter the hour of a day or day of the week. We are (always) connected – if not, right now we are looking for wifi!

Is this the life we want?

Some adhere to it others aim to different lifestyle. Nevertheless, for many of us the relaxation represents zoning out in front of a TV at the end of a stressful day. Does/could this reduce the accumulated stress?


Known from ancient times to effectively combat stress is that we need to activate the whole body's natural relaxation response.

How we do it?

There are numerous marketing campaigns telling us to try three, seven, eight … ways of relaxing techniques that are readily (commercially) available?

Do those techniques work? Likely not!

What then?

Stress is necessary ‘part’ of life. One needs it for creativity, learning and, mostly in ancient times, to survive. Why, then, such a fuss about it?

Tai ChiWe are all probably aware that stress is harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium of our body chemicals through nervous system. Our body and our nervous system are flooded with chemicals which prepare us for ‘fight or flight’. While stress response in emergency situations when quick action is necessary could be lifesaving, it wears our body down when constantly (daily) activated. Sadly, overwhelming stress has become an increasingly ‘common occurrence’ in our lives.

We should aim to control the impact of stress or to reduce it. And here the relaxation techniques come in. They are kind of brakes on our over heightened state of readiness and bring our body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

Now, let’s move from ‘what’ to ‘how’.