Leadership Learnings from Taiji
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide
Master Chen YingJun after giving a correction, leading from behind, in other words helping me find my own best posture.

I have just returned invigorated and full of energy from a long weekend of Taijiquan. Four intense days which were filled with Taiji learning and connection. They were also rich in leadership insights. Today I want to share one of my many leadership learnings from Taiji with you. 

In case you wonder, Taiji is more commonly known in Europe as Tai Chi, and it includes the more widely practised QiGong. Taiji was developed as a martial art centuries ago, and we practise it with the intention to cultivate chi (energy) in our body and to learn how to move that energy. I started my Taiji practice 12 years ago, not knowing much about it. I had simply been looking for a form of meditation that would allow me to be on my feet and moving, because I always fell asleep when lying down at the end of a Yoga session.

But let’s go back to the leadership lessons I learnt last weekend.

We are all lifelong students in leadership

Today I want to talk about one of the leaders at the back of the room who helped turn this weekend into a remarkable experience. Of course, the leader we all equally looked to was Master Chen YingJun and I will share more about his leadership style next time. Beside Master Chen was my own Taiji teacher, who invites him every year to Ireland. His seminars attract not only our regional group, my teacher’s Irish students.

Taiji practitioners travelled many hours from the south of Ireland, from Germany and France, as well as from Britain and Northern Ireland, in order to train with Master Chen YingJun in our far north west corner of Ireland. A few beginners, some students with 10+ years of more or less intense practice, and quite a number of instructors who teach their own classes filled the hall. 

A leader can be of service by not taking centre stage

One of these instructors radiated a strong presence in the room. Let’s call her Becky. She has built her own school of Taijiquan in the UK, and she brought more than a handful of her own students with her. Some of them are instructors in their own right. Now if you are into martial arts, you might have noticed that when a group of teachers gather, there can be a bit of rivalry and vanity around their shared master. I remember a teacher of mine who was keen to show his students off so as to look really good in front of everybody. It created quite some pressure to do everything “right”.

However, whenever I observed Becky during this past weekend, I noticed that like other instructors in the room, she did not feel the need to take the centre stage so as to display her own excellence or show off her students. Instead, she just stepped into the role of being our master’s student, knowing that she will host him in her school soon.

Resonating calm energy, Becky became part of our collective. She simply picked one corner of the room so that whenever we were turning towards that corner, anyone who was not sure about the next move had her as the person to emulate. That allowed everyone, including the beginners, to stay in the flow of the movements. 

Presence and agility is key to adapting your leadership to any situation

In Taiji, we move all the time, and we turn often. Therefore the group does not always face the master. And so he is not always the one to decide the pace. To maintain synchronous movement with 40 other people in a big hall, everyone needs to adjust their pace to the group. Whoever is in the corner we face is at the front of the room. Hence, we follow their pace.

In order to be a solid cornerstone, Becky had to adjust her pace to that of the other corners of the room. She also had to constantly shift from following to leading, and back. To move in sync with the whole group required her full presence and the ability to follow as well as to lead. Because Becky brought that presence and leadership agility to the table, she helped the group to move as one.

The mark of a mature leader is the ability to subordinate her ego. What makes an agile leader is the ability to read and respond to the space instantly. The combination of both is what made Becky stand out as a mature and agile leader. If you want to increase your leadership presence and agility, or help your group move as one, reach out to us for a conversation.

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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