Leading What Is Within

A leader’s job is to focus enthusiasm in the direction of the team’s objective.

Leadership is as much about listening and observing as it is about goal-setting, providing direction, and giving encouragement and corrective feedback. As leaders, we can have an amazing team, a foolproof plan, and a highly detailed, well thought out strategy, but if we do not know our team, understanding their personal passions, desires, and aspirations, we will have a difficult time getting them to fully commit to the goal we are striving to reach. In order for a team to be successful, each individual member must feel like his or her own personal interests are both acknowledged and accounted for along the way.

When we are passionate about a particular project, strategy, or outcome, we naturally want or even expect others to be equally passionate about it, but, more often than not, that is simply an unrealistic expectation. Once we understand that others will never be as enthusiastic about our goals or our interests as we are, we are left with only a few options. Obviously, we could choose to ignore this fact and go it alone or lead by force, but, assuming we see the short-sightedness of these strategies, we will want to lead in a way wherein others choose to join us on our journey of their own well-informed free-will.

One way to win people over to our cause is to do so extrinsically, meaning that we try to convince them intellectually of the value, righteousness, and benefit of our cause, but extrinsic motivation only lasts so long. A better, more honest and long-lasting way to motivate people is to tap into what they are already intrinsically driven by and toward, the things that they are naturally excited about and wiling to act on of their own accord, and to channel this internal passion and enthusiasm toward a mutually beneficial goal. The best leaders lead from within in this way, but this first requires empathy, that is, a compassionate understanding of who it is that is actually being led.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh unless otherwise noted.

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