An underused but essential word: entelechy
Aristotle invented the word "entelechy" to describe the process of actualising potential i.e. taking a concept and making it real. More than that, he used it to refer to the will that turns the mass of organic matter that we are into a conscious, purposeful entity - close to what we might imagine the soul to be.
Most of us do not live in the cognitive space of potential, where every moment holds endless possibilities. We tend to live in the world of habit and cognitive patterns.
As adults, when we yearn for that something we feel we lost in our childhood or youth, we are yearning for the sense of wonder and curiosity that children approach everything with; the beginner’s mind, as Zen Buddhist’s call it, that keeps us in contact with the endless possibilities that each moment offers. Yet through diligent inner-work, we can return to this state on a more regular basis until it becomes the default, with reactivity and habits loosening their grip on our behaviours.
This state of being is the mindfulness or moment-to-moment awareness that allows us to receive input (internal and external) and respond with clear, calm and determined focus. The former represents the feminine principle or yin, the latter the masculine principle or yang. Their merging allows our efforts to flow from potential to reality by processing the input with wisdom and creativity and consciously and effectively responding to it.
Modern leaders are increasingly being called to balance the feminine and masculine principle, if not favour the feminine, in order to be sensitive to new sources of input and respond from intuitive wisdom and creativity rather than brute force (focus without sensitivity). An important element of this way of being is that it occurs in collaboration or harmony with the realities of a situation, yet, elevates the outcome to new possibilities.
I fence as a hobby. I find it essential to my character development and personal growth to learn through my body and physical activity. Whether yoga, sport or dance, learning through the body enables us to deepen our knowledge of ourselves, others and relationships. It enables us to master our emotions and develop a powerful connection between our mind and body. This gives us the resilience, vision and self-understanding necessary to create in the world and turn potential into reality
How to harness the energies around us (including change) to materialise potential and move forward:
So much of the psychology of achievement is derived from sports psychology – hence the borrowing of the word “coach” to describe those who help others achieve goals and reach fulfilment in life. At a higher level, some sports (or perhaps all sports and crafts when practised at mastery level) allow us to understand the art of fulfilment as well as the science of achievement and help the wise leader within each of us to emerge.
Aikido is one such activity. Founded by Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th Century, it distilled centuries of Japanese martial arts techniques with philosophy; and is built on the principles of non-attack and avoiding harm to your aggressor. A pragmatic yet peaceful approach to the real world if ever there was one.
Harnessing the energies of life, with the attack representing the energy of change (or things outside our control), we harmonise with them then lead those forces into new ways of unfolding, allowing for a creative resolution that has essentially transformed that energy, minimised harm and returned to peace through a rapid and graceful process.
Three principles of leadership and change management from martial arts
The Aikido master starts with presence and an embodied intention of peace and harmony. They hold the potential for further peace and harmony. Yet they are receptive enough to feel changes in the energy around them and are ready to contribute creative solutions as incoming forces reach them directly. The three principles or stages of transformation/resolution that can be transposed onto our behaviours in work and life and allow us to lead in a peaceful, harmonious manner whilst allowing for innovation and creative solutions are described below. I talk about how I applied them in my career in the video.
1) Presence: Connect with your body and your feelings to have a strong and grounded starting point as your default. This allows sensitivity to signals in the environment and incoming energy
2) Harmony: Harmonise with the incoming energy/attack (rather than resist it or collapse under it)
3) Creativity: Allow for a new positive possibility to emerge as you combine the incoming energy with your own exploring possibilities for resolution and allowing a return to presence and peace. This phase also includes the principles: “Make your unique contribution. Complete your bestowed mission. Lead” (see min. 8.12 of this Aikido tutorial video).
I believe this is a helpful dissection of what is meant when we talk about the dance of life. For a specific example from my own life, see the video below, which also answer the question: How do we embrace change?
A fascinating aspect of the Aikido approach is that the master invites the energy of the attack as they see it coming. They anticipate and harmonise even before contact has occurred. Once contact has occurred, they are already moving in a way that allows them to harness the incoming force and transform it to their benefit, the benefit of the attacking force and the benefit of mankind through promoting peace as a universal human value. As a public health physician interested in prevention and anticipating the changes coming as a result of climate change, population ageing, globalisation and technological advances, it’s a wonderful way of illustrating what’s possible for humans as a species.
Another interesting aspect is that there are no aikido competitions, the practice of Aikido occurs only through collaboration with other practitioners at group seminars. It is thought that not only does this honour its peace promoting principle but also that it allows for preservation of the form as well as further development as practitioners can safely target sensitive points that would be avoided if practised in competition in a “real” fight. This is a fascinating conjecture on the possibilities that emerge when collaboration rather than competition inform even the most forceful human endeavours.
I hope this is of value to you. Please, leave any comments below the video and sign up to the Global Heroines and Heroes mailing list - exploring Next Century Leadership.