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  • Darren Gold

Get on the Mat

Now is not a time for frenetic activity or anxious overreaction. Instead, it is an opportunity to hold your center. To stay in the swirl. To role model what it looks like to connect to your breath, stay grounded, and be in flow.

There is a ritual in certain forms of martial arts, like aikido, called the randori. It is an exercise where the student stands in the center of the mat and is encircled by other students who play the role of attackers. I remember the first time I had the opportunity to participate in a randori. It was in the dojo of Richard Strozzi, a renowned aikido teacher and leadership expert. My experience started with two students approaching me, then four, then eight. I was allowed to move anywhere on the mat and parry or gently redirect oncoming assailants. After approximately one minute, the randori ended. I stood in the middle of the mat, exhausted and disoriented. Then the real exercise began. Instructors offered feedback based on what they had observed. In rapid succession, I learned that I was holding my breath practically the entire time. That I moved rapidly, oftentimes losing my center and balance. And that I didn’t smile or seem at ease for a single second.

This particular randori served as a metaphor for leading in complex and uncertain times. Having to face numerous attackers simultaneously was designed to simulate the real-world challenge of dealing with multiple problems all at once. My first experience taught me a lot about my default tendencies in times of volatility. More importantly, I learned the importance of staying grounded and connected to my body. In my second attempt at the randori, I stayed mostly in the center of the mat. I was intentional about breathing. I even smiled. This allowed me to stay grounded in the present moment. And I was able to meet the challenge of dealing with multiple issues simultaneously with grace and effectiveness. I discovered that in most cases I merely had to step aside and redirect. In some cases, I needed to stand my ground and be more forceful. In others, I accepted the inevitable contact from an attacker, knowing that it wouldn’t kill me and that I could deal with it after I had effectively resolved the immediate threat I was facing.

As we enter the second half of a tumultuous year, I am reminded of the lessons of the randori in my own leadership. And I am encouraging the leaders I am working with to do the same. Now is not a time for frenetic activity or anxious overreaction. Instead, it is an opportunity to hold your center. To stay in the swirl. To role model what it looks like to connect to your breath, stay grounded, and be in flow. This is real leadership. It is embodied leadership. It is the only form of leadership that will produce enduring results. My advice for these times? Get on the mat. Take a deep breath. Feel your feet on the ground. Smile. And then bring it on.

Tuesday Tips

  1. Ezra Klein writes one of the best op-ed columns in a while – “I Don’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message.”

  2. William MacAskill, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, makes a very convincing case in this essay for adopting longtermism: “the idea that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.” After reading it, I’m eager to read his upcoming book What We Owe the Future, and I am reminded of Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent 2020 novel The Ministry for the Future.

  3. “The Perils of Audience Capture,” is one of the most interesting blogs I’ve read in a long time.

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