Thursday, November 01, 2007

An Interview With Richard Strozzi-Heckler

Most Wednesdays and Thursdays I have the opportunity to attend some very unique classes conducted under the direction of Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Ph.D. Ours is an interesting and multifaceted relationship. It began with a chance encounter over twenty years ago while I was an executive with a training company and responsible for leading a series of powerful public leadership courses. One day Richard showed up to review the work of an organization responsible for providing adventure-based exercises for the company I was with. I remember our shaking hands for a few moments while we stood on the side of a cliff. That was about it. About five years later our paths crossed again ... only this time in a much more intense way to begin what would become long and meaningful journey. (For that story visit and go to the “Archive Page” to download "A Ronin Reflects on the Samurai Game".)

Richard Stozzi-Heckler is the Founder of Strozzi Institute. He has authored many books; his most popular being In Search or the Warrior Spirit now in its fourth publishing release. His newest book The Leadership Dojo is available at and at He is an incredible teacher, advisor and consultant having brought somatics around the world. He is listed as one of the top 50 executive coaches in the US. Senior executives, public servants and officials of many governments have sought his advice, including some at the highest levels of the US Government. His work at transforming the US Marine Corps was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. He is a friend, an associate ... one of the "Allies" of Allied Ronin. Additionally, now for over seven years he has been my sensei (teacher) at Two Rock Aikido in Petaluma, California.

Recently I asked Richard if he would be interviewed for the monthly Allied Ronin newsletter. He agreed. Enjoy what he says. But most importantly ... and as always ... put into action and practice what you find of value here!

AR: Richard, how would you describe Strozzi Institute, why you created it and what it provides to the world?

Richard: I created Strozzi Institute as a way to bring somatics—the living body and its embodied practices-- to the training and teaching of leaders. Our mission is to create leaders who embody pragmatic wisdom, grounded compassion, and skillful action. We teach emerging leaders how to build trust, repair trust when its broken, act from a centered presence, cultivate their intuition, move confidently from their values and principles, and be authentic and respectful in all their relationships. The world more than ever needs leaders who are not simply head smart, but can embody life affirming, generative values.

When we come into the life of our bodies we will also be in a more intimate relationship with Spirit. Spirit adds great depth and scope to our leadership potential.

AR: What do you feel are the biggest and most important challenges facing leaders (both organizational and individual) today? What about teachers ... do you feel the same is true for them, and why or why not?

Richard: The challenge for all, whether you’re leading a family, a Fortune 50 company, the First Marine Division, or a classroom of children is to bring people to their senses.

This not simply a metaphor but literally we need to re-learn how to feel. I don’t mean this in a touchy-feely way or the hallmark card version of a romantic walk down the beach, but tapping into the 3.5 billion year wisdom of our bodies. We have become overly analytical and this has separated us from life, the environment, and others. Once we begin to feel ourselves, we can more readily feel and empathize with others, and we can learn how to better take care of the natural world. Leaders of all stripes, whether you are leading your life or you have followers, need the capacity to feel and sense. When we feel we expand our awareness and therefore have more choices. When we come to our senses we’re more able to face conflict with a generative force and not a destructive one; we can act out of love and not fear; we can co-habit respectfully with our Mother Earth. These are all issues of leadership.

AR: In your 1990 book, In Search of the Warrior Spirit, you wrote: "The urge to confront personal ghosts and uncover our full potential is ignited only by an inner need. This arises from a discontent about who we have become. When the need becomes strong enough to challenge the status quo we summon the commitment and courage to attempt the unknown. " [p 18-19] What advice do you have for the individual who seeks to summon that kind of commitment and courage and step out on his or her own? What pitfalls do you see they need to attend to as they initiate this action and then decide to continue to move forward?

Richard: A good teacher, mentor, guide, coach is immeasurable in helping us move forward in our evolution. Because we are a self-referring organism, that is we live in our own stories and in our own worldview, it is difficult to see outside of ourselves. To have a trained coach or teacher is indispensable in assisting us to see our strengths and liabilities and the best way forward. It is also critical to take on the practices that will help us embody our new future. Without practices we may have good ideas and insights, but we’re unable to take new actions. A proper coach can help you create new practices for your new life.

The courage and commitment to move forward is usually driven by one of two things. Our suffering motivates us to new practices. That is, we’ve lost enough blood and we’re motivated to take a risk. Or, we see a new possibility, a new way of being and living, and this increases our yearning to transform and evolve to a different consciousness. By living in our body, by being in our living-ness we can be alert to these two paths and take action from them.

AR: Since writing In Search of the Warrior Spirit your work has, among other things, constructively impacted the military, particularly and most recently the US Marine Corps. How would you answer that same "biggest challenges" question with respect to the men and women in uniform who serve our nation and perhaps their families?

Richard: My recent work with the U.S. Military has taken me to the Middle East and Afghanistan where I’ve been very impressed with the men and women in uniform who are deployed to these hostile areas. Their commitment, selflessness, and honor are a positive reflection on our armed forces and our country. I’m assisting these services to bring leadership training throughout the chain of command.

My other focus is on policy makers. Without our policies changing we won’t be able to meet the challenges in the 21st century in an intelligent way. For example, in my work in the counter insurgency field I emphasize building trust and relationships. The god father of counter insurgency, General Lansdale, said that it should be 70 percent creating relationships and a better quality of life for people through building wells, schools, medical assistance, hygiene, etc; and 30 per cent kicking down doors. This percentage is now reversed and we’re making more enemies because of it. The global war on terrorism is a conflict of ideas and beliefs and not bullets and bombs. The civil affairs and psychological operations need to be trained in how to build sustainable relationships. This is not a soft approach, but something that is time tested and critical for world peace.

AR: You are an accomplished martial artist and aikido sensei (teacher) and your known around the world for integrating the principles of aikido into your consulting work and program offerings. In 2005 you and a number of prominent aikido teachers brought together 100 people from Israel, Palestine and other Mid-Eastern countries to Cyprus for a fascinating program - Training Across Borders. Can you shed light on that program, why you did it, what happened, what you learned as a result, how this experience has shaped you ... plus the potential you see for others as a result?

Richard: The Training Across Borders (TAB) program brought together 100 people from the war torn countries of the Mediterranean Basin to train aikido together for four days. The idea was to form relationships between these centuries old adversaries through the practice of aikido. It was very very successful with many follow-up programs and many of these participants are now engaged in businesses together and starting cross-cultural dojos. Once again I learned that people engaged in shared practices together within a context of positive ki, a commitment to life and not destruction, can change hearts and minds. We now have new dojos in Ethiopia, three new dojos in the West Bank where Palestinians and Israeli children and adults train together, a dojo in Iraq and some follow-up mini-TABs.

AR: You and I first worked together seventeen years ago. The topic then was leadership, and to some degree "warriorship". How do you define the modern "warrior" today? Who are some of history's constructive "warriors" - not necessarily military - and what do you feel we can learn from their lives?

Richard: The warrior is the individual who is inwardly peaceful with an open heart, and outwardly prepared to take action for those who are unable to take care of themselves. The obvious “well-known” leaders are Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa but if we open our eyes, our communities are filled with people who are acting selflessly for others. From them we can learn to follow our hearts and do what is best.

AR: If the average person has it within him or herself to be a "warrior" what must he or she do to get on and stay on that path?

Richard: A warrior is not a glamorous or romantic figure. The warrior ideal is an ancient path of self-realization. A warrior lives by a set of values and participates wholeheartedly in supporting their community. This takes rigor and it is highly fulfilling to practice with others in making a better world. My teachers always encouraged me on the path by pointing back to the practices. Take on a practice that keeps you moving on your path. Let this practice have a qualified guide or teacher, a group of people you can practice with, and that it builds both skills for acting, and principles that guide those skills. And ... have fun doing it!

AR: What about organizations ... how can an organization go about constructively distinguishing itself on such a path?

Richard: Again, examine the practices you’re involved in as a group and do these practices take you to where you want to go and are they aligned with your principles. My book In Search of the Warrior Spirit outlines many of the distinctions of the modern day warrior and how this path can be lived with mastery. Many of the organizations we’ve worked at Strozzi Institute now have a dojo on their sites where people can practice self-cultivation, the skills of leadership, and developing teams.

AR: You have a new book now available to the public, The Leadership Dojo Why did you write the book? What is your vision for what its lessons can do for individuals, teams, leaders and organizations?

The Leadership Dojo illustrates the necessity of embodied leadership in our times and how individuals and organizations can train to embody and live their highest values and principles. It’s proven that when individuals and teams live their values it brings more fulfillment and it’s good for the bottom line. Everyone thinks leadership is a good idea and everyone basically agrees about what are the values a leader should have, but there is nothing about how to embody these values. We can train leaders. I have shown this time and time again over the past twenty-five years. Our current fiascos in government and business clearly show how necessary it is that leaders exemplify what they declare. Leaders need to be the values not just proclaim them. The Leadership Dojo and our programs at Strozzi Institute show how this can be done.

AR: If you were limited to one central idea, one most important thought or lesson ... as if it were the first, last or only thing you could ever communicate to anyone ... what would it be and why?

Richard: Love is the final medicine. Connect with Spirit and let love and compassion and wisdom flow through you.

AR: Thank you very much, Richard, for taking this time to serve those who will read this interview. I encourage all our readers to purchase and read your new book and make its lessons available to their friends and organizations.

For further information about Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Ph.D., Founder & CEO, Strozzi Institute and programs/services that he and his organization makes available in the world visit To contact Richard directly call 707-778-6505 and reference this newsletter. His new book, The Leadership Dojo, is available through Strozzi Institute and from

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