I’ve recently been drawn more and more to a leadership pattern that I first encounted in martial arts: Form and Meaning. Although most explicitly described in the art of Xing-I, all the martial arts describe the contrast between the form of action, and its true meaning or essence. What I’ve noticed in great project leaders is that the contrast is similar. Namely there are those who go through the motions, and those who simply get it. Let’s go through the progression of this pattern and see if you recognize anything similar in your own experiences.
- No Form, No Meaning – This is the untrained pupil, the flailing fighter, the aimless leader. Effort is wasted and results are rare.
- Form, No Meaning – This is where training begins. Whether kicking drills or learning to listen to others attentively, all skills has to start with the fundamentals.
- Form, Meaning – Eventually, all that practice pays off. An athelete can generate results within the set drills and set plays. A leader is able to effect some kind of direction with the right procedures and processes.
- No Form, Meaning – Finally, we see the expert achieving true skill. Sure the set plays work, but when the athlete improvises, a genius play can be made. Likewise, a leader is now able to influence others with an instict born of experience. Sensing the needs of others and reacting accordingly.
- No Form, No Meaning – However, the final stage is to blend oneself with the whole situation. This is what is called the “state of no mind”. Not only are the old rigid formalities missing, but so is the intentional directed effort. Instead, a fighter simply prevents the conflict. A running back “feels” the tackler behind him, changes direction, but doesn’t quite know why. A leader embeds himself with his neighbors, avoids a gaudy vision statement, and still they collectively move in a direction that makes sense .
What’s even more interesting is that you can apply this pattern to almost any kind of growth. Whether through spirituality (going from Sunday School rituals to a less formalized journey) or elsewhere, there seems to be a similar progression.
Examine the things in life you consider to be your best skills, and see if you too went on a similar journey.