It’s 1997. I’m teaching a weeklong workshop on negotiation and conflict resolution at a renowned university in Seoul with Doug Stone, a dear friend and long-time colleague at Harvard Law School.
Following a morning session, we notice a participant is missing. “She’s at the doctor,” a student tells us, “having her chi re-balanced.”
Her what? At the doctor?
It pains me now that I met that declaration with a blank look. I didn’t know then what I know now: Learning to tap this essential life force, also written as qi, is crucial for top leaders. Achieving leadership greatness depends on the ability to draw on the energy at your core, in your center of wellbeing, with ease and skill.
This piece of wisdom, known for thousands of years in Eastern cultures, is still not integrated into the Western meaning of leadership mastery. You won’t likely find “balancing your chi” in your MBA curriculum, but it should be there.
Your ‘Center’ Brings You Vitality, Not Just Calm
Since that week with Doug in South Korea 25 years ago, I have investigated life force energy as it pertains to leadership performance and fulfillment. It is so significant that it became a central dimension of the leadership theories I outline in “Winning from Within.” It is fundamental to the map of who we are.
In the “Winning From Within” system, we each have a center of wellbeing. This center is where we find our essential life force, our essence.
I teach and write often about the qualities of calm and inner peace you can harness by connecting to your center of wellbeing when stress overtakes you, but there’s more to your center than relaxation.
Your center of wellbeing is a source of dynamic balance between calming forces and activating ones. Our essence carries not only stillness but also the current of vitality. When we’re depleted, this energy of aliveness can flip the switch that gets us off the couch.
When daunting business challenges pile up, we can get strength and resilience from both energies in our core, restoring our equilibrium. Once you reach that balance, you can project the qualities of executive presence, agility, and centeredness to your organization and to all the people who depend on your leadership. That demonstration of life force will both energize and calm those around you.
Leading from a Place of Balanced Energy
Learning how to shift the energy of your core life force with intention and purpose will help you lead from a place of balance in which all your key attributes — rational, as well as emotional and intuitive, intelligence; competitiveness and collaboration; creativity along with practicality — can function in harmony.
We all understand that we need energy to convert one thing to another, to affect change. Mastery of your energy state is the sine qua non of the best leaders.
It takes energy to convert water into steam. A kickball resting at home base has potential energy until a child delivers the kick that launches the ball, and kinetic energy keeps the ball in motion until someone catches it.
Leaders need to manage and shift their energy to meet demands and opportunities every day. In addition to frameworks and tools, intelligence and capabilities, you have an inborn energy center. You have your essence. You have chi. This life force at your core can energize you or help you to catch your breath, depending on what you need at a given moment.
To bring our very best to what we aspire to accomplish, we must connect to our center of wellbeing and rebalance ourselves. It is time to become our own doctors of chi.