What Can Japanese Swordsmiths Teach Us About Leadership Capacity?

Sword smiths in Japan

The process of developing leadership capacity and character has parallels with the forging of a Katana, the sword of the Samurai.

Aesthetically beautiful and skilfully engineered, the Katana is forged in fire by 15 Japanese master sword-smiths over a period of 6 months.

Crafted from two types of steel, the finished blade is a perfect meld of balance, shape and strength. The quality of the metal is improved by melting it, removing impurities and beating it into the shape.

The development of a leader’s capacity – their leadership qualities – is created from learning experiences that involve a level of discomfort, what leadership development researcher, Nick Petrie terms a ‘heat experience’.

When presented with a ‘heat experience’, a leader’s patterns of habitual thinking are disrupted and disoriented and their mental models are significantly challenged into being reshaped by new, alternative world views.

Core assumptions, ways of thinking and ways of behaving are forced into developing and adapting in the context in which the leader now finds him or herself.

The leadership gap between what is now required of the leader versus their ability to demonstrate cognitive and emotional agility begins to close as leaders integrate old assumptions and patterns of thinking into the new.

A leader’s personal growth is forged through guided introspection and reflection often with the support of a coach to help them adapt to new ways of sense making of the rapidly changing world around them.

The leader eventually arrives at a more advanced worldview as new patterns of thinking are integrated and core assumptions are reconstituted . 

This episode of personal growth and development helps to activate required shift in the level of consciousness now needed to solve today’s problems, both Professor Bob Kegan and Albert Einstein refer to.

At the time of writing, we are all facing one or more of our own ‘heat experiences’ right now. New ways of thinking and being are being demanded of all of us to step forward into the future.

The discomfort we experience today will shape and expand our own worldview tomorrow.

What practical steps will you take today to advance your own worldview and thinking?

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