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Kung Fu for Business

Recently here at Optimize we were thinking about business philosophy and the links to leadership and organizational culture. I’m not sure too many of us spend a lot of time thinking about our business philosophy – for many it is an innate thing but as consultants we do come across a number of different philosophies. Some are hierarchical and based around command and control and at the other end of the scale we see more organic philosophies where structure and control systems are fluid. We are not saying any of these philosophies are right or wrong – suitability depends on many factors.

What prompted our musing about Kung Fu for business was our discovery of a news report about the Shaolin Temple, the Buddhist monastery in China well-known for its martial arts. In the article a monk addressed a common misunderstanding: “Many people have a misconception that martial arts is about fighting and killing,” he said, “It is actually about improving your wisdom and intelligence.”

Now improving wisdom and intelligence seems like a good goal for the business leader so we dug a bit further into what all this could mean. Apparently any ability resulting from practice and cultivation could accurately be said to embody Kung Fu. There is a Kung Fu of dancing, painting, cooking, writing, acting, making good judgments, dealing with people, even governing. During the Song and Ming dynasties in China, the term Kung Fu was widely used to describe the art of living one’s life in general, and they all unequivocally spoke of their teachings as different schools of Kung Fu.

Whilst we may not be a Jet Li or Bruce Lee, this kind of philosophy as applied to business leadership began to enable us to recognize that what we do as Management Consultants could be described as Kung Fu for business – quite a bit more ‘exotic’ we thought.

Let us explain further. The lack of clear definitions of key terms and the absence of linear arguments in classic Chinese texts can turn people off – not unlike some of the many management textbooks that adorn large sections of our local bookstore. This however should not be considered a failing, but rather a requirement of the Kung Fu philosophy — not unlike the way that learning how to ride a bicycle requires the individual to focus on practice and not on conceptual understanding. Only by going beyond conceptual descriptions of reality can we open up to the intelligence and wisdom required to become a great leader.

This is at the very core of effective Management Consulting. Many clients that we work with have no trouble grasping the issues or potential solutions at a conceptual level and for many consulting firms this is where the relationship ends. The truly effective consultant works with the client to embed those conceptual understandings, turn them into practical application and stands alongside the client as ongoing practice turns the application of those concepts into results.

No one can pick up a book on Kung Fu and become the next Bruce Lee. Whilst the words and pictures might explain the concepts, stances and defensive maneuvers, it is only many years of practice that ultimately delivers the Kung Fu master. This is the same for leadership. Reading a book will enlighten you to the concepts but the practice is what will make it all become real.

If you find yourself in that world of having understood the concepts but have no clear idea how to put it into practice, consider enlisting the services of a leadership coach who can help guide you and provide practical, tangible demonstrations on making it real.

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