Survival to Thrival - The 12 Principles of 21st Century Leadership
Survival to Thrival - 21st Century Leadership

In my lifetime I have encountered good and bad leadership both directly and indirectly. I have seen how as humanity we seem to make the same mistakes over and over, in an ever repeating cycle, failing to learn from the mistakes of the past. I have also been in leadership positions myself and seen first-hand the impact seemingly small changes can have on a large group. I became fascinated by the topic of leadership and delved deeper into the understanding of it, looking at the great inspirational political leaders such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, as well as those in business, the arts and sciences such as Jack Welch, Steve Jobs and Benjamin Zander.

All leaders who had the foresight and vision to look beyond creating a world to satisfy the mere basic human instinct of surviving to a world of thriving. From that combination of research and experience I created a set of 12 fundamental principles of leadership that I believe is necessary to take humanity forward in this new 21st century with its increasing set of challenges and beyond.

The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.
- Rollo May

Principle 1 – Warrior Leadership

To the average person the term warrior conjures up an image of the aggressive, fierce and combative. Yet this is only a very shallow perspective, the external, superficial view, a view that in Japanese is known as “Omote” - that which is seen by casual, uninformed observation. If, however, we take a “leadership perspective”, i.e. looking through the shallows to the deeper meaning, the deeper objective, the “Ura”, the inside or internal reality is quite different.

Warriors, true warriors, are not fighters because they enjoy fighting, their fight is a means to an end. They may be strong, courageous and “fearless”, but they are not fighting for survival, they are not that shallow, they are looking through that shallowness, looking beyond survival and fighting for “Thrival”.

“Thrival” is that place, that state, beyond survival, where survival is a given, a place where everyone is safe and secure and can enjoy what lies beyond. Thrival is a place of peace, harmony, tranquillity, compassion, creativity, spirituality, a place that has no need of fear. A place of wisdom where people can really develop, grow and shine, a place where people can work together in harmony, a place where people are not held back by fear and competition, and real progress can be made.

Warrior Leadership

One of the classic visions of a warrior is that of the Japanese Samurai, fearless warriors with high ideals and high standards. They had a strict code of conduct most commonly referred to in modern times as Bushido. Yet what the samurai most enjoyed was their love of the arts, arts that were developed and elevated to a very high degree in Japanese culture, particularly throughout their warring history - music, calligraphy, theatre, flower arranging and the tea ceremony to name just a few. These were the ideals that they were fighting for, for these constituted their concept of “Thrival”.

The downside of the samurai culture was that it was highly class orientated where there was a hierarchy of “ownership” of the class below them. Even the samurai belonged to their lords, and anyone below the status of samurai was effectively a slave. However most were, apparently, reasonably well looked after by their respective lords and masters, for at the heart of the warrior culture is courage, integrity and respect for others.

The path of the true warrior is not one of violence, but one of peace, compassion and understanding. Understanding the heartache, misery and devastation that conflict causes and avoiding it whenever possible. Understanding that real positive change comes through collaboration - from working together towards a common goal - and compassion creates the opportunity for that change. Understanding that the real fight is with oneself, against the uprising of selfishness, greed and arrogance (which history shows is the downfall of all great civilisations, and has been demonstrated as a reminder so clearly to us in the beginning of the 21st century). Understanding that true strength lies in the discipline of humility, one of the major traits of leadership (there is no “I” in “Leader”). A warrior has the courage to go against the flow when necessary and take on the tough challenges.

A warrior’s aim is to develop one’s self and to hone one’s skills, to perfect oneself and one’s art if you will. But this is not done for personal glorification and gain, it is not about what one can get from it, but for what one can give from it. The purpose is to maximise one’s ability to contribute, and if necessary be prepared to sacrifice oneself for the chosen cause or path.

Being a warrior is not just something one does on weekends for fun, as with true adherence to the martial arts, it is a way of life. So too with leadership, it is not something one does, it is something one is.

Ueshiba Morihei, credited as being the founder of the martial art Aikido, “the way of harmony”, had the belief that the intensity and single-minded determination of the warrior must be channelled toward the higher purpose of, “the restoration of harmony, the preservation of peace, and the nurturing of all beings”, and that “Aiki is not an art for defeating others, it is for the unification of the world and the gathering of all races into one family.” The motto of Aikido is “Masakatsu Akatsu” - “By acting in accordance with the truth we always emerge victorious”. Certainly a set of principles that must be the ultimate aspiration of all leaders.

Inside the warrior, their “ura”, is a way of life, a journey towards dignity, courage, integrity, respect for oneself and others, and a path exemplifying it which is moral and good and beautiful. The warrior has compassion, empathy, wisdom and understanding. They seek to achieve “Wa” – social harmony – and the creation of an enlightened society.

The Tibetan word for Warrior is Pawo which literally means “one who is brave”.  In the wider context this also means not being afraid of yourself, not being afraid of who you are. Not being afraid of your objectives, the achievement and consequences of those objectives and comparison of and judgement by others. Through their training the warrior learns to understand self and to let go of self. Our conscious thoughts, and particularly conscious thoughts of self get in the way of real achievement. We cannot fully commit whilst we create all manner of worries and illusions in our head, thoughts such as “can I Do this?”, “am I good enough?”, “what are others thinking about me?”, “does my bum look big in this?”. To fully commit the warrior leans to put self and self-consciousness aside to allow full 100% focus on the task in hand.

An example of this ethic is given by Yasuhiro Yamashita, a remarkable judo champion who during his years of competition had a record of 528 wins, 15 loses and 15 draws. He told reporters once that just before each tournament he would take a bath and in the weeks before the event he would keep his surroundings and affairs neat and well ordered so that he wouldn’t be ashamed even if he should die during a match. By managing his “self” he could fully commit to the match and have no cause for hesitation or indecisiveness. A true warrior indeed.

True martial arts, and the warrior ethic, is not about competition, but about self-development. The "target" is not the opponent it is one's self, and the defeat of one's lesser self. So too in the wider world, the era of Competition is a thing of the past, the future is in Collaboration. Great leadership, warrior leadership, is necessary to make the changes required in the world happen now. Mutual gain and positive relationships are the best form of advancement.

Warrior leadership is about having the vision, passion, focus and courage to do what is right, to look at the past and learn from it.

Warrior leadership is about using the sword of wisdom rather than just knowledge, looking past the goal of Survival to that of Thrival.

Note 1: Whilst the term “Fearlessness” is often used to denote courage, true courage is feeling the fear and doing what needs to be done anyway. What courage is there in doing something we are not fearful of? We are fearless when we have nothing to lose. Courage is where we have everything (we hold dear) to lose, but take the risk due to the potential higher, usually selfless, gain.


I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
- Nelson Mandela

Principle 2: Leaders are Made not Born

Leaders are Made not Born

The most important element in the development of leaders is the principles experienced and/or instilled in them during their early years, irrespective of class.

These principles may be inspired by either their determination to bring themselves and their families out of the poverty trap; from those better off having empathy for, and a desire to help, those worse off than themselves; or those with a vision of a potential future and working towards it through technology or other means.

Physical characteristics help but are not essential. The ideal of the tall, slim male with a good head of hair and deep voice is rarely met in most prominent leaders. The average fit is around 75% of the ideal. With leaders such as Winston Churchill and Ghandi in particular bucking the trend.

Essentially anyone can be a leader. The main requirement is having the commitment, energy, strength, passion, and focus to create change.

Principle 3: Its not what you have that counts

Its not what you have that counts

There is a common misconception that people are motivated by money, and we go to work to earn money. Whilst correct to a degree it is nevertheless a superficial view missing the main point. Looking deeper it would be correct to say that on one level we are earning security, and, if that is covered, more choice, freedom and responsibility. Through these we are earning our true ultimate goal - respect.

Contributing to others, to society and our community gives a far bigger reward than any material goods ever can, and it does not suffer from Hedonic Adaptation, indeed, the benefit of generating goodwill can last indefinitely.

Real genuine happiness and contentment have their foundations in giving, and it does not have to be money.

We can give of our time, our skills, our wisdom, our love, our respect, even just our attention. These are far more important than money ever could be and we all have them to one degree or another. These are the foundations of true success, and happiness.

The job of a leader is to provide opportunity through the provision of a real sense of purpose and an environment that is fully conducive to gaining wisdom and respect. By recognizing that it is not what we have that counts, but what we give.

Principle 4: Striving for Failure

Striving for Failure

One of the primary contributors to humans becoming the most successful species on our planet is our ability to learn from trial and error. Our attitude to failure has enabled us to develop, becoming successful through the power of our brain instead of brawn, with our ability to adapt to change being a true strength. If we are afraid of failing then we close down that creativity and our development.

If we are not failing frequently, we are not pushing hard enough, and not learning enough.

There is no such thing as failure if we look at everything as a learning opportunity.

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
Robert F. Kennedy

"The way to succeed is to double your failure rate."
Thomas Watson, Founder of IBM

"Give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself."
Robert Louis Stevenson

Principle 5: Competition is what happens in the absence of leadership

Competition is what happens in the absence of leadership

Competition in the market place brings choice to the consumer, without it perhaps we would have monopolies with bland products at sky high prices. If there was true, real leadership in place, that need not be so. Competition has traditionally been considered to be the primary driver for progress, the thought that "We want to be better than them". Yet most of the major developments throughout history come not from competition, but from collaboration.

In competition the judgement of current status is based on comparison to the status of others who may have different objectives and principles and are on a different journey to ourselves.

Competition only becomes the primary driver in the absence of leadership, for with true leadership the thought "We want to be better than them" becomes simply "We want to be better". The strive for self driven improvement and excellence should be led from the front rather than a drive for improvement pushed (at best) from behind by others, or at worst being led by the nose by the leadership of others down their path rather than our own, for then we become followers.

Principle 6: Social Bridges

Social Bridges

The social nature of humans is another primary contributor to the success of our species. The reason we have large brains is to support that social requirement.

We work together within social groups or tribes through shared interests, those interests becoming our social "glue". One of the functions of the leader within a tribe is to keep that social glue strong, checking for weak points and re-inforcing as necessary. The leader therefore is the "social" leader with greater social powers, and through this they also become social "bridges" developing and creating networks linking tribes together. As leaders link together through their bridges, so they create tribal networks - communities of a tribal collective.

Principle 7: The State of our Health, Wealth & Happiness is entirely our own choice

The State of our Health, Wealth & Happiness is entirely our own choice

It is easy to excuse the bad elements of our state of health, wealth and happiness on our parents, teachers, genes, circumstances, god or any other external influence. But as adults the responsibility for all of these ultimately comes down to us and our choices, past and present.

The upside of this is that our future starts now, we have the capacity to change. That future depends on the choices we make now. If there is one thing fixed about life it is that it is in constant change. We have the choice to take control of that change or to be controlled by it, to let "destiny" take its course.

As leaders it is our responsibility to take the reins of those choices, creating the future of our choice.

Principle 8: Its not What you do, but How you do what you do

Its not What you do, but How you do what you do

Satisfaction and respect come not just from the level of achievement, but the method of that achievement. The greater the effort/sacrifice, the greater the satisfaction and respect generated by the achievement. Even if we did our utmost and failed we can still gain satisfaction and respect from the effort.

Whether the task be complicated or mundane we gain satisfaction through doing the right thing and doing the thing right, through our innovation and creativity. We get little or no satisfaction from cheating or shoddy workmanship. Real achievement comes from fully applying ourselves and doing our best.

The Leadership Map is a comprehensive view of the qualities required for How to apply good leadership. All of these qualities can be learned, re-learned or re-programmed. Nothing about our character or personality has to be fixed in stone, we are changeable. Our current character and personality has been determined by our parenting, schooling, training, our life experiences to date and the beliefs we have formed from all of those. Whilst we cannot change the past we can change the effect it has on us and the learnings and beliefs we take from it.

The Leadership Map is the ultimate mix of qualities we should be aspiring to in order to maximise our leadership effectiveness, not What to lead, but How to lead.

Principle 9: Energy Masters

Energy Masters

We are increasingly aware of the importance of energy, particularly as it becomes a scarcer resource in the world today, but the energy that the Energy Master controls is a different kind of energy. Energy Masters control the energy of groups of people, however large or small. Like the conductor of an orchestra, pulling all of the various elements together into one harmonious whole, giving it life, soul and meaning. Leading not only the orchestra but the audience, together, taking a piece of music and navigating through it on a journey to their own vision of what it means and where it should go.

Leaders, as Energy Masters, control the energy of their group, uniting them into a dynamic, coherent team, pulling them together along one path, the path the leader has created through their vision.

Through sharing and utilising their own Wisdom the Energy Master engages through their Charisma, having the confidence in their vision and abilities, harnessing the energy of all involved into one cohesive organism, letting go of their individuality to move and feel as one unit like a shoal of fish or a flock of starlings, moving in complete synchrony. The Energy Master controlling, direction, flow and force, engaging all within their radiating influence.

Principle 10: Changing from the Inside

Changing from the Inside

Whenever there is something wrong with us, physically, mentally or even spiritually, we may go to see someone to help us, someone who we believe can change our state of being. Change from being hurt, lost, lonely, broken, dis-eased, or heading down the wrong path. Whatever the cause we seek change, change to become fully functional healthy beings again. Those that we seek help from may give us drugs, therapy, advice, training, knowledge, wisdom, even surgery. But whilst these people can give us all of these things, the actual work, the “healing” process, the learning is, and can only be done, by us. Surgery may assist in the repair of a broken leg by putting things in place for the real repair to begin, but the actual repair is done by us. A therapist may do “emotional surgery” on our mind, but the actual repair is done by us. A teacher may give us knowledge, but the actual learning, through acceptance, and understanding, is done by us. You can lead a horse to water….

The necessity for change may be highlighted by negative “motivators”, things we wish to move away from: hurt; ignorance; emptiness; weakness; doubt; sadness, all states of “lack”, but change cannot be effected without something to fill that “void” or “lack”. To make change actually happen we need positive “motivators” to move towards, such as: health; wealth; knowledge; wisdom; fulfilment; happiness, to fill the void of “lack”. i.e., we have a strong desire for a more positive and healthy state of being.

External influence may bring the negative motivators to our attention. We may be provided with information and help from external sources, to effect any changes deemed necessary, but unless we are willing to make use of it, that help and information will be useless. The responsibility for our own state of being, our core health, whether as an individual or an organisation falls fairly and squarely with us, it is our choice.

To effect change on and individual or an organisation it has to come from within.

Principle 11: Rules - What Rules?

"In the beginners mind there are only possibilities, in the experts mind there are few."

- Shunryu Suzuki

Changing from the Inside

Leadership is about change, about providing opportunity for change, growth and development, about doing things differently. To Leaders, the rules of others apply to others, not to them. Leaders are looking for a new world to inhabit with new rules and new modes of operation.

In this quest, whilst existing rules may help to guide, they can be a block or blinkers to the full realm of potential and possibilities that are open to us, all of us. Those rules may be as much in our head as any real, concrete rule laid down in stone, or at least in writing on paper, or even implied rules.

Those rules in our head are our beliefs, and it takes as much, if not more, strength and courage to challenge those beliefs as any written, established beliefs. To look beyond them and accept that there are other options and possibilities, even more strength and courage to be willing to explore those other options and possibilities, to seek them out, and try them on.

We need rules to bring order to chaos, for society and our various “tribes” to operate. To give credence, clarity and security to the changes we aspire to make and to follow. But, it is necessary to continuously challenge the rules and beliefs to the day if we wish to evolve and develop as individuals, as cultures, and as humanity.

Leaders throughout the ages have fought to break and make new rules, often at the expense of their own livelihood and even lives. A few example of such are:

  • Abraham Lincoln and slavery
  • Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement
  • Emily Pankhurst and the Suffragettes

But probably more frequently are the examples in the sciences such as Galileo and his views on Heliocentrism, and in the field of medicine in particular such as Ignaz Semmelweis attempting to introduce the now seemingly obvious practice of washing hands between carving up dead bodies and delivering babies.

In all of these examples those concerned suffered either with their livelihood or with their lives, or both, for they strive to change the rules of the day. These are just a tiny, miniscule example of the courage, vision, intelligence and foresight of those leaders that have dared to see past and break existing rules in the quest to create new ones, using what Jack Welch (former CEO of G.E.) calls “Boundarylessness”. Looking through and beyond the superficial (Omote) and the established to a new, better, brighter future (Ura).

Whilst I am not one for condoning breaking the rules of law, in many cases the change required has necessitated doing so, particularly in the cases outlined above with the Civil Rights Movement and the Suffragettes, and many others like them.

Leaders are frustrated by the retort of followers: “We have always done it this way”. It takes the courage of a warrior to go against established practice to achieve a goal that is ultimately right, good and true.

The difference between Leadership and Management is that Leaders create the environment and rules in which we work, Management administers the rules in which we work. Or as Steven Covey describes it, Leaders create the paradigm, followers work within that paradigm.

Principle 12: Next Level Thinking

Next Level Thinking

Without goals and objectives, we are either at a standstill, going round in circles or the journey we are on is not our own. Clearly defined objectives are vital, and just as important that those objectives are our objectives, and that the direction of them is externally focused not internally focused.

There is a time for thinking, for creativity, goal setting and planning and there is a time for doing. Once we have determined our objectives and the path to achieving them we must let go of them, thereby enabling us to maximise our chances of achieving them, by focusing and immersing ourselves in the journey to them.

It is striking the right balance in this confusing dichotomy between committing ourselves to our objectives by letting them, and the outcomes of our journey, go, in order to maximise our chances of achieving them that is at the heart of much Eastern philosophy such as Zen and Taoism.

There is a Japanese phrase "mono o mirume" which in normal everyday parlance means "to look at things", yet it also has a deeper meaning, particularly in the martial arts where it means "to look into things", meaning looking beyond the surface or the superficial, taking time to understand the deeper meaning and significance. Michaelangelo used to practice this when looking at a piece of stone he could "see" the sculpture inside waiting to be revealed.

Leaders look through the surface to the "Next Level".

The Principles of Next Level Thinking consist of:

  • Raising the floor
  • Never leave a vacuum
  • Provider mind-set
The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.
- Ronald Reagan

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