How Karate Can Build Your Leadership Skills!

Written by on September 25, 2009

Of all the benefits karate can bring to your life, I believe leadership is at the top of the list.  If you think about it, all of our life skills (such as discipline, respect, courtesy, goal-setting, honor, etc.) combine into a super-life skill called leadership.  And the best thing about these skills is that they can be learned.  Growing into a leader is the ultimate outcome of all of our programs.

There simply are NOT enough leaders in our society.  Most people wait for somebody else to take the lead.  Often, nobody does.  It takes somebody special to step up to create change – either on a large or small scale.  That person is called a leader.   Leaders change the world.

Becoming a Leader

But to change the world, you must first change yourself.  And that’s what I want to talk about: building your leadership skills.  By learning the secrets in this article, you’ll give yourself an almost unfair advantage not only at KARATE FOR KIDS, but also in the rest of your life.  This is true whether you’re an orange belt struggling with basic forms or a second-degree black belt who wants to become a certified instructor.  It doesn’t matter if your goals are big or small.  What does matter is your desire to lead.  With that in mind, here are eleven proven ways to hone your leadership skills and rocket your way to the top!  Let’s start with…

#1.)  Dare to Dream

Here’s the first big step in building your leadership skills: dream.  Leaders start with a vision of what is possible.  They look at the status quo and say to themselves, “Things could be better.  Things should be different.  And I can make a difference”.  Writer Robert Collier said, “See things as you would have them be instead of as they are”.

Don’t be afraid of dreaming big, bold dreams, either.  Successful leaders know it often just takes ONE person to rewrite the rules.   Yes, one person can make a difference, whether it’s just improving the life of one other person or spreading the word about Karate for Kids and helping achieve the grand vision of 1,000,000 active members!  So start with a lofty vision of how things SHOULD be.  By starting with a big vision, you’ll naturally attract others because most people want to belong to something bigger than they are.  Imagine how things could be in the future, then get others to see your vision of what’s possible.   Theodore M. Hesburgh said, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

#2.)  Set Goals

To be a leader, it’s not enough to have a big vision.  While that’s a great start, you also need to set goals to achieve that grand vision.  Why?  Because a vision without a plan is nothing more than a pipe-dream.  What separates the “wanna-be’s” from leaders is that leaders set goals and take action to achieve their dreams.  They commit to making a difference and LIVE that commitment.  They walk the talk, aren’t wishy-washy and know exactly where they’re going.  And people are naturally attracted to a person who knows where he or she is going.  So, chart a course, rally others behind you, put your blinders on and don’t let anything get in your way!  For example, if your goal is to become a certified instructor, involve others in that goal.  Have higher ranks critique your forms.  Ask other students to put in some extra time doing forms practice with you.  Get feedback from your instructors.  Make your goals public and unite others to help you achieve them.

#3.)  Learn How to Communicate

All effective leaders inspire and motivate others.  This takes good communication skills.  It’s one of the most important jobs of a leader.  Take this newsletter, for example.  Every month, I talk about our goals and our philosophy.  I also chronicle how we’re all growing together (eg. student of the month) and pass along lessons to think about.  But even more important, I also try to motivate you on sticking with your goals, working hard and achieving your dreams.  By honing your writing and public speaking skills, you can reach a larger audience and influence many more people than talking to one person at a time.  This takes time, but once you’re in the spotlight and not afraid to make your voice heard, you will magnetically draw others to you.

11 karate leadership points

11 karate leadership points

#4.)  Be Positive and Proactive

Nobody follows negative people.  Why not?  Because pessimists believe nothing is possible.  But as you know, one of the main jobs of a leader is inspiring others to do what is possible.  That’s why those with an open mind, a “can-do” attitude and a positive outlook attract followers in droves.  Try to see the positive in every situation.  Even bad events often bear the seed of something positive. The Chinese say, for example, that “when one door closes, another one opens”. When a negative or self-defeating thought occurs (which it does with all of us), think to yourself, “Is it a good idea to voice this negative thought?  How can I phrase this in a more positive way?” This, of course, is self-control.  Also, instead of talking in terms of a “problem”, phrase it as a “challenge”.   Thinking in a proactive way, seeing the positive in every situation and keeping negative thoughts at bay are all hallmarks of a leader.

#5.)  Appearance Counts

Let’s face it: people DO judge a book by its cover.  Leaders throughout the ages have kept this in mind.  In medieval Japan, for example, samurai were expected to set an example for “the lower classes” by the dignity of their appearance.  This set them apart as the warrior class and earned respect.  In our military, much care and attention is given to the cleanliness of uniforms, boots and living quarters.  Not only does a slovenly appearance turn others off, it also signals you lack self-discipline and self-respect.  So, as a leader in martial arts, make sure your uniform is clean at all times, that your weapons are in good shape (replace them if they’re worn-out) and your sparring gear is clean and safe.  When you’re in public, remember you represent our academy to the outside world; you’re an ambassador for all of us.  Put your best face forward.

#6.)  Invest in Others

Being a mentor is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of leadership.  Mentoring others means being available, offering help, giving advice, listening to other people’s goals and helping them overcome challenges.  Do what you can to take others under your wing and work with them on a one-on-one basis to help them grow as a martial artist as well as a person.  Leaders are the ones who want to make a difference not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of those around them.  So remember that as a leader, you’re also a role model.  Why?  Because you’re on stage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Other people watch you like a hawk.  This is why you always need to act with self-control, and set a good example for others to emulate.

#7.)  Develop People Skills

Leaders motivate, influence and work with others.  To do this requires people skills.  But not everybody is a born extrovert.  And not everybody possesses natural “charisma”.  If this sounds like you, don’t worry.  Some of the greatest leaders of all time were on the shy side at first and were thrust into a leadership role by world events (Gandhi comes to mind).  These leaders stepped up, improved their people skills and became comfortable in the spotlight.  If you have the drive to succeed as a leader, you’re halfway there.  Like all the other leadership skills, people skills and a more outgoing personality can be learned.  Besides, is it really charisma that creates a leader? Or is it the other way around?  In his best-selling book, Tribes, Seth Godin says, “I think most people have it upside down.  Being charismatic doesn’t make you a leader.  Being a leader makes you charismatic”. I agree.  First commit to being a leader and you’ll develop your charisma as you build your people skills.

#8.)  Take the Initiative

A leader goes beyond the call of duty.  For example, if a normal person sees that a job needs to get done, they usually just tell someone else about it.  Not leaders.  Nope.  Leaders tackle the task themselves and get the job done.   Here’s a simple example: let’s say you notice that the boards from the previous class did not get put away.  Instead of just walking right by them, you put them away yourself.  Even when facing a simple task like putting those boards away, a leader takes initiative and gets the job done.  Leaders are always ready to make a contribution, no matter how small, and leaders don’t wait for somebody else to take the reins and make things better.  Instead, they take action.

#9.)  Strive To Improve

“Today not possible, tomorrow possible” is a famous saying we’ve probably all heard many times from our Eternal Grandmaster H.U. Lee (talk about a leader and a visionary!).  His motto is even more true when you adopt the attitude of continual self-improvement.  Commit to getting just that little bit better each and every day.  Pick any one area of your life and say to yourself, “Today I’m going to get just a little bit better”. It could be anything: practicing your forms, improving your eating habits, speaking in front of groups, sparring, patience, academics, you name it.  Leaders know success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out and that the “secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine”.

#10.)  Be Humble

Great leaders are also humble.  They allow others to take the credit for a job well done and know how to make their followers look good.  This includes admitting mistakes.  Contrary to popular belief, admitting a mistake is not a sign of weakness.  Instead, it’s a sign of strength.    Admitting a mistake means you honor truth above being “right”.  True leaders take responsibility for their actions and allow their followers to take the glory.  Finally, (and most important)…

#11.)  Be a Great Follower

Here’s a famous maxim: “To be a good teacher, be a good student”. The same is true of leadership: You cannot lead others without first being a good follower. All leaders pay their dues by being loyal and respecting their mentors, instructors and teachers.  By doing so, you collect valuable advice and gain inside leadership secrets you can’t get anywhere else.  You learn as a follower.

Leaders do it first.  They build credibility with their followers because they walk the talk before they ask others to do so.  For example, you can’t ask others to be on time to class if you don’t get to class on time yourself.  Again, leaders do if first.  By being a loyal and respectful follower, you’ll gain respect and admiration from others.  Always respect your senior ranks and understand they put in the time, hard work and effort to earn to their position.  Do so and you’ll be rewarded with the respect of your juniors when you’re at the top!  Being a great follower is the biggest secret behind being a great leader.

Your Monthly Call to Action

We can all improve our leadership skills.   Chances are, you don’t possess all of these skills yet.  But you WILL.  All it takes is dedication and focus.  This month I want you to work hard on these leadership traits.  Follow my advice and you’ll soon find yourself at the head of the pack of your school, in your job as well as your community!

Bill Babin

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— Senior Master Babin

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