My best boss has never entered the corporate world, where I have worked for almost twenty years. This person was my Sabumni, my chief instructor at the taekwondo school, where I trained for five years. In my daily work, I have never worked in a formal leadership role. I didn’t even want to, but my Sabumnin made me a strong leader before I wrapped a black belt around my waist.
How do martial arts parallel corporate leadership?
One of the biggest mistakes companies make, whether in the corporate, healthcare, manufacturing or other industries, is not teaching leadership skills until people are involved. By then, it may be too late and the new leader is having problems or even failing in his job. Employees are often “rewarded” for being good individual contributors by moving into managerial roles. In fact, leading others requires a different set of skills. The best nurse at the bedside is not necessarily the best department head. Likewise, the most talented red belt may fail to guide the black belt if it is not prepared in advance. As martial arts leaders and instructors, we should start adjusting leaders long before they become black belts.
My Sabumnim started giving me more responsibility and placed higher expectations about a year before I tested for the black belt. As a result, my transition from “student only” to “assistant instructor” was much smoother than if I had no experience teaching or coaching. He started with small tasks, such as asking me to lead a group in form training or to decide sparring.
As I continued to work on my fitness, sparring, forms, and self-defense skills, I devoted the same amount of time to training my coaching and teaching skills. I even trained students in tournament sparring before testing on the black belt. By the time I left the dojang like a second-grade black belt, I was confidently teaching entire classes, training in several tournaments, and leading black belt testing.
I recently had an interview with my former master about his ideas for developing leadership in the ranks of colored belts. His first answer was that he was looking for people who were constantly working on themselves and growing. Emotional maturity was as important as technical skills.
He offered some tips for instructors looking for ways to grow and train future leaders:
- Start small. Give senior students (generally intermediate to advanced, such as the blue belt in traditional taekwondo) a simple task, such as counting through a form.
- A more advanced task would be to guide lower class students in their form. Which an advanced one should remember from his previous ranks.
- An even more advanced task for a student who has proven to be trustworthy is to learn and New form for lower class students. You may need to give the student some instructions on how and what to fix (eg do not overwhelm other students with corrections, but do not overlook big mistakes). Prepare them for success by modeling how to teach.
- Partner exercises, such as one-step sparring, can help students get used to simple commands.
- An older, mature student can decide on short sparring. Make sure they know the correct commands and can listen to you as the lead instructor (eg you have to end a lesson or quit matches) and also keep a safe eye on the students they are monitoring.
- Students can also be equal leaders. Have well-built advanced students work together on forms and self-defense with minimal supervision. Tell them to help each other train the proper movements. Being a good leader means being a good partner.
- If the student proves that working with individuals and small groups suits him, let them lead a short part of the lesson. A great and easy way to do this is to let them warm up. If they seem particularly nervous, praise them (and make sure other students answer “Yes, sir!” Or “Yes, ma’am!”) And give them some advice on what to do, such as jumping, pushing. stretching, stretching, etc.
My Sabumnim left me the last thought of caring for the leader. “They must be able to lead themselves before others lead.” As caring, responsible instructors and trainers, we must constantly look for these qualities in our students. To help them build the confidence they need to perform well and share their skills with others. Strong leaders create a strong martial arts community.