Dojo Life: Leadership
One thing you learn when preparing for your black belt test is who you can rely on. Your ukes teach you what you need to know technically as you get closer to the test date and that’s wonderful—but mine taught me more by what they did than by anything they told me. They demonstrated over the increasingly pressurized months of training a fierce loyalty to the goal, an unshakeable belief in my ability to get through it, and above all, leadership. So that got me thinking: what the heck is a leader? How is a leader different from just another guy on the team? My team consistently demonstrated what leadership in action means. Leaders know their job. They are very clear about where their job begins and ends, and how it works. They demonstrate that they know what they are doing by their actions, and their actions are consistent. On the mat, that means a leader has technical skills, and understands what to do and why. Of course my ukes were wonderful this way. You might think that would make a leader, but it’s only the beginning. Leaders follow through. When they say they’ll be at a place, at a time, they show up prepared and ready to go. And if there is an unavoidable problem, they let you know early so you can reschedule with as little stress as possible. (This was especially vital for me as I got closer to test day.) When my ukes showed up for me time and again, I trusted them to have my back during the test. And they did! Leaders do what’s needed without being asked, on and off the mat. This includes taking charge when necessary. One thing my ukes did was to insist that we plan out a training pre-schedule before we even started. We were organized from the beginning. That reassured me that they knew what to do, and I could count on them. They didn’t offer times that they couldn’t manage, but they gave me enough information that I could go ahead confident in the knowledge that we had a plan in place, and we could adjust as needed. Leaders say what’s needed without unkindness. This was so important, especially when I was being corrected, or was fumbling over something I knew. I started out very insecure, but my ukes consistently reminded me that I could do it. At the beginning, I didn’t believe them, but by the time I actually went up, I was very clear that I could do whatever it took to get through that test. Leaders lead by example and by attitude. My ukes have very different personal styles, but both are very self-confident on the mat. They aren’t afraid to tackle something new, and since we were working with a new belt list, they were both willing to walk through it and work through it step by step. No complaints, just thoughtful consideration of each new twist. Their calm confidence that it was all doable made it possible for me to get through it all and to be the first one to demonstrate the new list to the public. Teachers Should Be Leaders, Leaders Are Always Teachers. My ukes were my teachers. During my belt test preparation, they taught me by example what it takes and how to be a sensei. They demonstrated to me not just enthusiasm and care, but also the heart, discipline, and skills leaders need to convince others to trust them. I am profoundly grateful for my team and now my job is to consistently demonstrate what they taught me.