Train Your Black Belts

Dave Rosenberg breaking boards in a martial art studio

I had a nice homecoming this weekend and it served as a powerful reminder of something that has come up several times for me of late.

It started when I was invited to sit on the board for the annual test for black belts at Poway Kenpo Karate as I have been every year since I obtained my black belt there in July 2006.  I actively taught and trained there until about 10-years ago, and sat on many boards during that time.  They’ve continued to invite me every year since and every year I’ve thought about attending and didn’t.  This year was different.

When you work and sweat with people in pursuit of a goal, especially one that requires a high degree of trust in others as you put your very safety in their hands, it creates a powerful bond.  We refer to ourselves as a karate family and like all families, it goes back generations.

After the actual test, we were sitting around having our customary post-test pizza while our newly minted black belts celebrated with their friends and blood families.  At one point I sat down next to Mr. B, the founder of the school.  He is now retired and his daughter runs it.  However, he is still involved and heads the test board.  He started the school 37-years ago while working elsewhere and built it to be one of the pre-eminent schools in San Diego as well as being one of the top schools in the nation for our style.  Over the years, he watched many of his students literally grow up at the school.

Your Words Have Impact

I remarked to Mr. B how lucky he is because he frequently gets to see the results of his efforts.  He has always had a strong children’s program.  Inevitably, parents send their kids to karate to help them learn discipline and focus.  Those kids who stick with it and obtain their black belt invariably do well in life.  Over 37-years he has seen his karate kids grow into adulthood and make something of themselves.  Three of the black belts who tested had started as kids.  Each tested for an advance rank, one for third degree, one for fourth degree and one for sixth degree.  All are awesome people doing amazing things with their lives.

As leaders, we frequently have the same results as Mr. B.  People we nurture and train, people we interact with and touch, take those interactions to heart and make something amazing of themselves.  However, unlike Mr. B, we aren’t always blessed with seeing how those interactions unfold, take root, and grow.  In fact, more times than not, we have no idea how we affect others.

I was reminded of this when one of my clients received this feedback after a conversation with one of their team members:

“I am grateful for the resources and despite feeling a little overwhelmed at times (I know we’re getting there!), am really thankful to be able to work with you all. I have to say, I feel 1000x more appreciated than I did at my last job. And you guys have a really great attitude and willingness to grow.”

The conversation was a quick, here’s how to do something conversation that followed the guidelines I provide on giving feedback.

This reminded me of the central story of my keynote.  A story about a time I had to counsel a sailor that ends with the sailor meeting my father 9-months later and crediting me with saving his career.  Had he not made the off-hand remark to my father, I would have had no idea of the impact I had on him.

When I talk to audience members who have heard me speak, I am frequently surprised by what resonates with them.  It is usually NOT the key points I think I’m making.  It is almost always something I said either off the cuff (I speak extemporaneously and tailor my remarks to my audience) to support a point.

Leadership Is Not Just A Role

While the most of us in leadership roles may not have the opportunity to receive this kind of feedback, it doesn’t mean our impact is any less.  We never know what off-hand remark someone will find impactful.  Of course, that impact could be perceived both positively or negatively.

No matter how seemingly inconsequential an interaction may seem to us, to the other person it could have a dramatic, powerful, and life changing effect.  WE ALL have the opportunity to be a leader, irrespective of our position or authority in the interaction.  Every word we say may impact someone in ways unimaginable.  Take every opportunity to be uplifting and caring even when you may not believe the other person is worthy.  It is as much about how you show up as it is about how they receive you.

Be the leader you were born to be and train everyone you meet to be a black belt.


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