Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a leader? Are leaders born, bred or brewed? Does it take a certain personality style, environment, or natural talent to lead? What’s led to the crisis of leadership that we see today? I woke up early this morning pondering these questions.
I’d recently finished reading an eBook called “The LeadChange Revolution,” which documents the insights and commitments of a small group of people who attended a leadership unconference earlier this year, the Leader Palooza. I found it inspiring, encouraging, and engaging. But I was left with a big question burning in my mind… Why are there so few character-based leaders out there? In my decades spent in and around corporate America, the majority of the leaders I’ve encountered are driven by the bottom line; profits matter more than people, no matter what they say.
The Lead Change Group is dedicated to applying character-based leadership to make a difference. They are committed to supporting one another and holding one another accountable. They seek to inspire others to be better; to raise the bar a notch higher than they’d held it before. When I read this section of the eBook, I have to admit, I thought immediately of a passage in Exodus 17, when the Amalekites attacked Israel at Rephidim. While Joshua fought the battle, Moses watched over it with the staff of God in his hands.
11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
Moses had led his people with character and strength, despite the fact that he was not a confident or charismatic man. He was not born a leader. He was thrust into that position. He had to be taught (in this case, by God himself) how to lead. Yet, he inspired the people around him and engaged them in his efforts. Joshua fought for him, while Aaron and Hur supported him, literally!
Now, some individuals are born with the natural talents and abilities that make it easy for them to become leaders. People naturally gravitate to them due to their out-going personalities, dynamic people skills, etc. But does that mean the rest of us can’t be leaders? Not at all!
As a martial artist, I watch children who are being taught character-based leadership skills, and I love being a part of it. I purposefully participate in the “junior classes” for two reasons. I can serve as a role model to show what’s expected of the kids in class; but more importantly, I get to help shape the way they view the world and interact with other people. We teach them the skills they need to be the future generation of character-based leaders.
They learn respect for others and humility for themselves. Senior belts (individuals with a higher rank) are shown respect by bowing to them and thanking them for their instruction. They are addressed as “sir” or “ma’am” as appropriate, and the senior belts bow and respond in kind to show their own humility. They know that they are no better than anyone else in the room.
They learn self-discipline by pushing their minds and bodies beyond the point where they are inclined to give up. The kids are taught to value truth and honesty by not short-changing themselves or others. 100 jumping jacks are 100 jumping jacks; not 90 or 95. Once you learn to obey authority, then you earn the right to exert it yourself; not before.
The perseverance this requires eventually instills a confidence that wasn’t there before. They learn that they are capable of more than they imagined, just as we all are. But they also learn that they’re not going to get everything right all the time, and that it’s alright to make mistakes. Failure is an important part of the learning process, and they learn to embrace it rather than being ashamed of it.
They learn proper goal-setting, as they understand what’s required of them in order to advance to the next rank. They learn to take large goals (earning a black belt) and break them down into smaller, more manageable milestones (advance to the next belt level) with distinct and specific actions (master the next technique).
They learn to recognize and deal with bullies so that they are prepared to face conflict in their lives. One of our teacher’s favorite saying is that “bullies are people with problems,” and you’ll encounter them at every age and in every environment. Even grown-ups face bullies sometimes in the form of unreasonable bosses, demanding clients, and irritable colleagues. The kids learn techniques for disarming the situation, so that they are not brought down by the hostile actions of others.
Best of all, the kids sense that they are part of a close-knit community. It doesn’t matter where they go, whenever they meet another martial artist there is an immediate and undeniable bond that exists. The world no longer revolves around them. They see and learn that they are part of a much larger whole that is happy to have them there.
In “The LeadChange Revolution,” Susan Mazza communicated the desire to be a “real” leader, and that she’d gained a new appreciation of what that meant. Real leadership is Respectful, Ethical, Accountable and Loving, and it takes someone with strength of character to be a “real” leader. But anyone is capable of becoming a character-based leader. They’re not a special breed, set apart. They are brewed in the coffee grounds of life, making choices and decisions that are infused with integrity, a desire to be more than they already are, and a passion to inspire others. Are you ready to raise the bar?