How Leadership Skills From Martial Arts Can Apply to Your Job

Blog Barista: Casey Herman | August 21, 2019 | Career Hacks | Brew time: 6 min

I expected to learn self-defense, how to perform specific strikes, discipline, and respect through Taekwondo, but as someone that had studied leadership theory as both an undergrad and graduate student, I did not expect to learn about leadership as much as I have from Taekwondo.

Victory Martial Arts, a Taekwondo school in Okemos, teaches life skills (essentially leadership skills) that include: respect, self-esteem, honesty, discipline, belief, and communication. I have taken away a lot of leadership lessons from Master Faett, a 6th degree black belt and director at Victory Martial Arts, and his team, but I want to share with you a few lessons from these life skills. Interestingly enough, I realized how applicable the leadership skills from Taekwondo have been as a developer. And so, I applied many of them to my role at KL&A.

Discovering Taekwondo

Before I get too far ahead, I would like to explain how I got started at Victory Martial Arts and why I was surprised by the leadership focus. My son has always been a smart kid, but he struggled at times with controlling his emotions, listening, and following directions. He always thought his way was best. That being said, my wife and I had discussed martial arts previously as a way to help guide him. But, I was always against the idea of enrolling him in martial arts. I practiced Taekwondo when I was about 10 years old. My experience wasn’t great at all and believe I had less confidence than when I started, so I didn’t want my son to have a similar experience. 

As fate would have it, we were walking around a local event where Victory Martial Arts had a booth with a spin-the-wheel game. Of course, my son wanted to spin the wheel like most kids. He actually ended up getting a free birthday party as a result. After we went in for a sample lesson (the prerequisite to sign-up for the birthday party) with Ms. Sims—one of the directors of Victory Martial Art—I had a change of mind, which was driven by my kids’ behavior after their initial and brief interaction with the studio. However, my son was hesitant to sign-up without me doing it with him. So, my son and I both signed up to do Taekwondo together. 

Within a month or so, we were invited to the leadership classes which primarily focused on the life skills taught by Master Faett. My son and I memorized the life skill definition (self-esteem at the time) and the eight pillars by repeating them consistently at home. 

Soon enough, my daughter also memorized the life skill definition with us, along with the 8 pillars: confidence, positive attitude, self-awareness, accountability, gratitude, generosity, humility, and forgiveness. During an evening class, she displayed these to Master Faett, after which he invited my wife and daughter to join our classes. At that point, Taekwondo became a family affair. 

Respect

The overall life skill that I was taught is that “respect is not just what we know, it’s what we do.” Respect is taught from the moment you arrive at Victory, quite literally. When we arrive, we bow at the door and greet everyone with “Hello, sir; Hello, ma’am.” Even when I was attending the Fit Camp 35 classes at the studio, I would still bow in and out. I have made a habit out of showing respect to others by addressing everyone by sir and ma’am.

Now, my colleagues that work with me know that I am rarely serious, I joke around a lot. And some of my jokes are both questionable in content and quality at best. However, I always strive to show respect whenever I can, especially at work.

People are more likely to respect others who also show respect to them. The mutual respect between people, especially between colleagues, helps to drive motivations that lead to better communication, teamwork, and project work ethic. By showing and giving respect, you can help to improve your work culture.

Punctuality 

I have always been a believer in the mantra, “if you are not early, you are late.” I get physically nervous when I am running late. However with internal meetings at work, this didn’t have the same effect. Prior to being involved at Victory, I noticed that I would start meetings late sometimes. A couple of my team members even pointed this out to me. I understood that I was undermining my team by my tardiness and I wanted to resolve it.

Once I started practicing at Victory, that all changed. During one of the life skills discussions, the concept of punctuality was brought up to the class. Oddly enough, it had a profound impact on my life. I began to reflect more on this aspect within my life, specifically in my position at KL&A. I realized that by not starting meetings promptly, I was not valuing my team’s time. Now, I strive to be on time—always.

You see how these life skills are all connected? Not only is punctuality the professional expectation, but it is also respectful to your colleagues and clients. Their time is valuable.

Gratitude 

Another lesson I learned from Taekwondo, always show your gratitude when you can. After hearing Master Faett on multiple occasions say, “anything done right is my team’s fault and anything done wrong is my fault,” I realized my team is the root of all of our successes.

At first, I thought this sounded, for lack of a better word, harsh. However, whenever I had a success it is because my team earned that success. Whenever there is a failure, it is because I did not provide them with what they needed to make it a success. Now, contrary to popular belief, I am not crazy enough to believe this is always true. There are times when individuals just don’t perform well, even if they are capable and have everything they need to succeed, but that is not the point.

Master Faett’s saying drove me to make sure that I showed gratitude to those around me, even at work. I have been blessed with highly intelligent and motivated teams. But that is not a reason to not show gratitude. In fact, it’s the opposite, it’s still important to show them how grateful I am. It’s the right thing to do.

Gratitude is not limited to a leadership role either. If you are grateful for something, or someone, show them. From simply saying thank you, or a brief note of appreciation, your gratitude can go a long way so-to-speak. It will definitely have a positive impact on your team like it has with mine.

The life skills I have learned from Taekwondo have translated to many, if not all, aspects of my life. I am proud of the progress my family and I have made through the practice of Taekwondo. We have all changed for the better because of our involvement with Victory Martial Arts. More so, my leadership skills have improved immensely, as a result my working relationships have also improved with better communication, more respect, and greater successes. I want to leave you with this, I truly believe that stepping out of your comfort zone will reap excellent rewards. I encourage you to do so.

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