While chatting with a client over the weekend, I realized how much my time training and teaching martial arts continues to influence the way I engage with the world. We were specifically amused with the idea of a classroom full of aspiring agile coaches participating in a call/response, and it took me back to an image from my Tae Kwon Do teaching days…
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“Courtesy. Integrity. Perseverance. Self-control. Indomitable spirit.” I’d say the word, and 40 children of various ages would echo it back, mostly in unison. A mat that had been a playground of chaos until mere moments ago is suddenly home to neat rows of children holding remarkably still and focused forward. These kids were mostly from the inner city, and for many of them this was a highlight of their week. For some, it was the only space where they received attention, focus, consistency, and discipline from adults that would slow down and truly see them. We taught them how to fight, and defend themselves, sure. But more importantly, we taught them how to carry themselves, how to present themselves to the world, and how to hold their own space and self in a world that often disrupted and discouraged.
“Courtesy. Integrity. Perseverance. Self-control. Indomitable spirit.” These words only consumed a few moments of an hour-long class. Yet, connecting with students years later, students that “escaped” the inner city and become regionally competitive college (college!) gymnasts, cardiologists, and high school graduates (an achievement, for them), I would find that the words were part of what kept coming back. I’d hear things like “Mr. Eric, thank you for never letting me give up” or “Mr. Eric, I never realized how much being nice could get me things, I thought I had to fight for them.” I’d hear stories of how these few simple words helped change lives.
Fast forward to today, where much of the work I do is coaching and teaching highly capable adults, many of whom are already well advanced in their careers. The students could not have seemed more different in most visible ways. Yet, there are remarkable similarities as well. I see agile change agents and executive leaders that are constantly off-balance by the speed of their environment, the number of difference demands in their lives, the stresses of finance and cash flow, the belief in the possibility of better, and the skepticism of that better ever becoming reality. Words and mindset have power, and applied well they provide an anchor to help people focus forward. “Courtesy. Integrity. Perseverance. Self-control. Indomitable spirit.”
Courtesy – Great coaches and leaders show up with deep kindness and respect. They take the time to listen, consider, and build connection before making decisions. They’re not always “nice”, because they are in a role that requires hard decisions, and sometimes unpleasant decisions, but they’re always kind. Regardless of circumstance, however, they strive to deliver even the hardest news with kindness and consideration of the receiver.
Integrity – Ethics and authenticity matter. Coaches and leaders have the moral courage to do the right thing, even when it’s not the most expedient. Their values show through in their language and how they frame decisions. They align consistently to the enduring purpose of their companies, and they choose to disengage rather than perform work that runs counter to the company’s values and purpose, however profitable it may seem. They build a reputation of trust and of doing the right thing across their network.
Perseverance – Leaders finish. When something is worth doing, they keep at it, using their network, their influence, their authority, and their own personal hard work to ensure that it is successful. If a path isn’t yielding results, they pivot and try another, and another, and yet another until they find a path that leads to success. They stay with things, striving to focus and avoid distraction until the work is complete and the value is delivered. This perseverance inspires peers and teams to keep focuses as well, amplifying the impact for everybody.
Self-control – Leaders stay calm and manage themselves first. Just as loving others begins with loving oneself, the ability to lead begins with leading oneself. Leaders breathe deeply before responding to upsetting news. They channel frustration into curiosity, anger into growth, disappointment into learning. They recognize that challenging situations are made harder by their outbursts, and that many will follow the lead of their choice of reaction. Leaders are acutely aware of the harm they can do when uncentered and reactive. Thus, they choose their actions instead of merely reacting whenever possible.
Indomitable spirit – Leaders don’t let things get them down. Perseverance is all about pushing through and finishing things. Indomitable spirit is staying emotionally present, positive, and full of authentic confidence for what waits ahead. The slowdowns, side paths, dead ends, and long uphill slogs are just an expected part of the journey, and leaders celebrate each obstacle overcome. They are resilient in the face of resistance and doubt, and stay focused on the bright spots and their boundless enthusiasm brings everybody along with it. When a leader truly believes in a vision, people feel that success is inevitable.
“Courtesy. Integrity. Perseverance. Self-control. Indomitable spirit.” I deeply value these traits in a leader or a coach because I know that these are the behaviors that inspire people, inspire success, and carry leaders through the hardest parts of achieving their visions. The need for these traits is especially apparent in large-scale transformation journeys. Bringing many people along with you while reshaping the behavior of entire companies is a long, challenging effort, and there are often many more challenges than bright spots for the first year of the journey. Select coaches and leaders that can keep focused, keep striving, stay fully engaged, remain calm and kind, and remain resolute to their purpose throughout the journey. These leaders will then support you with the energy you need to do the same, creating a remarkably powerful change team.