The idea of gaining rank, position or titles is a big draw. People like rewards and recognition. The problem is that true leadership has nothing to do with any of those.
In fact, I’m old enough to remember people regularly commenting upon military officers coming out of ROTC programs. These officers were very educated but not experienced and often thought they had the best ideas about how to do things. Those who became leaders from this opportunity understood how important their personnel were. The education they received from their sergeants after getting into a company taught them what real leadership was. The movie Heartbreak Ridge has a very good example of this.
Maj. Malcolm A. Powers: I am, sir. Major Malcolm Powers.
Colonel Meyers: Did you lead this assault?
Maj. Malcolm A. Powers: Sir, Lieutenant Ring and Gunnery Sergeant Highway disobeyed a direct order. I told them to wait for support but they went up this hill anyway.
Colonel Meyers: [to Highway] Why?
Highway: We’re Marines, sir. We’re paid to adapt, to improvise.
Lieutenant M.R. Ring: Sir, I gave the order to take this hill.
Maj. Malcolm A. Powers: Ring, this is going to ruin your career.
Colonel Meyers: Are you new to the infantry, Major?
Maj. Malcolm A. Powers: Yes, sir. Just came over from supply.
Colonel Meyers: Were you good at that?
Maj. Malcolm A. Powers: Yes, sir!
Colonel Meyers: Well then, stick to it because you’re a walking cluster fuck as an infantry officer. My men are hard chargers, Major! Lieutenant Ring and Gunny Highway took a handful of young fire pissers, exercised some personal initiative and kicked ass!
These lessons don’t end EVER. The role of a leader has no real boundaries. I’ve chatted with several martial artists who have agreed with me that some of their teachers and peers are called by their title even off the mat BECAUSE of how they live and the continuous lessons they offer (without trying). This is what leadership is actually about. The development of others to surpass your accomplishments and understand more than you do. This ties directly to what I believe tradition is. The continual development of excellence is the tradition! The techniques and methods used only re-enforce the principles but grow and improve over the years. Knowing more doesn’t change the reason (principles) for tradition.
You should always work to become replaceable. If it can’t survive without you, then too little of the knowledge was passed on. This would be because you really don’t know enough or your were selfish and hadn’t really led anything.
The lessons that you provide as the leader MUST be usable throughout the student’s life! There are specific areas that your teaching is intended for and they need to be shown. This can be seen in how many martial arts schools claim to teach self defense. I have only recently recognized this issue. My Taekwondo does not truly teach personal protection. It has elements that support learning protection applications but it is really about personal development for students to strengthen their confidence and courage and spirit for dealing with daily life. Some of the applications within hyungs (forms) can provide some elementary insight into personal protection but the training doesn’t re-enforce that outcome. We are building leaders who will work in daily life activities (families, community, jobs).
The other areas of development require lessons from those teachers. It is important to seek them out and study. This is true about any interest or passion that you have. here is where a secret piece of leadership fits. You don’t necessarily become a leader in what gave you the skills! Many excellent martial arts teachers that I know only teach part-time. They have small schools and a small student base. The leadership that they provide is within these schools and they create more leaders but their leadership is most noticeable is not within the martial arts.
One example is Dr. Mark Crapo Sensei. He is a high ranking leader within Seidokan Aikido but you probably haven’t heard about him unless you’re part of Seidokan. His leadership has been invaluable to Seidokan but he has lead a far larger entity, Symmetry Global, that is a multi-national company. His leadership has created new leaders who are out supporting their own teams and educating more people. This is because he is a leader and leaders should create more leaders.
I’ve had the fortune to have train with Crapo Sensei and other excellent Seidokan teachers. I have had awesome Song Moo Kwan Taekwondo lessons as well. Currently, I have been able to recruit others to Haidong Gumdo but they were already leaders in their own right. This version of the leadership topic has been in my brain for the past few weeks as the Midwest Haidong Gumdo group promoted students into the yundasha (black belt levels). Where will our next leaders come from? Will they be leading in our schools or other places? I’ll be happy that they are leading because they are all quality students.