Bringing Up the Rear

29 Mar

I messed up at promotion testing we conducted this past Tuesday. There I had in front of me kids, ready, nervous, and excited to try for their next belt. Five year olds through eleven years olds. (The teens and adults came later.) They were to perform a pattern/form. They were to perform some self-defense techniques and kicking combinations. They were to demonstrate an appropriate amount of attention, manners, and self-control. Perhaps know some terminology. And, they must complete a board break, or several breaks, depending on rank.

Where I messed up was actually a few hours prior to testing. I went to my board supply and realized that I had essentially run out of decent kid boards, boards that were of a nature or size that a child can break with a variety of kicks, if properly done. What I had remaining were lots of adult boards, boards that took an adult amount of power to break. Oops. “Well,” I thought, “I guess we’ll just figure it out.” I made up my mind that no youth was going to not complete their test that night, at least due to a board break. I would be sure to help them as much as they needed to succeed. And they did.

The best boards went to the lowest rank and youngest kids. Most had to be allowed to use a very basic kick, done more powerfully, to get the job done. And they did. There were extra chances, extra drama, and some extra coaching, but I wasn’t going to hold them back for my mistake. Rather, I helped them step it up to get the job done.

The greatest challenge came with the last two kids who tested, two boys, each ten years old, going for their Purple Trim rank, the first rank with extra techniques, more advanced techniques, and several board breaks. Up to that point it had been tough to coach kids through their single board break. These guys would face several. Here we go!

There was doubt, frustration, fear and tears. There were moments when I am sure they thought I was asking them to do something impossible. I told them I’d given them a big challenge and I would help them succeed, but they had to do it. I told them that this promotion would not so much test their technique as much as their heart, their perseverance, their indomitable spirit. We had to observe, support, help, change, and rearrange. We helped. They stuck with it and did it.

In the days since that test, I’ve thought about supporting and coaching the students to success. I’ve thought about what I wrote earlier in the first paragraph: I would be sure to help them as much as they needed to succeed. That’s what a leader does.

I am the leader of those students. I also have a team of black belts and assistants. They lead them, too. I have colleagues in Rotary whom I lead as a club president and a district chairperson. I have leadership teams in BNI chapters I work with. I have a business partner outside of Taekwondo. I have friends. I have a wife.

Once I got done patting myself on that back for a job well done at testing, I asked myself in what ways I give – or fail to give – that kind of support in other leadership and collegial contexts. Do I pay attention to what someone is doing, to how they are doing, to how they are struggling and to what they need to get the job done? How often do I ignore and neglect what my people need? How often don’t I observe, ask, or communicate? How often do I forget to assure that I’ll provide needed support, and then follow through on that assurance by making sure they have what they need to succeed?

I said earlier that I messed up at testing. Actually, I think I’ve messed up this past year. It’s been a tough past year, and I’m not sure I’ve made the grade as a leader, or even as a friend or colleague for that matter. There’s been a lot more “me” than “them.”

Yes, it’s nice to be master instructor, it’s nice to be president, it’s nice to be chairperson. It’s nice to be honored, to have position, recognition and responsibility. But that by itself won’t help my people get the job done well. Nor will purely telling and directing. I can’t just put things on autopilot, simply start the ball rolling and wait for results. I can’t assume everything is alright unless someone says otherwise. To ensure that all my colleagues, my teammates, my crew can succeed at what they are doing, I must be sure to be present, to be aware, to communicate, to ask, to support, to reassure, and then I must support and serve. Let’s say it again: support and serve.

Imagine seeing leadership (or teamwork, or spouse-work, or friendship) as single-minded support and service. Imagine that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: