The Black Belt Business Podcast

Stepping Smoothly Out of the Spotlight

Jan 10, 2024

One of the keys that separates a good leader from a great one is the ability to build a sustainable system that can carry on the same good work, even when that leader is gone. This holds true in any industry, but specifically when running a martial arts academy when you have to trust a team of people to run things for you. (Have you ever tried coaching three classes, answering the phone and selling a membership all at once?)

The better you get at building people up, the more peace of mind you’ll have that your academy will operate smoothly even when you’re out of town. Life happens, and the sooner you delegate certain tasks to those around you, the easier it will be for your team to think for themselves.

Rather than getting caught up in the shine of owning a martial arts academy, when you keep your students front of mind, it gets much easier to see clearly. Stepping outside of your ego and instead focusing on what the role means, can help you better understand how you can put your role to work. 

You don't just have ten coaches who report to you. You’re charged with the question, “How can my being in charge of ten coaches better serve the collective and my purpose within it?”

How can you help them leave an even better imprint on those who they’re in charge of?

Simply put, it’s not about you. You have an extremely important role to play in the health of your martial arts academy, but this role should focus on fueling the operation from within, not shimmering as the face of the school. Sometimes, this means you may have to take on some of the less glamorous responsibilities to ensure the entire operation runs smoothly.

While a title may represent status in name, action begets reputation, and the sort of reputation you infuse yourself with will show far more about the impact you’ve had on your community.

One of the most important things you can do as a leader comes down to the way you bring others up. Good leaders don’t want to stay on top at the expense of others; they recognize that to achieve true success they need their people, and they’ll do the grunt work to keep them.

[Creating A Culture + Setting Your Martial Arts School Up For Success]

Just as transparency and authenticity invite honest exchanges and cultivate empowered individuals, your north star should represent the best interests of your entire academy. 

Stripped of ego, your goal moves further away from personal recognition - even being a “good leader” or liked by your staff - and comes to rest at your academy’s health. You’re not keeping the peace for your own sake, you are investing in your school’s future success.

The leaders you bring up should have a deep understanding of your academy’s culture, the nuances of the martial arts industry and, most importantly, share your vision of what will build the best community (i.e, core values like stewardship, trust, or an emphasis on hygiene.)

When your goal becomes sustainability over time, then you can begin to channel your energy into building up people who will continue to have a positive impact on the community and build up others after them. You may have to make some tough decisions along the way and end up disappointing people, and you have to be okay with it. 

Even when you like someone personally, you may have to deliver some hard feedback in order to help them grow. You do this at the expense of being “the bad guy” because you know that ultimately it betters the whole. To have leaders in your community that can truly stand the test of discomfort, leadership must guide with truth and clarity rather than ego. 

While ego might also make you shy away from sharing some more difficult truths in order to save face and preserve your “well-liked” reputation, when you lead with the truth, it becomes easier to make sharpened decisions and stand with conviction behind your feedback.

This is because, beyond the desire to remain the good guy, to build a sustainable business that upholds the same high standards over time, your staff must also uphold the same caliber of knowledge, fluency and dexterity to grow and change in alignment with your vision.

[How To Grow A Culture By Example]

Challenging your coaches, department heads and front desk staff with difficult truths and honest feedback so long as it comes from a place of mutual growth, not shame, shows that you trust their ability to think critically, objectively and make thoughtful adjustments. 

Only at this level of clarity will you have the faith to comfortably step away from day-to-day operations (if that’s your goal) and trust that your academy is in good hands. When you have people you trust to run aspects of your company, you free up valuable time and energy to think even bigger.

By the time you do step away, whether for a short time like a honeymoon to Brazil, or a longer time, such as if you open a new location which demands your daily presence. your departure should be almost undetectable. That’s how skillfully you want to transition the role, including not just having built someone up that understands the nuances of your role, but the ability to separate yourself from the role in the eyes of the community.

In the end, the heart of good leadership is the heart you instill and what you cultivate in those whom you build up. As long as you’ve infused your company culture with core values you unshakably believe in, and have selected people along the way who exemplify these values, you can depart knowing you’ve built a system that works.

[Lead With Empathy, Check Your Motives, Take A Breath]

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