Being a great leader is more than just getting people to follow you. You have to be a living example of integrity, high standards and discipline. In other words: You have to earn it.
By Sarah Asp Olson • Illustration By Allan Sanders
ATA World | Summer 2012
Think about the leaders you encounter at school, at home, even in the community or on TV. Some—like parents or ATA instructors—show integrity in leadership. Others may lead dishonestly or by bullying. Every day you’re surrounded by both positive and negative examples of leadership.
So, how can you tell the good from the bad? What makes a good, or even great, leader? In his article “Learning the Way of Leadership,” Senior Master William Wacholz, a 7th Degree Black Belt and owner of ATA Black Belt Academy in San Diego, Calif., puts it this way: “A leader has to be a living example for others to follow. To do this, a leader must set standards first for his or her own conduct, and then set standards for the team with whom he or she will work. Then, a leader must have the discipline to stay the course and manage the success of the team.”
Becoming a great leader in the ATA and in life doesn’t happen
overnight. Much like mastering a new form or learning to throw the perfect
punch, leadership is a skill that takes
hard work, dedication and self-discipline. “Leaders are trained,” says Patty Lovett, a 6th Degree Black Belt Master Nominee and owner of Midtown ATA Martial Arts in Memphis, Tenn. “The more adept they are at applying their training and making it who they are, the more effective they will become as a leader.”
Lead Yourself First
Part of training to be a good leader is learning, practicing and applying life skills like dedication and self-discipline to personal goals, then achieving those goals. “You have to learn how to lead yourself first before you’re competent to lead others,” says Senior Master Rick Abair, a 7th Degree Black Belt anddirector of ATA’s training division. “Great leaders lead by example; they do the extra that is required of them to achieve the higher goals.”
Leadership can be defined as one's ability to get other to willingly follow. However, great leaders do much more than that. Students in Patty Lovett's Midtown ATA Martial Arts Leadership Training program had this to say about the qualilties of a good leader.
In practice this can be as simple as setting a goal for
yourself and living up to it. If your goal was to keep your room clean for a
month, were you able to accomplish it? If you made a promise to yourself to get
your grades up, did you work hard to make it happen? “If you’re not able to
accomplish these things for yourself, it is very difficult for other people to
trust that you can lead them to their next levels,” says Senior Master Abair. A
natural place to start setting—and achieving—goals is in Taekwondo class. “If
[students] can control their bodies andwhat they do with their hands and their
feet, they can control just about anything in their life,” says Lovett.
To help her students—no matter their age—prepare to lead, Lovett creates
opportunities for them to step into positions of authority. “I have
[Junior Leaders] as young as 6, and they assist with Tiny Tigers,” she says.
“There are ways that they can learn to control themselves that will get them
more opportunities [and] responsibilities. If they show those kinds of
skills, there are rewards.”
Life Skills of a Leader
While any number of charismatic people can inspire others to follow, what sets good leadersapart is the way they lead. “There are many different things that make a great leader, but first and foremost is integrity,” says Senior Master Abair. “You have to have people believe in your integrity and trust you enough to want to follow you no matter what.
Good leaders also know how to delegate responsibility, manage a group, listen, foster teamwork, and train and teach their followers, to name a few. “Besides possessing certain innate qualities such as vision, integrity, dedication, loyalty,humility, indomitable spirit, creativity, openness, fairness and assertiveness, a leader must be able to effectively apply the knowledge in a variety of situations, environments, and across social and economic lines,” says Lovett. “They must know their own strengths and weaknesses in order to observe others, to help them excel and develop to their full potential.” The ATA is masterful at helping Black Belts develop and hone good leadership skills within the organization, but your leadership training doesn’t end when you step off the mat. “What we’re doing in the school is not just teaching kicking and punching, we’re teaching them life skills to live outside the school and be successful,” says Senior Master Wacholz. Whether that means taking on a leadership role in the classroom, standing up against bullying at school, or helping out those less fortunate in your community, applying your leadership training to life outside the ATA is a big part of being aBlack Belt. “People notice Black Belts; they don’t always attribute it to the belt unless they dig a little bit deeper, but it’s there,” says Senior Master Wacholz. “My goal has always been to get everyone to 1st Degree Black Belt. That was Eternal Grand Master’s wish,” says Senior Master Wacholz. “We have to be able to develop those Black Belts to increase their standards and teach them how to be professionals in life. If we can get everyone to Black Belt, we’ve changed their lives.”
Leadership in Giving
In addition to changing the lives of those who’ve progressed from White Belt to Black Belt and beyond, the ATA’s goal is to send Black Belts into the world to make a difference. “One of the traits of great leaders is they’re philanthropic, they like to give back,” says Senior Master Abair. “We have stories of 8 and 9 year old kids doing fundraisers for cancer or doing walkathons for Autism Speaks. They do some amazing things.” Examples like these are the norm in the ATA, where Black Belts and color belts alike see a need in the community and step up to fill it. This desire to serve the community led to the creation of the ATA’s Leadership NOW initiative, which was created to add value to individual schools’ existing Leadership Training Programs. Leadership NOW, which stands for Needs of Our World, aims to inspire Leadership students to get out and make a difference in their schools, families, communities and the world. “Through Songahm martial arts training, we are creating the future leaders of the world; they’re confident, they’re passionate, they’re goal setters, achievers and communicators,” says Senior Master Abair. “We really believe the sooner we can teach these young people leadership life skills, the sooner they’re going to be better social animals. They’re the role models of today and they’re going to become the leaders of tomorrow.”