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3 Pillars of Leadership

A Successful Business Requires a Talented Person at the Helm!

by Kelly Murray-Grys


I started training in the martial arts in 1986 when I was just 4 years old. I was the only girl in my class and, even more notable, one of very few girls I knew who did karate. The dojo didn’t have air conditioning to deal with the summer heat, and we all did our pushups on our knuckles on the hardwood floor. On more than a few occasions, I was hit in the abdomen to the point of having the wind knocked out of me while being told that if I’d kept my guard up, I wouldn’t have gotten hit. Needless to say, it was a different time to be a martial artist.

A couple of other observations from that time: Our instructors didn’t give much thought to our feelings, nobody cared if we were under the weather on a given day, chest protectors hadn’t become the norm, and it was considered a privilege to mop the dojo floor at the end of the day. The staff of the school was composed of loyal black-belt volunteers, diehards who would teach five or six classes in a row until 11 p.m. without ever complaining.

If reading that cultivated a sense of nostalgia for you, let me do you a favor and knock you back into this century! In 2021, the martial arts community has very different industry standards, along with some unique challenges that affect you as an employer.

We live in a period when finding good talent feels difficult, at times hopeless, for some of us. We live in a period when molding and shaping young talent feels frustrating, rather than rewarding, for most of us. As a team-training specialist, I receive endless questions regarding what may be the new normal, and one of those most common is, How do I develop a rock-star team in my school?

Well, as I always tell those people, it starts with you. That’s right, developing a great team starts with you making a dedicated and determined commitment to becoming a great leader. It’s the best way to get your staff and your business moving in the right direction.


Pillar No. 1

I have discovered that there are three pillars of leadership that apply no matter the type of business. The first pertains to your perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received emails and phone calls from frustrated and annoyed school owners who complain about their staff. It’s well-known in business that complaining doesn’t solve anything. The irony regarding those who complain about their staff is that they fail to realize that their team is a direct reflection of them. Your team is only as good as you train your team members to be.

Rather than complaining, you need to focus on solutions to problems and the person who can implement those solutions. For this reason, I’ve created a mantra for team leaders: It’s my fault, and I can fix it.

Taking ownership of the weaknesses of your staff or the challenges you face with your employees will empower you to actually do something to make it better. Once you stop blaming the economy, the parenting of our youth or the generational demise of our recruits (“Kids these days!), you take back your power as the leader your staff need you to be.

In all likelihood, as a professional teacher, you underestimate your skill set and your strengths when it comes to solving the problems you encounter. Changing that revolves around adjusting your perspective: The next time a problem arises, just tell yourself that it’s your fault and that you can fix it.

Here’s a valuable extension of the concept: You are not only responsible for the success of your team but also privileged to take on this role. That’s right: Leadership is a privilege.

To teach, to mold, to influence and to lead — it all amounts to a gift that I, personally, can’t help feeling grateful for. True leaders recognize this privilege and have immense gratitude for being able to be part of another human’s evolution toward becoming a better human.

If you struggle to find joy in helping your team grow and succeed, maybe leadership isn’t for you.


Pillar No. 2

The second pillar of leadership revolves around time. How often you give it and how you choose to spend it with your people play important roles in building a team that stays loyal.

Although the many specifics of this pillar would require more space than I have here, adopting a one-on-one strategy is a great way to start prioritizing time with your team. In essence, a one-on-one is time spent with a purpose.

I recommend conducting a one-on-one with every member of your team at least twice a month. If your business operates with a smaller team, once a week is even better. In case you don’t know, one-on-ones are private, prearranged sessions that are consistent and expected. They need to last only 15 to 20 minutes to be efficient and effective. They serve four purposes, which makes them a must for any team leader.

The first goal of a one-on-one is simply to grow the relationship between you and your employee. This is about getting to know the team member on a deeper level. Understanding what the person’s passions and goals are, how the person prefers to be communicated with and what the person’s support system consists of helps will engender trust and clarity, both of which are essential for a healthy working relationship.

Because the goal is to build a relationship, you also should share details about yourself to help connect your employees’ vision to your own.

The second goal of a one-on-one is to conduct specialized training based on the employee’s weaknesses or struggles. As a team leader, you should use data and key performance indicators to determine the focus of this training, which requires a real-time grasp of what the person needs most in order to contribute to the growth of the business.

The third goal is to focus on the personal development of the employee. To facilitate that, a one-on-one session can be used to share thoughts on a book you’ve assigned, to listen to a podcast together, to mentor financial planning or to create better time-management strategies for work and/or life.

The last goal is to simply use the time to listen. Active listening is an underestimated skill that all team leaders need. Perhaps the employee has struggles or conflicts with a co-worker. Perhaps she is feeling frustrated about a certain aspect of her job. Perhaps he needs this time to vent or ask specific questions. Perhaps the person just has ideas to share with you.

All these things are appropriate during a one-on-one, a time when you can be fully present to absorb what the employee communicates about his or her needs. To reach the goal of truly hearing what the other person says, refrain from saying everything that comes to mind. Rather, provide a safe space where each member of your team can speak and feel understood.


Pillar No. 3

The third pillar of leadership is prioritizing your self. I separated the words “your” and “self” on purpose. My intention is to illustrate that it’s crucial to identify your own being as the main student on this leadership journey. Below are three ways to get a handle on this recommendation:

  • Develop a self-care practice.

When you’re not giving your self the best, you’re not giving anyone else the best of you, either. Your energy matters a lot when it comes to how well your team performs. When you’re burned out, stressed, frustrated, sleep deprived, fueled by caffeine and sugar, or depressed and anxious, you should expect the performance of your team to follow suit.

The best thing you can do for your team if you’re feeling any of those things is stay away. Before you re-engage with them, develop self-care practices that will enable you to create a healthier relationship with yourself and that will allow you to show up in a way that serves. The basic components of good physical health —things like proper nutrition, exercise, water and sleep — are great starting points. Just like when you’re building a home, they form the foundation of a self-care routine.

But you also should aim to expand your emotional and spiritual health. You can do this by strengthening your most satisfying relationships, connecting with like-minded people, meditating, journaling, visualizing and/or reading.

Play, rest and recovery are also your work. (Read that again.)

  • Keep studying leadership, business management and communication.

Just like your physical, emotional and spiritual health, your intellectual health needs to be prioritized. Many school owners I work with spend plenty of hours learning how to market better, how to improve their SEO and how to make more money. However, not enough of them spend time personally studying the topics that will buy them the ultimate ticket to entrepreneurial freedom: a team that can do things as well as they can.

  • Get feedback from the people who matter most: your team.

Being open to hearing how your team views your leadership style and approach can leave you feeling vulnerable, but it’s absolutely necessary. For that reason, you must learn how to receive negative feedback without taking it personal. It will put you on the fast track to improving as a leader.

Doing this also will gain the respect of your team by demonstrating that you’re dedicated to getting better. You’re showing them that the ego is not a good compass for measuring how well a person is doing. Your message to them is that the only feedback you’re concerned with is theirs because they are the ones you’re privileged to lead.

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