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KF Sempai
KF Sempai

Joined: 15 Dec 2009
Posts: 1620
Location: NH USA
Styles: Isshinryu

PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2016 11:40 am    Post subject: Are You a Leader or a Follower? Reply with quote

How many times have you been asked this question over the course of your schooling, career or martial arts training? How many times have you asked your students this question? What would you do if the truthful answer was "I'm a follower"?

One goal of most martial arts schools is to develop leadership in their students. In our society, we see the issue as black and white: you're either a leader or a follower. There is no in between. There is no sometimes. And it's usually seen as a very obvious, set-in-stone trait. You can tell if a person is a leader or a follower as easily as you can tell if they have blue eyes or brown and, in many cases, the two are viewed as just as unfluctuating.

And so we set it as our goal to turn our students from quiet, withdrawn and passive followers into loud, outgoing and outspoken leaders. But what would happen if we decided to question the view of leadership and followership as black and white? How would it change our ideas about leadership and our approach to developing leadership in our students?

Leadership is a set of skills, not a personality trait. And, like all skills, leadership can and must be taught and developed.

People love to use the word "leader" as if it is a characteristic. A girl is praised on a report card as "a leader of her peers." An employee is passed over for a promotion because he is "not a leader." We "turn kids into leaders" believing that once the task is complete, they'll never again be followers.

But what this view fails to take into account is that "leader" is a role a person is fulfilling at a particular moment, not a defining trait of their being. When a person is "being a leader," they are using a set of interpersonal skills to accomplish a task with others. When they are "not a leader," they are not using those skills. Certain skills such as planning, effective communication, motivation and management go into making a leader and are skills that can be taught and practiced.

As with any other skill, some people will naturally excel or struggle with leadership, but even those who struggle can improve with instruction. When people are told things such as "leaders are born, not made" and "you're either a leader or a follower," it's ignoring the fact that almost every skill that goes into leadership can be taught and it destroys the confidence of those who need that instruction the most.

Rather than "creating leaders," a school should focus on "developing leadership skills."

Words are powerful things and the way we describe something can change the way we think about, perceive and approach it.

Rather than advertising that your school "creates leaders" or telling students you're going "turn them into leaders," tell them you will teach them leadership skills. Then create and implement an active plan to do just that.

Break down what you feel to be the most important skills a leader can have and spend time teaching and having your students practice each one.

Talk about and have your white belts practice effective and respectful communication by doing role playing and teamwork challenges. Talk with your blue belt about assessing what someone else needs to work on and giving positive criticism and feedback to help them become better and then have them work with a white belt to develop a particular skill. Talk with your brown belts about designing an effective lesson, delegating and communicating with partners and have them take turns planning and running a lesson in which they need to direct other brown belts to run small group activities. At the end of each of these activities, have a debriefing to allow the entire class to give feedback and suggestions to help their classmates as well as learn from the struggles and triumphs of their peers.

As my instructor always says, what you don't practice, you can't do. Developing leadership skills is something that must be done deliberately and systematically.

Both introverts and extroverts (and ambiverts, too) can be leaders and there's more than one type of leader.

It's often said that before you can lead others, you must learn to lead yourself. And part of that involves knowing yourself. You must know your strengths and your weaknesses, your personality, what generally works for you and what doesn't.

The quiet, intelligent leader who people follow because he knows what he's doing is just as valid as the outgoing, charismatic leader who people follow because he speaks up and takes charge. Students should learn to recognize their strengths, their personalities and their leadership preferences, and to make those work for them. Being a leader does not mean changing your personality so that people will follow you. That never works out in the long run.

The greatest leaders harness the natural energies of their personality and use them to shape their leadership methods. Whether it be the energetic, people-centered energy of the extrovert or the intense, thought-centered energy of the introvert. There are great leaders of all personalities and dispositions. It all depends on how you use what you have. Students should be encouraged to be true to themselves, but to find and develop their best selves. A confident introvert with practiced interpersonal skills can make himself heard as effectively as any extrovert.

Knowing when and how to be an active follower is just as important as knowing how to lead.

Everyone must be a follower sometimes. Leaders are necessary in directing a body of people, but without that body, there is nothing to lead.

It is not bad to be a follower. You are not a sheep or a mindless drone. In fact, learning how to be an active follower is just as important as learning how to be a leader. No good leader wants to command mindless drones and so being a follower doesn't mean shutting off your own brain or surrendering your thoughts and will to another person.

An active follower must know how to spot good leadership and how to offer support to both good and bad leaders. A follower must know when and how to respectfully speak up and when to step aside and do their own job while letting the leader lead. They must know their role in the group and how to support the rest of their team while still focusing on their own tasks and letting others do the same. They must know how to be reliable, responsible and obedient, while still applying their own skills and knowledge effectively and for the good of the group.

Good followership is not an easy task and should be taught right alongside with good leadership. The skills are similar, yet slightly different and are applied in different ways. The most effective team member can both lead and follow and knows when to apply which skill.

A good instructor knows that in order to bring out the most potential in his students and make them as prepared for life as possible, he needs to do several things. First, he must identify the teachable skills that a good leader must have in his toolbox. Second, he must develop and implement a plan to systematically teach those skills to his students while allowing them opportunities to practice those skills and reflect on their progress and their own strengths and leadership methods. Finally, he must develop his students' confidence in their abilities through repeated opportunities and the knowledge that even when they do make mistakes, they have the skills to learn from those mistakes and to become a better leader (or follower) with every experience.
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KF Administrator

Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27179
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2016 11:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the thoughtful submission, Devin. I enjoyed reading it.

Patrick O'Keefe - Administrator
Have a suggestion or a bit of feedback relating to Please contact me! Articles - Awards - Member of the Month - User Guidelines
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Joined: 13 Feb 2003
Posts: 6154
Location: Upstate NY
Styles: TKD;Shotokan;JuJitsu;Tai Ji

PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good read! I tell my students this all the time-you have to learn to be a good follower in order to be a great leader!

"A Black Belt is only the beginning."
Heidi-A student of the arts
Tae Kwon Do,Shotokan,Ju Jitsu,Modern Arnis
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 14682
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good article across the board.

Whether ones a follower or a leader, both, imho, are important because not everyone, no matter what, can be the leaderchief; someone has to be the follower. While the MA, through ones instructor, teaches leadership skills and the like, there's nothing wrong with not being the leader.

Leaders are no more important than followers!! Comfort zone's allow some to be the leader while others, of their own desires, choose to be the follower for whatever their reason(s) might or might not be.

As I love to always say, not all black belts can teach...or should they?! Not everyone, from a retail perspective, for example, can be part of the management team, and in that, not all managers can be the Zone Vice-President.

I can be comfortable being both the leader and the follower; there's no shame in my game!!

**Proof is on the floor!!!
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 17 Jan 2007
Posts: 6198
Location: UK
Styles: Tae Kwon Do & Yang family Tai Chi

PostPosted: Thu Oct 27, 2016 4:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great stuff Devin. I'm reading Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and he describes the sames things as you do. That it is absolutely possible to develop leadership skills and that everyone should try to do so. Not because you are going to use them all the time but that it is a valuable life skill.
"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it." ~ Confucius
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 27998
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE

PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2016 10:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent article. Thanks for sharing these ideas. These are great points to consider in both leading and following.
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