Browsing the archives for the kung fu tag.

Bad Kung Fu Leadership

Geek 5, Leadership

One of the side effects of being an I/O Psychologist is that I tend to analyze everything and everyone around me.  That includes watching team dynamics, trying to diagnose my kids’ MBTI personality types and observing leadership in everyday situations.  The other day I experienced an episode of bad leadership.

My family is taking martial arts.  We just started, so we are all white belts.  The white belts signify that you are a blank slate and don’t yet know Tae Kwon Do.  The kids fit right in to the kid classes.  My spouse and I, however, stick out in the adult/ teen classes.   We are by far the oldest beginner students.  Anyone close to our age is in the Black Belt range.  And yes, we definitely feel the pain of getting back in shape and learning the moves.  

But this post is not about our age and aches and ice packets.  It is about the leadership shown in a recent class.  Martial Arts are unique in that leadership is bestowed by belt rank and not by age.   The highest ranked person in the room is respected as the leader – even if it is a 12 year old leading adults.

In this case, the teacher is a high-ranked black belt in his late teens who is studying to become a formal, paid instructor.  He’s relatively new to teaching and fairly young, so I fully understand that he is still perfecting his leadership skills.  But it is still a lesson in what not to do.

Specifically, this young instructor, we’ll call him Mr. Hunter, struggled with being perceived as a leader.  Several young teens in the class did not show him the respect he deserved by merit of his rank and his instructor status.  They were goofing off and not being respectful.  Furthermore, Mr. Hunter was trying to teach something he was not fully prepared to teach.  Consequently, one of the more senior instructors kept correcting him.

I could visibly see his anxiety and frustration growing.  Finally he snapped.  He moved from teaching to directing.  He showed his anger.  He had the entire class move from learning Tae Kwon Do to doing intentionally painful calistenics – over and over.   His focus became compliance and not commitment or team work.

By the end of the class, everyone was frustrated and angry.  I did not learn anything new.  And he lost credibility as a leader and as an instructor.  In the future I will try to avoid classes where he is teaching – at least until he learns some more leadership skills.

Mr. Hunter’s leadership mistakes included:

  1. Losing his cool and showing his frustration.  He lost credibility and showed his youth.
  2. Forcing compliance to get what he wanted.
  3. Punishing the whole class to take care of a few problem students.  This made me feel like I was in fourth grade again when Ms. Felder punished the whole class because one person farted (gross and unfair!).  Just as you should not do team building to fix one person, you should not punish everyone to correct a few.

The more senior instructor could also have been more tactful about how she corrected his teaching.  It might have helped prevent some embarrassment and overreaction.

Ah well, Mr. Hunter is young and will continue to learn and develop as a leader.  My muscles and joints are old, but even they will heal with time.

No Comments