What are the qualities that are found in the leadership roles of the most successful businesses? These men and women are calm and composed under pressure, capable of handling the high-stakes situations that regularly occupy their work. They are driven and passionate, but tempered, displaying excellent mental fortitude. They are open-minded and constantly learning while also being great mentors. These traits are emblematic of the discipline and virtues of eastern philosophies: the qualities that martial arts instil in the practitioners are that which enable business leaders to thrive.
My lifelong passion for martial arts, most notably Taiji Chaun & Bagua Zuang, has provided me longevity through persistence and consistency by “indomitable spirit.” These are coupled with creative perceptions influenced greatly by the inherent Taoist and Buddhist doctrines. Emblematic of the standards of these studies, the challenges one is forced to overcome are transmuted into valuable lessons that continue to shape my ideologies in a manner that improves my business ventures on a day to day basis.
Martial arts, first and foremost, helps maintain composure and control over your emotions. You are forced to confront your physical, mental, and emotional weaknesses eventually led to overcome them. In business, letting your emotions rule will inevitably cause you to make critical errors.
Emotional decision-making, when untempered, elicits a negative “fight or flight” response resulting in being reactive and causing us to flee from stress, fear, and failure. Subsequently leading us to make decisions and take actions that provide a false sense of emotional resolution which are generally short-sighted inviting a trojan horse to unforeseen pitfalls. Instead, business leaders must be proactive and responsive; they must find a stillness within themselves and enable an understanding of a situation from every angle in order to assess the best outcome with clear rational discernment.
This sort of responsiveness in martial arts is cultivated through meditation as well as time tested techniques that offer business leaders a path to gain more control over their emotions and make optimal decisions in the face of adversity.
There is NO Failure, Only Feedback
Many startups will rarely acknowledge the positive implications of failure. Ignoring critical analysis often leads to devastating losses. In fact, it is by the pain of failure that one can begin to find new ways to progress and improve.
During my training, I once found myself attempting to master somersaults. I would roll around on the concrete, subjecting my body to the hard surface and trying numerous times to succeed. My speciality at the time, Hung Gar (Tiger style) is an art that toughens the body with external callusing, increasing bone density through microtrauma (iron body) all the while maintaining flexibility. I thought that I could simply keep “taking the damage” until I managed to make it work. But after many attempts, I realized that this strategy wasn’t getting me anywhere.
Eventually, I took a step back and reflected on the task, focusing on subtlety instead of the brute force that I had previously attempted. I realized that the motion of the somersault is all about flexibility and that my toughness was actually working against me. Recognizing my error in balancing my regiment, I changed my strategy based on that realization in order to accomplish my goal.
As an entrepreneur, “taking the arrows” is never the viable option. The thoughtlessness of such a method is particularly noticeable in the realm of business, where simply powering through a situation can wind up being harmful to your business and those within your organization. This just needlessly consumes time and energy. Instead, one must embrace failure and accept that the current methods just aren’t working out. Then you can begin the process of discovering the right path. This is the way of “no failure, only feedback.”
Appreciating Constant Learning
As with all endeavors, the natural progression of each pursuit will eventually lead to hearing (and potentially heeding) the call of leadership.
As an entrepreneur, it is the role of the leadership to guide employees toward the company’s vision, and as a martial arts teacher, it is one’s duty to help pupils embrace the legacy of the arts. A mistake that martial artists can make once they become teachers is neglecting their own training. They forget the necessity of constantly learning and improving themselves, and eventually become stagnant in their studies and spiritual progress. As my master once said, “A teacher who is no longer a student, is no longer fit to be a teacher.”
In your training, you will eventually come up against someone that hits harder, trains harder and is well prepared to test your skill and resolve. I recall a competition where I fought an opponent with 20 years of boxing experience and 12 years of martial arts experience. The first time he punched me, my whole body shook to my bones and joints. My opponent did not disclose his experience in boxing at all and used his boxing experience to overwhelm me. After the fight, I approached him and asked if I could buy him a drink — Recognizing his talent and wanting to learn more from the exchange. What I was gifted was the realization that while there is always someone out there who has trained longer, harder, with more determination than you, it is the understanding that you must compete with yourself of yesterday every day. As “you are the only constant in your universe.”
Business dealings can be repetitive and systematic, but like the complacency of some martial arts instructors, leaders and entrepreneurs should avoid resting on their laurels or assuming that they are handling the situation well enough. “Complacency and familiarity breed weakness and contempt.”
One must always be open-minded, searching for better ways to carry out their visions. It is also vital to nurture the talent of others and allow them to contribute their knowledge and insight and set them up for success. You never know when someone else might have a brilliant idea or a hidden hand that could change one’s perspective and turn the tables in the most crucial of moments.
As I move forward with our team at Shopin and advisory roles, I continually find that the lessons I learn from my training enhance my business endeavors. An entrepreneur should always be searching for ways that other perspectives can positively influence their work, and the passion of the study of the martial arts has opened me up to a multitude of lessons that serve as one of the strongest foundations of effective business strategy and leadership.
It is my most sincere wish that you the reader will benefit from these traditions as I and many others throughout the generations have as well.