Within our LearnToLead Elite Training Center adjacent to our Agoura Hills, California offices, I have a “Wall of Influencers”. On the wall are three separate photo displays where I’m posing with a substantial mentor in my life: John Maxwell, Zig Ziglar and Johnny Gyro. Maxwell and Ziglar are renowned writers, speakers, teachers and motivators. Johnny Gyro is not known in business circles, but as a ninth dan seven-time world champion karate master, represented in three separate karate halls of fame, he is well known in martial arts circles. As my instructor for the past decade, Master Gyro has taught me plenty about self-defense, but I’ve also found his insights into the martial arts keenly applicable in the business arena. Following are four tenets taught by this martial arts genius that can improve your leadership and elevate your organization:

1. Speed is a disguise for technique.

Martial arts application: This is a caution to crisply and precisely finish each move before rushing on to the next; that moving quickly in an attempt to disguise flaws may fool the amateur, but never an expert. By moving fast and without good form you reinforce bad habits, and build a faulty foundation that will slow further development.

Business application: Beware of the tendency to immerse yourself in a swirl of activity each day to try and hide your limitations. Don’t mistake motion for progress, speed for direction or activity for accomplishment by understanding it’s not how fast or often you move, but the direction you’re heading that’s most predictive of progress.

Examples of how speed can disguise technique include failing to plan your day around the discipline of priorities and simply reacting and putting out fires instead; rushing through the interview and hiring process just so you can claim to have “hired three new ones” in spite of them being the wrong ones; making snap decisions in an attempt to appear decisive without hearing all sides; listening efficiently rather than effectively and giving quick, snappy answers before moving on to the next emergency of the moment; a situation mostly created by your inability to focus on performing the basics of your job with daily precision in the first place.

2. End it quickly.

Martial arts application: When attacked by an assailant, end the struggle quickly; the longer it lasts the more likely it is something really bad will happen. To accomplish this you must hit vital targets in quick succession. Repeatedly punch an arm and the fight goes on forever. Deliver a scoop kick to the groin, a knee to the head, and palm strike to the jaw and the battle is over in four seconds.

Business application: When executing a strategy, don’t contemplate everything you can do to move towards a goal; you don’t have the time, energy or resources for that. Instead determine the fewest battles necessary to win the war and execute them violently, diligently, and with excellence.

3. Stay hungry with a red belt mindset.

Despite the fact that there are ten degrees of black belt in the Tang Soo Do style, when one passes his first degree test he often becomes complacent, cocky, or can turn into a know-it-all. The rank prior to black, red, on the other hand is known for training hard, being coachable, humble and aggressive. A key to sustained martial arts excellence is continuing to think like a red belt, even after you’ve “arrived” at the black belt level; to act as a challenger even though you may be the champ.

Business application: Having a record month, being “number one” in the region, or completing your best year ever can cause you to lose the red belt hunger and start thinking like the prideful “been there done that”, black belt. Three keys to overcoming complacency are having forecasts that stretch you, continuing to work hard on your own skill development, and holding yourself and others accountable for the daily execution of key activities responsible for driving the numbers. When I present these principles in my “How to Master the Art of Execution” seminar I’m always told by attendees that the daily focus, and daily accountability, is what’s most missing in their daily routine, and within their business culture.

4. What gets you “here” won’t get you “there”.

During the ceremony when I was promoted from first red to a first degree black belt Mr. Gyro told me: “You’ve worked hard and deserve this, but what this really means is that now you’re an advanced beginner; there’s still a lot to learn.” Two- and-one-half years later after passing my second degree black belt test he told me: “Only ten percent of first degree black belts become second degrees. Always remember that the focus, discipline, skill level and desire that gets you ‘here’, won’t get you ‘there.”

Business application: The responsibilities and operations of many leaders have grown significantly in the past few years; the problem is they’re running them the same way. They haven’t upgraded their skills, narrowed their focus or improved their levels of discipline, and eventually they’ll plateau or decline because you can’t drive a “Mack Truck” the same way you drive a “Chevy Volt”. Along these same lines, who gets you here isn’t necessarily who will get you there. Some leaders, especially those like I’ve just described, get outgrown because they foolishly think they can create greater production without improving their personal capacity to produce.

I originally had nine lessons to share in this piece, but have run out of space, so I may discuss the other applicable martial arts maxims in the future. For now, reevaluate these four and determine if there is application that can improve your leadership, the team, and dealership overall.

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