My oldest daughter just passed her latest belt test at American karate. This picture is of her, her instructor, and her two black belt brothers. The bigger one is my oldest son, whom I wrote about earlier. There are 4 levels of students at this studio:
- Beginning students – white suits
- Intermediate students – black suits
- Advanced students – red suits
- Black belts
My oldest daughter was at the first belt of the black suits. She was testing for her “stripe.” However, when it came time to do the forms (kata), the instructor put her front and center. He had her demonstrate each form before the others attempted it, even though there were higher belts also testing. Why her? The instructor knew she knew every form and that her technique was proper for each one, well above her current belt level. Needless to say, she performed marvelously.
If the instructor had gone purely on belts, she would never have been called on. This isn’t the first time she has been called up to demonstrate for students above her belt rank. It is a regular thing with her. She knows how to do what is needed. She can lead others in those things. Her movements are sharp and precise and her voice is loud and clear. Even though she is young, she has developed the skills to lead her peers, even if she doesn’t have the highest belt. Quite simply, she doesn’t need a title to lead.
Neither do you. If you have to have a title in order to lead, that isn’t leadership. Leadership is setting the example, being disciplined, understanding the needs, finding a way to get those needs met, and accomplishing what needs to be done. None of this requires a title.
That is what my daughter does at karate. She is quite advanced for her belt. She only has two forms left to know based on what is on the black belt test. She had already begun learning the fighting combinations she must master for her black belt. It will be years before she has the experience and maturity to earn a shot at that black belt, but that doesn’t stop her now. She has an advantage. She lives under the same roof as two black belts. She makes use of that advantage. She had prepared herself to be out front. Her brothers actively help her as she needs it, but she is still the one that takes the initiative.
You have advantages, too. There are things that set you apart from others. The key is to find out how to use those advantages to help yourself, your team, and your organization. Also, you have the ability to gain experience and skills to lead others. Some of your advantages may open the doors for that, just like they do for my daughter. Real leaders (those who actually lead) are invaluable. It does require more of you. It likely will cause you discomfort. My daughter was put on the spot in front of every student testing along with their parents and friends. She didnt let the discomfort stop her. Neither should you.
One last thing: leading is helping people move in the correct direction. It isn’t abusing them. It isn’t doing all the work. And it certainly isn’t flaunting anything. The point of leadership is to motivate people to get things done. Therefore, don’t overstep things and don’t get arrogant and cocky. If you do things right, people will follow you because they trust you. That’s what you are looking for. However, you have to earn that trust by treating others right. That is an integral part of leadership, too.