Lessons in Leadership

Back when I was a beginning Taekwondo student, my teacher gave me one of life’s deepest and most profound lessons on leadership.  Being new to sparring, he told me from the first, “You set the pace.”

By setting the pace, I no longer had to fear what the other person was going to do to me.  If I were aggressive and out-of-control, my sparring partner would be, too; I set the pace.  If I were calm, collected and tactical, my partner would be, too; I set the pace.  I would voluntarily go through all of the training again to learn that one lesson.  Learning to set the pace has served me much more than any other lesson I have learned.   I set the pace within my life, my relationships and my career.

Whether at work or play, setting the pace is a formidable and much needed task.  As I was learning to spar, my pace was slow and awkward and I didn’t put much force behind my technique.  As I advanced through the ranks and became more adept at my techniques, I learned to defend quickly and to land my strikes with force and efficiency.  As my pace grew tougher, so did my opponents’.  I learned to take hits as hard as I gave them.

As I have moved on in my life, I have also learned that setting the pace requires that I learn to match the other person’s pace.  Personal relationships are dynamic and ever-changing.  Setting the pace and matching the pace happens simultaneously as each partner learns the other’s pace.

Setting the pace requires taking the lead.  Leading is always by example.  Leading means that we are going out in front and expecting others to follow.  As our partners set the lead in our relationships, we must learn to match their pace, even as we are setting our own pace for them to follow.  Ideally, we move together in harmony as each of our paces is well-matched and harmonious.

However, at times, one partner may decide to deviate and set a completely different pace in an entirely new direction.  When this happens, we learn the new pace and set our own pace accordingly.  At this precise moment, the biggest lesson of leadership is both taught and learned.  As our partner sets the new pace to a more aggressive level, we watch, learn and match.  If our partner begins to hit below the belt, we must adopt the new rule and provide immediate feedback.  If our partner begins to sweep our feet out from under us, we fall, but learn that we must add that technique to our arsenal.  If our partner hits us harder, we must absorb and repay in kind.

The consequences of setting a more intense pace can be a difficult lesson to learn.  Often when we change our pace, we fail to realize that our partners are watching us intently.   Perhaps we recognize some weak spots in our partners’ abilities and we strike them too often and too hard.  As we dish out this pace, confident in our own abilities, our partners are learning to guard against their weak spots.  As they learn how to defend against our strikes, we can suddenly find ourselves on the receiving end of their new found abilities, combined with an increased intensity in their strikes that often connect with our weak spots.

Setting the pace is all about leadership and relationships.  If we truly understand that we set the pace and also communicate this rule to our partners (friends, family, coworkers, etc), life can become much more peaceful and satisfying because all of our partners understand what pace is required and expected.

The lesson for us all is that relationships are dynamic and ever-growing and we must be vigilant in our self-monitoring, especially when we are the leader.  We must always be aware that the power in a relationship shifts dynamically and that we need to guard against being arrogant or selfish in our motives.  Love and respect your partners.  Teach them firmly but gently, realizing that you always set the pace.

Many years have passed since my teacher first uttered those wise words to me, but time has only deepened their import.  The little seed of truth that he planted in my mind so many years ago has grown into a mature and unwavering oak tree that is able to withstand all of life’s difficult situations.   Because I set the pace in my own relationships, my family and friends find a strength and solitude in knowing that I will be an anchor and a beacon when they need me.

Set your own pace in life, in love and in kindness.