15 years ago I spent a week paying to get beaten up. Kind of anyway. It was my first martial arts instructor qualification and by god it hurt. But I didn’t have a black belt so I still couldn’t get insurance to coach.

6 months later I got my first black belt and was able to get insurance and open my own club. But something struck me which is just in true in business as it is in martial arts.

Qualifications, certificates & titles don’t make you better. What made me a good coach was not the 4 hour test or the pretty piece of paper that I got at the end. It was the training up to that point and my drive to constantly train with people who were better than me.

Yet I saw instructors who automatically assumed they were better than someone with no qualifications, no matter how much training that person had. It was as if they thought the qualification was the plug in the back of the head in the Matrix movies which downloads amazing skills direct into your brain.

They would spar boxers with no qualifications and lose badly. They would be unable to break boards that newcomers would then walk up and break. Then they would wonder what had gone wrong but never assume the failing was with them.

We see the same with managers all too often. They are promoted, rightly or wrongly, from the ranks and are given a position of authority. They then assume that the title & extra pay means they are due respect. They assume they are always right. They assume they know better.

Sometimes they are right to an extent but the truth is that we all have something to learn from everyone we work with.

When we talk about the “black belt mindset” this is what we refer to. We don’t mean an air of superiority, of strutting round smugly expecting people to bow and scrape to us.

The black belt mindset is that of the eternal student. The student who has seen a hint of what is to come. The student who truly understands how far they have to go and how much there is still to learn. The student who knows that they will never achieve perfection but are still driven to try. The student has skills to pass to other but recognises that it is a 2-way process.

This is the mindset we need to develop in managers to turn them into real leaders. Not one of superiority but one of recognition of the challenges to come and the desire to develop themselves and the people they work with. Not only does this help them continue to improve, but it encourages their team to trust them.

And, when a team trusts its leaders, they know their opinions and thoughts will be genuinely listened to. As a result the team performs at a higher level. The team take the risks you need them to take. The team pushes the boundaries of what is required. That way everyone wins.