When I was working as a cop, it seemed that there was a time when everyone I ran into claimed to be an MMA fighter. “I’m a pro fighter,” they’d tell me. The problem was, that I was a fighter. I had about 20 fights. I wasn’t great — I was on TV once and no one saw it, besides I lost so I am glad — but I knew who the local fighters were. I’d never heard of any of those guys.
There are jokes in the combatives community about guys who wear Tap Out and Affliction shirts and tell everyone they are fighters. Facebook and the Internet are full of memes mocking them for their “ninja skills.”
But there is a difference between fighting and training. Training is going to the gym, doing the drills and getting into shape. When you train, you can stop when you are tired. When you train, you can just practice the skills you like to. When you are fighting, you can not.
There is also a difference between fighting and sparring. Sparring happens in a gym. So if you get your ass kicked, only a few people see it.
Fighting is about more than maybe getting your ass kicked. Its about maybe getting your ass kicked in front of a crowd.
Boxing writer AJ Liebling wrote, “A writer, like a boxer must stand alone. Having your words published, like entering a ring puts your talents on display. And there is nowhere to hide.”
Substitute the word leader for the word writer.
It has been said that sports are a metaphor for life and no sport fits the mold more than fighting. Even success is grueling and there is no way to get there without simply putting in the work.
Leadership too, is like sport. And sometimes people try to fake it with a fancy t-shirt.
Often times people are put in positions of leadership, not because they possess specific leadership skills but because they are good at something else: They own the company, they were good at sales, they were friends with the boss. They got the office and the title but not the skills needed to successfully lead. Said another way, they bought the T-shirt.
But leadership requires work and practice
Sure, leaders have to do the work and learn the skills, but as important, they have to be willing to stand and fight and possibly fail in front of an audience.
A leader, like a boxer must stand alone … and that is scary.
Fighters enter the ring essentially announcing to the world. Here I am. This is the best I have. Inevitably, for one of them, it is not enough and they will lose. Leaders have to walk out the same way, not necessarily unafraid to fail, but willing to take a swing knowing that they might.
It is scary to put yourself out there and expose yourself as a leader. And while no smart fighter would walk into a fight without hours of bag work, strength and conditioning and some level of sparring, we expect our leaders to do it all the time.
But like jump roping and running, giving leaders a baseline of clarity, strategy and accountability and an understanding of how to use them prepares them to go the distance. Build in skills like the Five Pillars of Authentic Leadership, premortems, intentional one-on-one meetings, and S.M.A.R.T. goals and a leader becomes pretty formidable opponent with the confidence to face anything.
Look, leadership isn’t easy. In fact, becoming a remarkable leader is just about the hardest thing there is. That’s why remarkable leaders are so rare. But the world needs more great leaders. We need you to step up and lead.
And you can’t just tell people you are a leader, you need to do the work and take the lead. So, make your voice heard, stand up for what you believe in, take a risk and start something. You might become a world champion or you might get knocked out. But really there is only one way to know … get in the ring.