Recently I was having my car worked on. Sitting with me in the reception area was a man who was also having his car worked on. Turned out this man, who I judged to be in his late 60s, was a martial arts instructor. We started a conversation.
One of the things that was quickly apparent about this man were his obvious and deep-seated insecurities. He spoke at much length about the fact that other martial arts schools in our community are run by frauds and that only he teaches authentic, real, genuine martial arts. He was openly critical of specific instructors who run rival schools that are more successful than his own.
I was struck (pun intended) by the pettiness exuded by a man whose craft is supposedly built on principles of discipline, character, restraint, and self-control. There seemed to be a chip on his shoulder – a bitterness in the aftertaste of his demeanor at having been less successful than his competitors, all of whom were less capable in his estimation.
I’m no psychoanalyst, but it didn’t take much thought to see that this man’s problems originate from within. As Wayne Dyer once quipped, “Anytime we think the problem is ‘out there,’ that thought is the problem.”
Leaders take responsibility for their results. They don’t spend a lot of time blaming others, criticizing rivals, or putting themselves up on a pedestal. The moment they do so they lose credibility. Leaders have the internal security to speak well of rivals, and to see them as teachers of sorts. Sam Walton used to take members of his WalMart team and visit the stores of competitors. He would instruct them to wander the store, observe conditions, then meet back at an appointed time – not to discuss how WalMart was better than the competitor, but where and how the competitor was better than WalMart. Gloating over WalMart superiority compared to the competitor was prohibited. Walton wanted his team to focus on where WalMart fell short, and what they were going to do about it. A smart practice.
That is leadership in action – learning from your rivals, not besmirching them in an effort to satisfy the empty need of self-preening.