Ep. 197: Be a Black Belt Leader with John Terry

How Can You Be a Better Leader?

John Terry suggests you model the principles valued by the martial arts.


Self-discipline. Self-control. Respect. Honor. Integrity. Character.

These are exceptionally powerful words. They provoke our imaginations to create ideal images of personal strength, courage, mindfulness, and all ways of life that would make humans noble creatures.

John Terry learned the meaning of these words on his way to earning an astounding five black belts. Today, he uses these principles to inform the nine steps or stages of the journey he helps others complete on their way to becoming better leaders.

In this week’s episode, John talks about learning karate, how what he learned taught him to lead himself better, and the realization that what he learned is applicable to leadership in business and elsewhere.

Of the nine steps, it was learning about accountability, in particular, that caught Luke’s attention. Luke’s questions led the conversation down a path of issues that most leaders deal with at one point or another.

To be a better leader, model desired behavior.

Do as I say, not as I do . . .

As strange as it sounds, some “leaders” believe they get to make the rules that other people must obey. They think leadership exempts them from adhering to the policies and procedures that others must follow.

Not true.

If anything, leaders must be especially mindful of the rules. To be a better leader, you’re accountable for modeling the behaviors you want to see from your team. If the expectation is to be at your desk by 9 a.m., then you should be ready to work by 9 a.m. If the expectation is business casual, then don’t show up in a tee-shirt.

To be a better leader, make sure you are congruent in what you say and what you do. If you’re not, you’ll lose the respect of your team and likely be the cause of some resentment.

To be a better leader, do what’s uncomfortable.

Sometimes you need to be willing to make the tough choices, like do you want to be loved or do you want to be a leader?

As a leader, you need to be able to hold people accountable for results. If you don’t, then you fail on two fronts: you fail your organization’s mission, and you fail your employees by neglecting to push them to grow.

To be a better leader, you must balance your relationships with people and your responsibility to the organization’s goals. It can be a very difficult, but nonetheless necessary, task. People who are promoted to supervise those who were once their peers frequently run into this difficulty.

There are times when holding someone accountable is downright uncomfortable. And leaders are sometimes confronted with having to overcome their unwillingness to do what is uncomfortable.

Leaders are meant to challenge the status quo. Those who profess they can’t are really saying they won’t.

It’s a choice.

Of course, there a better and worse ways of holding someone accountable. The difference usually comes down how well you can communicate with others. And communication happens to be another of John Terry’s steps toward black belt leadership.

Listen to the interview and discover more about accountability, communication, and the other seven steps that characterize the journey toward black belt leadership.


Key Points

  • Becoming a “black belt leader” is a nine-step process: Believe, Learning, Accountability, Communication, Kinetic, Boldness, Equip, Loyalty, Transformation
  • True leaders model the behavior they want to see in their teams.
  • You fail in your mission and you fail your team if you don’t hold them accountable.
  • You learn to think differently by reading and learning from those who are further ahead.

Action Item

Pick up a book and read it. Become a diligent reader.

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