Black Belt Excellence

Volume 2 Letter 5

He was energetic, enthusiastic, just out of school and ready to take on the world. The hard work was quickly rewarded. Promotions came easily and up the ranks he moved. Before long he was a Specialist Rep / Field Manager / Lead Scientist / Market Research Specialist etc.

Up until this point the main job has been to do more and do it better. Work hard and apply oneself has been a good strategy… but (modifying Einstein) ‘the technical skills that got our energetic worker here are not the same managerial and strategic thinking skills he’ll require to take him where he needs to go’. Sadly, it’s at this point, that for many bright ambitious people the shining lights on their careers begin to dim.

Many a career has floundered on the rocks guarding the island of management. The reason many people fail isn’t because of lack of trying or lack of will; it’s lack of skills and proper training to take the next step into management. No one warned them nor helped them prepare for this transition in their career. It’s in this transition phase from a mostly technical environment (sales, finance, engineering, science etc.) to a managerial environment of strategy, forethought and leadership that many stumble.

So where does one look for help in understanding how to make this transition into management?

Martial artists are very articulate in plotting the progression of their charges as they progress through their color belts and transition to a black belt. A black belt brings with it power, prestige, and respect but it also comes with a responsibility to use it wisely and to assist others in their quest for the same. Here are some lessons we might learn from the progression of a martial artist (modified to a business context) that may assist in helping new managers succeed.

White = A new manager: Full of enthusiasm and energy that must be guided.
Yellow = First Growth: First success and step toward developing a managerial career. Confidence is growing and the person is starting to exhibit strategic skill and initiative.
Green = Growing strong: This is a time for hard training to further develop their strategic planning and execution skills. At this point the person is a full member of the management team and a valued contributor.
Blue = Reaching for the sky: Strategic skill level is very good but it is important for them to keep motivated as they move up the management ladder toward their black belt goal.
Red = Signals danger: Competitors be aware, strategic skills are formidable. These people are very sound and strong leaders of their teams.
Black = Contribution: Confident in their own abilities and able to help others succeed.

A new manager must continue to grow but part of that development is helping others. Success at the management level is not measured in individual achievements but rather in one’s ability to help the team succeed as a whole. Each step has it’s own challenges but one thing in common with all managerial belt levels is that managers who aspire to get their black belts keep their business teams focused on the critical strategic issues. To do this well one must also develop the ability to block out the ambient noise often disguised as urgent business. Develop a strategy and focus your team on executing it, help your subordinate managers do the same and you’ll be a black belt manager!

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