Many paths, one journey – Understanding what is different and what is common about journeys to excellence.

Arriving at 4th Dan black belt is arriving at senior leadership. As a senior leader you have developed excellence within your own organisation. You have begun to learn from how other organisations flourish. How are their approaches different? What can you learn from understanding and using these? There are many ways to seemingly improve. There are fewer ways to actually improve. You seek what is authentic and of substance. This might be seen as the deputy headteacher level. You are looking at how different approaches contribute to a successful organisation. An organisation becomes effective when it has a living, ambitious, vision that is well understood. A vision to which people show their commitment through what they do and how they do it. Even schools with a very similar vision do this differently. The realisation that this commitment also applies to individuals working towards their goals and dreams is awe-inspiring. It makes the senior leaders, or 4th Dan in karate, restless. The ambition to make a powerful difference in the future is greater than the desire to settle for past achievements.

Your understanding feels incomplete. So, you become a beginner again and seek to understand what lies in the ocean, outside your ‘pond’. Your hunger to be complete gives you courage to sail out. This is a sign of a maturing leader. The desire and ability to learn something more about what you do well. To do this as if you do not know and use it to deepen what is fundamental in your repertoire of expertise. How do we recognise powerful learning? Is it in the mind, heart, behaviour, impact, performance? What is the role of each of these in improving our lives?

You have highly developed skills of analysis and evaluation as well as a clear understanding of layered actions and multiple impacts. You have the ability to listen to the meaning of what is said and respond to the intent. Your insight helps you give others guidance for the heart as well as the mind. This is what your craft has taught you and what carries you into a deeper distilled understanding of diverse approaches. You, then, make new meanings from this because you can only create the success that you really and truly believe in and desire. Understanding of this diversity shapes your vision, and tests what you really wish and strive for.

In Karate, the journey from 4th Dan to 5th Dan takes at least 5 years. You study other martial arts. This requires transfer of your discipline and commitment to a related but different art. For example, empty-hand karate may now include weapons training. All success requires discipline and commitment. To understand why people do things as they do you have to understand history as well as future. The space you create in your life to study more invariably separates you a little from the world. This distance is necessary to be able to observe and analyse individuals, systems organisations and communities.

Once you transfer learning and experience to one other art, you begin to see what you transfer in all places. Learning may be seen when a young child falls off a chair repeatedly to understand why and how he is falling. It can also be when a young girl enters a sports race for the first time to see how it feels to have a chance of winning. It can be when a grandmother takes her grandson shopping. Seeing the principles and techniques of learning in different situations being demonstrated by people at different skill levels; this is the openness and connectivity you develop at senior level. After that, you are (maybe) ready to take direct responsibility for the future of your own organisation. You can also read that as responsibility for achievement in the lives of hundreds or thousands of individuals in that organisation. Study well.

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