What a Taekwondo Master and Piano Teacher Taught Me

It is amazing how every day life can help shape our thinking in areas we never thought would be impacted by unrelated activities…and so I thought! There are three lessons that I have taken away from my Taekwondo Master and my piano teacher that will stick with me for the rest of my life in the way I do business and also how non-profits can approach their business.

Taekwondo’s roots began almost 2,300 years ago in Korea with a focus on loyalty, ethics, discipline and peace. It is an expression of a being’s inner strength. My training began in the 80’s with an achievement of my black belt about five years ago, which was the start of my journey. Contrast that to music, which is a very different discipline and is very central to our lives on a daily basis. It is an expression of our emotions. My piano training started a short five months ago. It is amazing that both my Taekwondo master and my piano teacher both taught me three concepts that I related back to nonprofit organizations; be methodical, be crisp and be decisive.

Be Methodical – Playing the piano requires a methodical approach to learn the music and to listen for its nuances. It also requires two hands working together to make the music happen so it is crisp and enjoyable. Taekwondo also requires a methodical approach as it requires your mind and body to work together to be crisp with your kicks, punches and the choreographed forms that are quite beautiful when mastered. 

The lesson learned is that, as an Executive Director of a nonprofit, moving 100 miles per hour is not methodical nor does it allow any focus on the strategic aspects of the organization. Allow time for your mind to absorb key issues and take the time to think about them so that you can make smart decisions. An articles on noted that the “… Inc. 500 CEOs regularly spend 50 to 90 percent of their time on strategy and business development. Obviously, an organization isn’t going to be a high-growth organization if time isn’t spent on both active strategy and business development.” Being methodical by taking the time to think strategically as the CEO/Executive Director of your nonprofit is important in the growth and evolution of your organization.

Be Crisp – Anyone can throw a kick or a punch in Taekwondo or press on the keys of a piano but the difference between beauty and noise come from years and years of practice. We can relate this to our communications and how crisp they need to be to our members, leaders and other constituencies.  In the book, Effective Business Communication by Asha Kaul, the author defines the 7 C’s of communication and their importance. A crisp communication style ensures clarity and allows others to act decisively on a request or action.

Be Decisive – In Taekwondo, hesitation during sparring will land you on the floor and a point to your opponent. Hesitation in playing a piece on the piano will lead to a choppy piece and a poor experience for the audience. The one thing that gets in the way with the decision-making process in “status quo” nonprofit organizations is the lack of a structure for change or decisiveness, which could be the board, the staff or any other structural issue. 

An article on sums up this issue quite well with the notion of “structural inertia”, which states that, “According to the theory of structural inertia, organizations are limited in their capacity to change because they’re selected – in evolutionary terms – for their highly reproducible behaviors. Stability is rewarded. Change, in fact, not only threatens to disrupt the current business but has the potential to lead to disaster. As a result, organizations continue to do as they’ve always done, even when it seems irrational to do so.” Structural inertia can be overcome by ensuring your leaders and team also believe in and embrace change. Start right now by looking at your leadership group and determining if it has the competencies necessary to drive change. If not, work with your leadership group to make this cultural change in your organization.

Being methodical, crisp and decisive has helped me substantially in a very short period of time in my business, my work with nonprofits and my life. Before you have to make a strategic move in your organization, apply some of these principals in the decision-making process. You will see productivity, efficiency and job satisfaction go up.  How can you apply these principals today?