Leadership Lessons #10: Martial Arts and Rockstars

Today is going to be a very special article, and it will also take a bit longer to read than usual. You might wonder why, after 9 articles of specific content, I am breaking this with this unusual title. Well,  I am not. All successful people in the world have things in common. Today I am going to talk about the things that link a martial arts fighter to a rockstar, and both of them to a successful CEO.

If you believe you are very smart and complex, you also assume your problems are.

I will try to share my personal experiences too. Because before my career as an executive coach for business leaders, I have worked as an artist manager, producer and mentor in the entertainment industry. So this article will be slightly different in form, a bit more personal and also longer than usual. But hopefully you will enjoy it as much as the other lessons.


So why on earth would someone step into a ring and fight another very strong person? My first experience started when I worked as a lighting designer for freefight and cage fight events. These were incredible events for someone like myself, not into sports at that time, but fascinated by the powerplay. 


I have met hundreds of fighters, and almost all of them were extremely friendly and introvert backstage. In the ring these men were powerful, dominant and dangerous for the untrained eye. Although there were some rules, it seemed that they tried to slaughter their opponents. 


I have witnessed fighters going out, and needed a defribilator from the medics in the event hall, live on stage. An ambulance was always waiting inside. It seemed so dangerous. WHY ON EARTH would someone do this? 


Working with artists, tv-stars, actors and other celebrities in the media, painted a similar picture, but with different colors:


An 18 year old girl, studying, sitting on her balcony, singing about her grandma who passed away suddenly. Very emotional, she wrote an absolute beautiful song. The song was recorded, broadcasted and became a hit. Millions of people became fans. 


This 18 year old girl, gave shows in arenas. Incredible venues with 50.000 people shouting, screaming, crying, loving her. The pressure was immense and backstage she was nervous beyond anything. She felt alone, got anxiety problems, started drinking and experimented with drugs. 


Although the easy way out would be: just not performing, finish school and become a teacher like you originally planned. The stage lured time after time. There was something in that moment that was worth all the pain and suffering. Because on stage she felt incredible. 


Now picture yourself as a CEO. Great salary, nice car, all the status and a beautiful office. People look up to you and you can boss them around. Sounds like a great deal right? 


Until you add the other side of the medal to this equation. Waking up at 5, being in the office at 6, making over 50 phone calls a day, doing 30 meetings, having to deal with pressure, danger, risks, and hard decisions that no-one else wants to make. 


You have to deal with P&L responsibility, you need to deal with media when an employee does something illegal, you are the one firing people when numbers are low and so on… Why on earth does the money and status weigh up to the numerous things you do not like? Because you look in the mirror and feel powerful?


These three examples paint you a picture on what these people have in common. As  I have explained in a previous article, leadership is about two main components: personality and competence. Well: the three people in my stories have the same type of personality. Only their competences are different. But not even all of them. So let us have a look at the similarities. 


I have personally worked with all kinds of successful people. CEO’s, sportspeople, famous artists, actors, referees, tv-personalities, and so on. They seem to share a great deal of personality aspects. Most of them, if you dive into their learning-history growing up, seem not very smoothly attached. Basically I dare to say, there is, more or less, an attachment disorder in place. 


People that show this, as you have learned in Leadership Lessons #3: Symbiosis, will always suffer from the problems of not being fully and symbiotically attached. How do you see this? By the type of recognition they are after. 


Healthy attached people have a foundation of unconditional recognition. However these successful people have trouble feeling this, and substitute it with conditional recognition. It is about succes, winning, money, cars, status etcetera. And almost always in a combination with OR substance abuse and drinking, OR with extreme sports. 


All of it is working on the nucleus accumbens as we have learned in Leadership Lessons #6: Dopamine. This is something all the examples have in common. They need the succes, the kick, the adrenaline, the win, the euphoric experience. And after they have had it? They want even more :)


It is very easy to analyse this lifestyle when looking at documentaries, Netflix series or YouTube interviews. ‘Hodinkee’ is a YouTube channel about watch-enthusiasts. If you see John Mayer talking about his watch collection and google his famous ‘girlfriend dating list’ of famous and extremely beautiful women, you can see a certain pattern yourself probably. 


A good relation is about unconditional love and connection. But if you are in the game for dopamine, it is about the yacht and conquering. About change, and new experiences. About being the one that got them all. But John Mayer is certainly not alone. Just look at any showbizz news-channel and see the same pattern over and over. And if there would be a similar channel for CEO’s: you would see the exact same behaviour. 


Problems in your early attachment will always effect your adult life, and that is painfully clear when you are watching the Netflix series on Kevin Hart. His lack of contradictory opinion, organised in his social network, makes him the alpha on the rock. And that backfires as soon as emotion is in place. As you can see in the whole Oscars-hosting controversy. 


If these people feel as if they are attacked wrongfully, they will most certainly go into a fight-response. The reptilian brain part is activated by the serotonine response and their testosteron steers it towards a FIGHT response every single time. 


Look at interviews with extremely successful and brilliant people, and see the same patterns. Elon Musk, Quincy Jones, Jordan Peterson, Muhammad Ali, Donal Trump, Hilary Clinton, Taylor Swift, Ellen Degeneres. The list is endless, and will keep growing as long as we, as a collective, don not understand the basic fundamental principles in place.


The things that separate the fighter from the CEO or singer, are their competences. In their personalty you will find a lot of overlap, but competence wise they took different exits on the talent-highway. A fighter will have this physical intelligence, a CEO a cognitive intelligence and a singer a creative intelligence. 


But, and that is something you can see for yourself, most of the time they will have several types of talent. These successful people have this incredible primal urge to succeed and possess the discipline to become skilled in multiple things. That is why Kevin Hart can be good at comedy, sports and filmmaking. And Elon Musk builds both cars and rocket ships. Or James Cordon does TV, singing and musical. Multi-talented people show both urgency, discipline and a hunger for recognition.


One of the reasons this group of people is misunderstood most of the time, is that they first of all do not accept any help or counseling until it is too late. And if they do eventually, they rather hire someone famous than someone competent. It is easier to work with Tony Robbins, who shows extremely detached and problematic problems himself, than to ask a psychiatrist. 


If you believe you are very smart and complex, you also assume your problems are. So it is not easy for someone to help you, and that person should be extremely competent and famous as-well. Because otherwise you would be saying that you are incompetent yourself because you could not deal with this problem.


For people working with this type of clientele, it is important to offer a fundament of unconditional recognition. Secondly, it is important to refrain from any judgement and have a proven approach to work with these people. But you should also understand their perspective. 


Make sure you understand how this life is. How backstage -vs- onstage life is. How a boardroom works and what these people experience when they get home. And because these people are rare, you see tens of thousands of successful people struggling with this every day.


Please try to watch some documentaries yourself, listen to podcasts and interviews and try to listen for conditional recognition. Try to see the pattern they show during the strive for succes. Listen to how they describe their succes and what they do with their money. Understand and feel the little boy or girl inside this famous personality. Respect the path they have walked, and never, but really never, underestimate the path they have walked. And are still walking every day.


If you want to become a leadership expert, accept that there is no such thing as a free meal in life. So a CEO, martial arts fighter, rockstar, tv-actor or other VIP, will have struggled to get there. The sad thing is, that almost all of them will stay unhappy and feel unsatisfied most of their life. Together with you, I hope to change this. It is the reason I do what I do. To make successful people feel fulfilled. To make them feel unconditionally accepted. To make them feel intrinsically happy without external input.


I would like to thank you for reading this special article of the Leadership Lessons series. It is an odd one out, in this series. I am breaking the format and just try to make you understand this important connection. Hopefully it will inspire you to dive into the subject and help successful people or even yourself, to accomplish the basic human needs. 


The next subject we will discuss in this series is: Feminine Leadership

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