President, The Travel Corporation Canada
In my early teenage years, like every good Canadian kid, I played hockey. My days were busy with practices, while my nights are remembered fondly as filled with streetlight-illuminated games of pick-up in front of my house. I had always thought that hockey was the sport that would carry me through adulthood, until my high school principal hired a judo instructor to come teach a few after-school lessons to the brave students who signed up. At fifteen, I was just curious, and possibly competitive, enough to join in. Less than two years later, I quit hockey and have never looked back.
Throughout the years, as I’ve worked towards a second-degree black belt, judo has taught me a great many things that apply in everyday life as well as in my role as president for The Travel Corporation in Canada. Judo isn’t about being the strongest in the class, but about timing and intelligent in your actions. In its most basic translation, judo means gentle way, and the craft of the sport is intended to focus your attention on letting your opponent make an ill-fated decision, which will allow you to maintain control and ultimately prevail.
What follows are four major practices in judo that take form whether it’s in the dōjō or boardroom.
As with every sport (and profession), it takes practice to become proficient and comfortable in your abilities. Most people will lump judo into a broad range of fighting techniques that mostly just translate to kicking and punching, but it’s much more composed than that. Judo is about self-control and maintaining a sense of calm in all situations. You can’t go into a match with your adrenaline pumping, hoping to see some blood – that will be your own downfall. With any situation that arises on the mat or in the office, a loss of control can be the difference between success and failure.
The phrase “timing is everything” is applicable in almost all aspects of life, but it’s one of the most important lessons in judo. An early thing I learned was that it’s very hard, near impossible, to move an opponent who’s standing still; it can be like trying to move a mountain. You need to wait for them to move on their own – a quick step to the side or an advance on you – to be able to use that momentum against them and knock them down. When it comes to business, even the best-laid plans need to wait for the perfect moment to be introduced or can run the risk of falling by the wayside.
Regardless of whether you’re dealing with a partner, an associate, an assistant, an intern or an opponent, respect is monumental. From the time I was a teenager, it was drilled into me that by respecting myself, I would learn to respect others, which translated into always competing in a clean suit, arriving on time and following the customs that had been set way before my time. To be seen as a worthy opponent or partner, you have to act like one, and nothing could be truer about the business world. If I want to be taken seriously and respected as the president of a company, I need to present myself in a respectable light and extend that to everyone I encounter. That’s a philosophy I try to impart in every aspect of my day-to-day life.
It’s funny to think that judo, which really isn’t much of a team sport, can be so ingrained within its own community, but it’s true. Once you get to a certain level in the practice, it’s expected that you will turn around and teach it right back to the next generation, something I quite enjoyed. You’re given the opportunity to pass on your experience to people of all ages who are new to judo. That same sense of community is vital in an office where expertise, ideas and solutions need to be shared and passed through the ranks to have a continuously learning and cohesive environment.
Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.