Part 2: 10 Qualities to Look for In Hiring Staff

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  1. Excellent communication skills. The martial arts business is a service business. A people business – and people like good, clear communications. They want to be recognized, complimented, encouraged, and rewarded. They want to know that they are important and special individuals, and they want you to tell them this.

They want you to listen to their problems when they’re down. They want sympathy, counsel, and moral support. A good instructor plays the role not only of master, but also of coach, doctor, lawyer, friend, and mentor. The student looks to the instructor as a pillar of strength to help them overcome the problems of daily life.

Tom wants a few stretches, and some sympathy, for his bad back. Mrs. Jones wants to instill some discipline in little Tommy, but also she wants the world to know what a great little angel he really is most of the time. Fifteen year old Sammy wants to know how he can get a date with a girl from the high school for the prom.

Instructors with good communication skills provide all these things, and much more besides. Good communication is 80% listening to the other people, and showing them that you’re interested in them and their lives. Less than 20% is actually helping them out with any of their problems.

  1. Excellent sales skills. Chuck Norris, who obviously did not lack martial art skills, went bankrupt in his martial arts schools 3 times before becoming a movie star. I had the opportunity to talk with him about this several years ago, and he told me his biggest mistake was this – “I thought that everyone wanted to be World Champion, just like me.”

In addition to a hard style of teaching, Chuck could have used some help selling and marketing his school to make sure it was a success. If you hire an instructor with no sales skills, or any aptitude to learn them, you will continually be handicapped in your efforts to maximize your school. Everyone is in sales – if not directly selling lessons, selling themselves to their students, so they come back again and again.

  1. Teaching skills. There are hundreds of thousands of excellent black belts, who couldn’t teach a dog to lick a bone. Teaching skill has nothing to do with personal skill. The best golf instruction I ever had was given to me by a rather crass, middle aged pro, that I could have beat, one-handed.

What he did have, however, was an amazing skill in helping other players play better golf. So it is with martial arts. Do not make the mistake, as many of us have, of thinking that an excellent martial artist will also be an excellent instructor. In fact, in many cases, the opposite may be true. Because the person is technically excellent themselves, they will often demand the same of their students, creating a negative rather than a positive atmosphere.

Teaching martial arts requires a lot of patience, a lot of energy, and above all, lots of coaching, encouragement, and leadership skills.

  1. Good physical appearance. Although I know of several successful instructors who are shamelessly out of shape, it does not create a good image for you or for your school if you have an over weight or out of shape instructor teaching. America, wrongly or rightly, is a society of looks. If you or your instructors do not look good, you are hurting yourself.

Would you go to a weight loss clinic or a health club run by a 300 lb. lady? Most people wouldn’t. Not only should your staff look good physically, but they should always have clean, pressed uniforms and excellent grooming. The uniform does a lot to create the aura of mystique in the martial arts. Make sure that your instructors are always wearing theirs.

While ponytails, men’s earrings, an unshaven look, and other fads of fashion come and go, the best look for anyone who’s going to be successful – other of being of Asian descent and looking like Bruce Lee – is clean cut. All American – like a Marine on Embassy Guard Duty. The more you get your instructors to look sharp, appear sharp, and act sharp, the better it will be for your school.

  1. Self-confidence and motivation. It’s essential that your instructors have confidence in themselves and in their ability. If they do not, it will quickly show, and hurt your class. The ideal instructor is not an ego-maniac, but someone who is sure of their own abilities

Nothing is more draining to a studio owner than having to go in every day and pump up an instructor, just to get him to do his job. If you have to pump up your employees every day, you have the wrong people working for you. Once a week, yes. By all means, once in a while. But not every single day.

You have to find and hire self-motivated individuals. People who can get up in the morning early enough to show up at the school by noon, and not be late on a regular basis. People who have their eyes wide open without 19 cups of coffee. People brimmin’ with enthusiasm, energy, and a great attitude.

  1. Willingness to continue learning. Very often you will find that once instructors reach a certain level of martial arts achievement, or financial success, they mentally shut down their learning systems. Unfortunately, this phenomenon often happens just as soon as an instructor reaches black belt.

In many cases, we contribute to this problem, by always making black belt seem like the end of the journey, rather than the beginning. We always ask questions like, “You want to be a black belt, don’t you, Jimmy?” Or, we have signs posted – ‘Your Goal is to be a Black Belt.’ Fine, for most of the students, who might never get there. But, what about those that do?

After one of the first Apollo Missions returned from the Moon, all of the astronauts became clinically depressed. A study was conducted, and found some very interesting answers to their problems. Since they were all little boys, all had wanted to become astronauts. Once astronauts, they all wanted to be picked to go to the moon. But, what do you do with the rest of your life, when your entire focus for ten or fifteen years, is to go to the moon – and you’ve already been there?

They became depressed because their wildest dream had come true – and they’d not focused their life beyond that specific goal of going to the Moon. Your staff must have a willingness to continue training – both in the arts, and in the business skills. Help them develop this willingness by holding meetings where ideas and information can be exchanged. 

I’m constantly amazed by the number of people I talk to who tell me they don’t go to a seminar, or don’t buy a specific program, because they already know everything they need to know. This is such an ignorant attitude towards success. I know a lot about sales, a lot about marketing, and a lot about leadership – and yet, last year alone, read over 200 books on those subjects.

You can never know enough. Always look to know more about teaching, about training, and about business. Be good, get better, be the best.

  1. A team player. A good instructor must be a team player. When staff or resources are not available, he must be just as willing to clean the restrooms as he is to teach the advanced Bokada. This is where the value of an up-front job description can come into play.

Show your staff a wide range of job descriptions, right from the word ‘Go.’ Let them know that teaching is only part of the job an instructor must perform. Perhaps the biggest mistake I see studio owners making is that of thinking that the instructor they hire is there only to teach class.

I feel that an instructor’s main job should be that of promoting the school, and helping the school grow. If you make it seem like this is the main job, you will find that your staff do a lot more to help your studio grow – and it won’t affect their teaching. The key instrument in making this happen is to provide your people with a position agreement.

The position agreement should cover all the things you expect them to do, in minute detail, and also let them know all the things they can expect from you in return. We’ll talk more about this valuable instrument later in the program.

  1. Last, but certainly not least, is martial arts skills. While I know it’s hard to believe that martial arts skills are all the way down here at the bottom of this list, in terms of having a valuable instructor who could help your students, and your school, grow – that’s exactly where it belongs.

Not to say that you should not take every opportunity to improve your staff’s technical martial arts skills – but the other skills must be developed first. Once they are in play, and operations are running are smoothly, there will be time for you to get those martial art skills exactly where you want them to be.

Look for these ten key attributes when hiring people to teach in your school. Whether you are paying them or not, it’s important they have each of these attributes. I’ve seen many, many schools who have people that help out, teaching for free – only to find out that these people, because they don’t have the enthusiasm or attitude, far from helping the school, are driving it under.

You can’t take people who don’t possess these skills and let them loose in your school.   Even if you’re not paying them, it’s a false economy. You have to have people who are upbeat and excited about working for you.

The final thing to consider, and one which covers all these key traits, is that of leadership skills. In the MATA Program, you have a wonderful leadership program. Make sure you use it, and help each member of your staff, whatever their position, enhance their leadership skills.

The better staff become in a leadership role, however small that may be in your operation, the greater your studio will perform.