Why did I become a leadership coach?


I shared my story with my clients. They were inspired to become transformational leaders as they believe they can do as I have done. Here is my story:

Since a kid, I always wanted to become a leader. I watched movies and were only interested in heroes. I read comic books since I was young. As you might have guessed, those books were about heroes. To a young mind like myself, they were leaders that I wanted to become one day.
As I grew up and got more education, I read more about real heroes in the history who either had great physical strength, who mastered the war strategy, or who had great lucks. Since I was in Vietnam, most of heroes I read about were Vietnamese heroes and Chinese heroes. I dreamed of becoming one of them one day. I was only interested in those heroes who were great leaders.
My challenge was that I grew up normally as most kids in Vietnam did. There was virtually no real role model of great leaders around to be followed. And the leaders in book were depicted like gods, which made it harder for me to become one. Those leaders become leaders and heroes mostly overnight. This kind of thought was actually more poisonous than helpful as I constantly looked for ways to become overnight success.
The good thing that those leaders inspired me was that my dream of becoming a leader never stops. In any activity I participated, I always wanted to become the leader of the group. I just did not know how. The only thing I could do was to dream and play the leadership role inside my head.
When I came to the United States to study, I learned more about American founding fathers such Benjamin Franklin, who actually inspired me great deal. The way American authors described their heroes was more real than Asian authors. Their biographies contain the full accounts of their lives from kid to adults and what they did to become leaders. I found some hope to become a leader one day if I followed what Benjamin Franklin did. However, what he did was too simple that it was too hard to follow, especially for me as I was only interested in overnight successes.
My taste of real leadership was when I joined Musokai Karate in Utah. Musokai Karate was founded by Shihan Arakaki, an incredible human being, one of the best leaders, and the best teacher I have ever seen. Shihan’s leadership was vivid in his teaching as well as how he operates the dojo. He mastered the art of Okinawa Karate and was able to transform his understanding of Karate into teachable method – a rather rare combination in martial world. Observing Shihan’s leadership laid a foundation in my mind for the leadership that I would later find and tune into. By having Shihan as a role model, I just followed his lead and gradually understood that overnight success was only in fiction. I gained leadership experience in the dojo as well as advanced in Musokai Karate.
At work, I was promoted to be a manager after a couple of years of working from intern up. I was working with an outstanding manager, who saw that I could lead a team of engineers. I was leading my team using positional leadership and the expert knowledge of automation testing. In fact, the concept of manager versus leader was unclear to me. I thought being a leader and being a manager were the same thing. Later I would learn that having a management position only makes one a positional leader, not a real leader.
I went ahead for a MBA hoping to improve my leadership skills. I learned a lot of management skills instead.
Up till early 2015, my leadership was mainly positional and specialized knowledge. I thought that leaders must be the masters in the areas they lead. I thought leaders would have all the answers. I thought leaders would be the smartest persons in the room. I did well leading my team in the area of my special strength: automation and with a management title. However, I soon realized I must grow.
Luckily, I came across the name John Maxwell from one of the leadership classes I took. I read his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership but my mind was numb as I did not know the secrets of leadership were actually in the book. However, I knew John Maxwell is the person I must learn leadership from as he could clearly define the concept and principles of leadership. By chance or accident, I landed on John Maxwell Team page. It describes everything I ever wanted: to become a real leader and have ability to develop other leaders.
Being part of John Maxwell Team has been the biggest blessing for me in 2015. From studying the Maxwell philosophy taught by Scott Fay, I knew the definition of leadership and what it took to be a real leader. I knew exactly the difference between management and leadership. John Maxwell said something that was really important in the book: leadership can be learned like any other skill. This was eye-and-mind-opening to me. I went on to study all modules that the John Maxwell Team offered. I gained a deep understanding of John Maxwell’s leadership principles. The coaching module was outstanding taught by world-class coach Christian Simpson. This coaching module provided me a practical toolset to practice leadership. Coaching is really the secret sauce of effective leadership. John Maxwell himself is a great coach whose questions have magic to change life.
I learned leadership skills directly from John Maxwell and many different skills from the mentors. What John taught changed my life: the quality of a leader is determined by the quality of his questions. In other words, good leaders ask great questions. Instead of being the smartest guy in the room, a good leader is the most curious guy in the room. A good leader has thought-provoking questions to ask, not the answers to reply. In 7 months since joining John Maxwell Team, I not only transformed myself from positional leader to transformational leader but also developed many leaders within my company and outside of my company, as well as leaders in Vietnam. My world was changed. I am living the life of a leader who has the power to lead my own life as well as develop other leaders who in turn add values to many others. I am living in my dream: the dream of becoming a leader.
As Warren Buffett said “hang out with people better than you, and you cannot help but improve“, I am associating with two of the best leaders in the world: Shihan Arakaki and John Maxwell, along with the team of outstanding leaders and coaches of John Maxwell Team as well as leaders that I develop. I can’t help but improve day by day.

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