Black Belt

Warrior Spirit, Servant’s Heart

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Black Belt


I think of warriors as people engaged in a struggle or conflict. For many people, the immediate image is often that of the military soldier at war. For me though, I think of the dedicated martial artists.

Back in the early 1990’s, I wanted to find an activity that my son and I could enjoy together. Martial arts seemed to fit the bill. We began our journey down the road of Shaolin Chuan Fa. It was a great experience. Early on, I set myself a goal — earn my black belt before my fiftieth birthday. At the time I was 43 and very much out of shape physically. I didn’t understand it in the beginning, but I was also out of shape mentally.

The Shaolin monks created this art to better protect their temple and themselves from the existential threat of warring factions in China. It was serious work. Work that required self-discipline, physical stamina, mental focus and a willingness to help others learn so that they in turn would help you learn.

Even though my son and I were engaged in a very Americanized version of this ancient art, the dojo we joined was quite serious about passing along ancient lessons of the warriors. We both learned how to focus our minds, keep up with the physical requirements and to practice endlessly. The biggest obstacles were within us. We had to learn to control ourselves before we could control others. And, we had to learn to lead ourselves before we could lead others.


I like to think of spirit as being the non-physical aspects of my being. It is the emotional core, the “mind” part of the whole, integrated person. When we speak of leadership, we must think about the whole person — since that is all there is!

Spirit is the emotional energy that keeps me driving toward living out my values and working to achieve that unachievable vision. It is what allows me to continue the struggle and allows me to be a warrior. The integration of the spirit and body combined with a vision that takes one outside of one’s own small life is what makes a warrior.


A servant is one who performs duties for others. They have other person’s best interest at heart. For that reason, servants are trustworthy, not self-serving. If a leader believes in the values and vision of the organization she is leading, then she willingly serves all stakeholders. She will mentor and coach others in the art of leadership (when they give their permission to do so).

Serving others requires humility. Humility and compassion are traits that are almost always associated with great leaders. Compassion brings me to the next thought.


Of course the first definition for heart is the medical definition for that biological organ. In leadership, the second definition is what is of interest: “the central or innermost part of something.” When we speak of a servant’s heart, we are speaking of the innermost part of that person that defines them as a servant. They put others before themselves to the extent that they reasonably can do so.

No End

So, leaders, like warriors, never stop improving their skills. There is no end to their work. They use their skills to protect and develop others. They serve a greater mission than the one immediately in front of them. Leaders have a depth of spirit that drives them to not give up on the values and vision. Successful leaders exhibit patience and are compassionate. In short, great leaders exhibit warrior spirit with the compassion of the servant’s heart.