Or “Kung Fu Leadership for Hospitality Managers” by Stephen Hickmore

I confess, I spent 6 years as a student of Shaolin Kung Fu. When you stop wondering about this somewhat unlikely Bruce Lee, let me explain? I took it up late in life to help me handle stress and to defend myself against intruders, hijackers and my wife and two kids. I cannot boast about becoming a Kung fu master but I learnt a lot.

its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any skill achieved through hard work and practice. Not necessarily fisticuffs. So, if you like, a person’s Kung fu can be good with cooking, accounting and management leadership to name a few.

So what can you learn from Kung Fu that can be applied to business leadership?

I was mindful of this during a particularly tricky meeting with a client, who showed excellent leadership in handing a delicate and serious incident. His first reaction was to accept responsibility for the situation and to work on what could be learned and how to prevent the same thing happening again. Without knowing it he applied “kung Fu” to the problem. Truth is he could have easily chosen to kick my butt but he reframed his emotions, kept calm and did not feed into negativity.  Together we were able to solve the problem and move forward with relationships strengthened.

Here are 5 Tips I picked up from my Sifu Frank Sebregts that could be applied to business Leadership


Be Calm in the Face of Adversity

As a leader your calmness can determine the entire mood of the workplace. Losing your temper is a weakness that an opponent will take full advantage of, and will leave your team searching for a new mentor. A Kung Fu initiate does not use adrenaline as a fuel for his emotions knowing that an uncontrolled, unpractised and aggressive response to pressure could leave him vulnerable.

A manager using fear as a motivator will not ever inspire anyone. In a beginners Kung Fu class the arrogant and aggressive have to change or are asked to leave. There is a real danger in teaching someone the art of Kung Fu if they are the type of personality who will misuse it. Managers are the same, why teach them the secrets of a valuable business if their actions could upset clients, colleagues and destroy the company’s reputation.

Do not match fighting styles

When others overreact don’t make matters worse by reacting in the same way. Don’t feed into the negativity of the situation. You don’t need to be right.

Be careful not to be defensive, you are not necessarily being attacked. Your opponent may be testing you to see how you react. Take a step back and assess the situation, try to understand why your opponent is acting in this way. A Kung Fu exponent may “take Tea” at this point and do a lot of thinking before deciding how to act.

Break each challenge down, what is the real problem and how can it be solved. Ignore the noise of the crowd and rely on your instincts.

Face your fears

In Kung Fu you will face your enemies and demons head on, not through a third party. And if you get into a fight you must never give up.

Managers should not lead by e mail, SMS and memo or send someone junior in to take the heat. That is not leadership. Put simply lead by example.

Of course you can walk away from any situation that is your choice. But, what could you gain from facing it and conquering it? It’s up to you, you can give up or keep going.

Reframe your discomfort

Your immediate emotions must not frame your choices. Reframing is changing your interpretation of your experience. For instance, pain in a kung Fu class is temporary and an indication that you are heading in the right direction and a step towards your goal.

A Manager who studies has the sacrifice of the late nights and exam nerves. This is uncomfortable but is bearable when you have plan.


You will make lots of mistakes in practice. Admitting a mistake is not a weakness but a strength, learn from it.

Learn to respect your teachers, colleagues, co-workers, clients as well as your opponents

The knowledge that you have the power to win if you so desire, will give you confidence


Fortunately I have never used my skills in a fight beyond the Kung Fu school, which is fortunate because I was never a particularly good fighter. And I ain’t exactly Confucius, but the teachings beyond the sparring have been more valuable than I ever imagined.

Originally published Hotel and Restaurant Magazine