When Karen Gately was five, she took her first steps in a dojo, the place where students and their sensei practice karate. Her dad was her chief instructor and whether he knew it, he set Gately on her life purpose to bring the best out in people. Gately, who today is triple black-belt ranked, is a people management specialist, and founder of Ryan Gately, an HR consulting practice based in Australia. She’s also an author of two books including The Corporate Dojo.
We recently sat down to discuss how karate has helped her become a better business leader, how to always be yourself, and how women can reconnect with a childhood sport:
YouInc: Fill in the blank: karate has helped me to ________________.
Karen Gately: Choose to make things happen. Why? Because karate teaches you to balance belief and humility, to understand what you’re great at, to believe in yourself, and balance that with insight about how you need to grow and improve. It teaches you incredible skills around focus and discipline and follow through, and committing to promises you make about being the best possible version of yourself.
YI: How have the skills of self-belief, discipline, and courage shaped your career?
It’s important that we speak with conviction. I’ve taken on jobs that I haven’t arguably been qualified to do. I stepped into being a call centre manager when I hadn’t yet managed a team. I believed that it would work out, but I didn’t believe I knew all the answers. I went into a HR director role with no experience working in an HR department. That belief was also reflected in the decisions that leaders made to give me opportunities.
If your life is under threat, and if someone is trying to hurt you, it doesn't matter how good your kicking or punching skills are, you have to believe that you can win and fight for your life. If you become frozen and fearful then your technique is useless to you.
Turning up is half the battle. Despite what fears or dreams or stories are going on in your head, turn up anyway. Confront it. Don’t avoid conflict. Don’t shrink your potential because you’re too afraid of what you need to be.
I see time as opportunity. Once I’ve decided that I want to achieve something, I really invest time and energy into doing it. I wrote two books in six weeks each, while running my consulting business, and being a busy parent. The only way I could do that was by choosing to be in the zone. I ask, how am I using this time to create value and opportunity?
The strength of our spirit has a profound influence on our mind and how we choose to think and feel and the reality we create.
Five years ago I chose to go down the path of speaking about human spirit and energy in business. The language I wanted to use was not accepted by other people. I feared coming across as waifty and losing credibility as a business leader. A lot of people said, “you won’t get business, and people won’t hire you.”
I had a nose ring, tattoos, and those were decisions I made to be who I am and an example to the people I work with. I can still know what I’m doing. Five years down the path I have evidence that was the right decision. The stuff I’m using is resonating with people.
YI: Are you same person you are at karate as you are at work?
KG: I’m no different whether I’m at karate or at work. I’m an educator. I’m here to inspire people. So, I reckon, it’s what people choose to believe their role is in those situations. For example someone might think, “in sport I have the expertise to help out and connect the group.” “Is that the role I see in my workplace, and how do I do that?”
It all begins with awareness and a courage to really know you, and that’s what karate makes you do. You have to understand your fears and what goes through your head and how you respond to that. You have to learn to regulate your emotions and survive in a combat scenario. Understand who you are and make conscious decisions about how you’re thinking and feeling.
YI: Where does karate go from here for you?
KG: Karate is a way of life. It’s part of my psyche and identity. In the business world, I behave like a sensei. I deliver tough love. I work hard to hold people accountable. I help them build their belief and confidence. Karate will influence me forever; it’s part of me.
YI: What's your advice for women who have abandoned a passion in sports?
KG: I’ve seen a 75-year-old man walk into a karate school and learn he wants to do karate; he did it, and he was awesome. Ask yourself, why would that add value in my life again? What will I gain and what are the fears that will hold me back?
Follow Karen Gately on Twitter.