The Business Bottleneck: Kickboxing to Jiu Jitsu

Every business owner and leader eventually hits a point where they feel like a fish out of water in a business or role they’d otherwise become (extremely) confident in. Maybe it was when they expanded to a second, third, or fourth location, when they hired their first full-time sales rep, or when they tried to move their business from residential to more commercial. 

Whatever the trigger, there are changes that happen in our business that require new skills or a different way of thinking about what we’re doing. And if we can’t make the shift, we become the bottleneck for our business. 

Awhile back, I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast episode on Spotify- he and Steven Rinella (of the MeatEater podcast) were talking about why very few elite kickboxers become elite level MMA fighters. Rogan explained that most kickboxers who get into MMA are quickly confronted with their lack of grappling experience. Many have little or no experience with jiu jitsu or wrestling, and are incredibly vulnerable to more well-rounded fighters.

So they just need to learn wrestling and jiu jitsu, right? Yes, of course, but therein lies the challenge. Many kickboxers who come to MMA were rockstars in the kickboxing world. Elite athletes at the top of their game. To learn grappling and jiu jitsu would require most of them to eat a giant slice of humble pie, and start at the bottom again. Anyone who has attended a jiu jitsu class can vouch for this. It’s incredibly humbling for a 36-year-old dad; I can only imagine the combination of frustration and embarrassment a world-class kickboxer might feel.

The analogy for us as leaders and business owners is obvious. We all have moments of truth where we realize, “I’m going to have to reinvent myself if I’m going to carry the business through this next wave of growth- it’s going to demand different skills and a new kind of attention from me.”

What should you do if you recognize you’re at one of these crossroads yourself, that the skillset and perspective that got you the business you have, aren’t what’s required to build to the next level?

Here are four things to consider: 

Do you have a good mirror for yourself? 

Do you have someone who can give you an accurate assessment of where you need to grow and what skill gaps you need to address? Someone that can hold up a mirror and say, “this is what I’m seeing”. This is a role we play with our consulting clients regularly, but it could also be a business partner, an industry peer you’re close with, or even a life coach that you have some time and grade with. 

How is your identity wrapped up in your business or your role? 

Don’t be too quick to gloss over this. Our businesses and our titles can be huge sources of affirmation for us. Even our headcount, having certain GP numbers, how much EBITDA did we do last year, the size of our fleet, how many/few hours we have to work…all of it can be a routine source of affirmation that is subconsciously confirming to us that we’re a person of value, a successful leader, a “real entrepreneur”, someone worthy of love or admiration. 

As soon as we start venturing into uncharted territory and encounter struggle or failure, it can be very tempting to abandon the new learning. The possibility of looking like a fool or coming across as incompetent in a certain area to our employees or peers is just too much for our ego to handle. So we revert back to “what we know.” (And become a bottleneck for our business)

Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for this. The task is to reflect and cultivate awareness as you go into this new season of growth. Is my self-worth closely tied to what I do in this business? Is my self-worth predicated on winning, or something deeper and more timeless? My capacity to change and adapt over time, my identity before God, or my broader role as a husband or father are ways people identify themselves aside from their work or achievements. 

Break your learning path into projects

Do you need to figure out how to build a B2B sales operation, how to develop a world-class team culture, or how to expand with multiple locations? 

Rather than try to tackle all these initiatives at once, pick one and dive deep until you establish competency. Competency is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. You do not have to become the best in the world before you tackle the next initiative. 

Give yourself some accountability

Once you have some clarity about what you’re trying to change or learn, and a plan for moving forward, share it. There’s a tendency to keep quiet about our learning until we’ve already got traction. But really, the best way to get traction is to make ourselves accountable to others. All of us are more motivated to do something if we told others we were going to do it. All of us!

So bring some trusted people in on your plan, perhaps your leadership team. “Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s why.” Ask them to check in on your progress. Ask them to be a mirror for you.

Accountability can make all the difference in learning something new or changing your behavior, but think about the leadership opportunity as well. By bringing others in on our learning plan, what are we modeling for them? A growth mindset, humility, vulnerability, drive, dedication- all things we want our whole company emulating.

Chris Nordyke

Chris Nordyke is a past State Farm insurance agency owner and commercial sales executive in the restoration industry. He’s a founder and Co-host of the Head Heart & Boots podcast, co-founder of the Floodlight Consulting Group, and co-founder of the Floodlight Leadership Circles. Chris resides in the beautiful state of Oregon with his wife of 20 years, Cara, and their 3 children- Lily, Jack and Simon.

Email Chris at:

Listen to the Head Heart and Boots Podcast on Apple iTunes and Spotify.

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