The Most Effective Leaders Lead by Example

I attended a StrongFirst Level I Certification in Chicago in April 2016. This was the first time I had actually been through a StrongFirst Level I Cert as a student and not an instructor. In fact, I hadn’t been on the receiving end of a Level I since 2009. Between 2009 and 2016, I did continue to learn by attending workshops like the RKC II, CK-FMS, Easy Strength, StrongFirst Bodyweight Certification, StrongFirst Barbell Certification, and Plan Strong.  But, in all reality it had been seven years since I was a student of the basics.

I had three reasons why I wanted to accept this new challenge:

  1. To regain my perspective
  2. To see if I still “had it”
  3. To learn more

Real Leaders Lead by Example

When I first got introduced to kettlebells back in in the early 2000s, my goal was not to be a part of the leadership team. My goal was to challenge myself and learn. I wanted to understand me better and I wanted to understand movement better.

StrongFirst Level I Certification

Somewhere in the busyness of life over the past few years I got off track—I stopped being a student and was only a teacher. I taught SFG Certifications, FMS workshops, and in graduate classes at Missouri State University. I taught my coworkers at the hospital where I work. I taught my own workshops. I trained people for the SFG Level I and Level II Certifications, for marathons, and to excel at their sport.

In the midst of all of that, I became stagnant. Don’t get me wrong—teaching others was rewarding for me and I did learn from those I taught. But, it is not the same as submitting yourself to other teachers and being taught. I believe in a saying that states, “If you are unwilling to be taught, you are unworthy to teach.”

They say with time comes wisdom, and over the last few years of being involved in leadership positions in multiple organizations and observing others in leadership, I formed a jaded opinion based on what I kept seeing—that many people in leadership lose perspective. I witnessed leaders making decisions based on their perception of reality, which might not have been the reality of those they were leading. These leaders had lost touch with what it was like to be on the frontline of their organization. The question this created in my mind was, “I teach people at SFG Certifications and I train people to go through these same weekends, but can I still go through an SFG Level I?”

Future StrongFirst Leaders

Additionally, I wanted to be an example to my son—to show him that you need to have goals, set priorities, and stick to them. Children mimic their parents. Warning: science-y facts to follow. There are these wonderful things called mirror neurons in our brains that work overtime in children. These mirror neurons help to accelerate learning. Remember, kids learn to move with no verbal instruction. In essence, they see what those around them do and try to mimic it. Show me a kid that moves poorly (or doesn’t move) and likely there is at least one parent who moves poorly or doesn’t move. I wanted to be a positive influence on my son and at the same time prove to myself that older me could still make it through the weekend like younger me did.

Note: There is one thing I have left out to this point—thanks to Brett Jones, I went through the Level I Certification weekend with the 28kg kettlebell instead of the 24kg. Go big or go home, right? 

The SFG Level I Difference

Here is what I experienced in my SFG Level I Certification weekend. My new-school versus old-school:

  • My first kettlebell certification experience was physically more challenging than my SFG weekend. The funny thing is, I spent significantly less time training for this Certification than I did for my first one. However, since life has gotten busier for me, my training had to be very smart and on point this time around. I reached into my closet and pulled out and followed the exact program booklet I give to my students who have gone through the SFG Cert. I took my snatch test at noon on Sunday, Sunday night I was playing baseball and tag with my six-year-old, and I went back to work the next day. After my first certification, I couldn’t walk fully upright for two days and didn’t want to touch a kettlebell for two weeks.
  • The current teaching progression is awesome from the student standpoint. One skill leads to the next skill, which leads to the next skill. Historically, that has always been the intent, but it actually is happening now—each drill is rock solid. It makes learning easy. It makes recalling the sequence afterward easy, as well as implementing it into the real world. It also makes teaching easier. The SFG Level I curriculum is the best kettlebell teaching progression that StrongFirst has ever had.
  • The instructors were there to teach. It’s not uncommon to see instructors showing off on the side, trying to make things about what they can do instead of making the weekend about what they can get others to do. I saw zero of this at my Certification— and I was looking for it because it always drives me nuts.
  • I left with a notebook full of, well, notes. I teach this material every day and still I found things to learn, to refine, and to grow.
  • The volume is no joke. Being semi-partially OCD, I was able to keep track of everything we did and how many reps of each drill we did. Here is the breakdown:

StrongFirst Leaders Lead by Example

Change Is Opportunity

My experience as a StrongFirst student was awesome. It challenged me, it educated me, and it grounded my perspective. Things in today’s StrongFirst are different than in the past—that is our reality. We are a living, breathing, organic organization that is constantly evolving. With any change comes opportunity—opportunity to grow, to evolve, to learn, to move forward, to complain, or to resist. Overall, I would say that today as an organization we are better than we have ever been and we are proactively moving in the direction to continue to be the benchmark in physical training.

The best part of this? Every student that comes to StrongFirst will leave better than when they arrived—whether they visit the blog, attend a one-day Kettlebell Course, or attend a multi-day Certification. The StrongFirst experience is a transformative experience, even for those of us who have been through it before.

Brandon Hetzler
Brandon Hetzler is a Certified Athletic Trainer who serves as the Manager for Mercy Sports Medicine in Springfield, Missouri, where he oversees the Sports Medicine program as well as the Sports Performance program. He helped to develop the curriculum for and teaches in the Masters of Athletic Training degree at Missouri State University. He is a former StrongFirst Certified Senior Instructor and holds several additional credentials in multiple training disciplines.

Brandon is the co-creator of Movement Restoration, LLC and the Athletic Development Institute, LLC. He has written a book titled Movement Restoration, which proves anyone with enough free time and persistence can write a book. He teaches several workshops every year and when he is not traveling to teach, he spends his time trying to keep his wife, son, and dog in line and going strong.
Brandon Hetzler on Facebook

5 thoughts on “The Most Effective Leaders Lead by Example

  • Great article! I love the line – “If you are unwilling to be taught, you are unworthy to teach.” So true. Also, thanks for adding up the volume. I felt like it was at least 30 tons moved when I took my level 1 (actually it felt like more to me 😛 ) Thanks for sharing your great insights!

  • Leadership is a transferable skill set, no doubt about it… timely article. How do I get my hands on your SFG training booklet?

  • I think we’re underestimating the amount of cleans performed. You have cleans for the sake of cleaning, then more cleans to get racked for squating, and even more cleans to get racked for pressing!

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