Leadership Series Part 3
In the first two parts of my leadership series, I discussed how to transition from a trainer to a coach leveraging permission-based leadership over position-based leadership. I introduced you to the 5 levels of leadership as taught by leadership expert John Maxwell and how these 5 maps were a roadmap to the legacy you wish to impart on the world. I then, in part two went over my own leadership journey before making the jump to becoming a full-time coach during a recession in late 2007 when I left TSA to work for big box gym training one on one sessions. This is where part 3 picks up as the transition from level 1 to level 2 began for me.
When I worked for TSA, primarily the last year of that, I was an acting supervisor here and there. I was only begrudgingly given that “authority” because I had the respect of my peers, which made it easy for supervisors over me depending on where I worked, whether baggage or on the checkpoint to leave their post knowing all would be well. I enjoyed having the respect of my superiors but enjoyed having the respect of my peers more.
It was my first lesson looking back now on not having a position didn’t mean much. In fact, my peers respected me more than the screening manager who used to set his aim upon me daily. I led as I led myself, which was through example because honestly, at 24, I had no clue how to lead anyone. After 5 years with the TSA, I evolved from leading from a place of position to a place of permission.
I believe this transition occurred because I was coaching part-time at night. After all, I could not stomach more than 40 hours at TSA and was enjoying leading my clients to a better life through improved health and fitness. What I did not realize till a couple of years later is that if you win the crowd, you gain their permission, and the power of the mob behind you is priceless when creating impact.
In October of 2017, I left TSA after 5 years serving for them. I am appreciative of the journey, and all the experiences working for TSA afforded me. It helped me understand most of all, how not to lead others. I could see first-hand how leading through power, authority, and fear ruined a work environment that totally crushed the morale of a workforce. When I went to work for the big box gym full time, I was good at a few things that have later become cornerstones in my coaching career.
Back in 2008, I could not name these as quickly as I can now, but in 2008 I was ahead of the other coaches I worked within my desire to win for my clients and how I loved working with them watching them believe in themselves again. The other piece which gave me a huge advantage was my student’s heart. I love learning, and because of my love for reading and bodybuilding, I have always been in some book regarding learning something to use with my clients to achieve better results for them.
A few months after working full-time, my boss recommended a book called “Developing The Leader Within You” by John Maxwell. This was the first leadership book I ever consumed, and within the first few pages, I was hooked on the topic of leadership. It has since that day been a topic I am very passionate about and will talk to anyone about because I believe it creates the impact to make great things happen.
With leadership comes the ability to live your purpose. This creates a passion for writing a legacy of your choice. It is the most important and misunderstood topic in the business space, especially the health and fitness industry where influencer and leader often are words thrown around casually. While yes, you need to be able to influence others as part of a basic understanding of leadership, but you also need to be viewed as trustworthy for deposits in your leadership ability to take place.
How you live – your values and principles will decide the deposits made in your leadership account. This equates to the trust you compel others to give you along their journey of them following you and you leading them. Remember, you are always setting an example. Remember that as we work on building your foundation in leadership. Setting the standard as a leader is a form of currency – use it wisely.
By now, I was immersed in the culture entirely. I was further able to understand how those above me were leading. Of course, I was not perfect, which was a ridiculous goal to aim for. No one ever is perfect when beginning a leadership journey. You need to remember you are going to fail and fail often. In hindsight, I practiced the silicon way of doing things – fail often and, most importantly, recover better. Constant testing, analyzing, and applying based on those two are going to summarize the majority of your leadership career if you are a student to it.
I know as a coach to others and a mentor to other coaches, I am still testing out my leadership in the hope of refining my company’s flywheel more. We will get into the flywheel at a later point, but for now, you need to accept that you will fail, and that is ok. Failing often gives you the chance to learn new things about yourself, about those you influence, but ultimately crafts the vision you are championing for them to follow.
Armed with my basic understanding of leadership from TSA and a manual that confirmed TSA was full of positional leaders, I decided to undertake the journey of transition from position to permission leadership. It meant death to my ego and openness for critical feedback while maintaining a focus that all the failures were part of moving forward.
Within a month of coaching full-time, I was full of clients. I had clients every 30 minutes from 630 in the morning till 8 in the evening Monday through Thursday. I took from 1130-130 to work out for myself, but that was it. My day was spent serving clients on their journey, bringing the best in them out in each session if I could. Some days I was on fire, and that translated to weeks. Other days I cringe at how lazy I was as a coach.
I could tell when I was on a slump because I would become uninspired and that immediately caught my attention. Why did this catch my attention? Because I knew how much I cared about coaching. Plus, my clients were paying me good money for an experience. We all come from somewhere, and I am not ashamed of that at all because, ultimately, something inside me was always whispering me to keep pushing and try harder.
In 2009 I was churning 160 plus one on one sessions out every 2 weeks. I was loving it. I was the only full-time trainer in terms of hours per week. Others said they were full-time, but they never churned out sessions as I did. This was a pace I would keep until 2013 when I was forced to change from one on one sessions to small group training. 2013 was a gamechanger for me in many ways, but more on that later.
From working as much as I did, I was able to get more and more results with clients. Pretty soon, clients were bringing me their friends, and I was keeping clients retained. Hell, some of them would even buy extra sessions if I was close to hitting a goal. By working the trenches with complete hustle, my learning curve was improving too.
I was able to figure things out faster for people early on because I had already encountered it before. I did not know the fancy terms that exist now, but I knew most women under-ate their food, so feeding them up was smart, and most men cheated too much on their diet to understand what the hell actually worked for them.
The other by-product of slinging it in the trenches day in and day out was the respect I earned from the “hardcore” guys and the regulars. They would let me have equipment if I needed it because they respected my need to make money. Do you know how hard it is to get a bodybuilder to give up a mirror? Yeah, it is really fucking hard to be honest with you because I am a bodybuilder, and love mirrors myself. But yet they would let me take spaces I needed to do workouts I needed to. They would even refer people who asked them a bunch of questions to me. The same went for the regulars too. I had one guy who followed me from one gym to another to another who never bought a single thing from me, but yet referred me, 3 people, over those years. He simply followed me because he thought I was a good guy, knew my shit, and truly loved helping others. That is a powerful testament to one’s character and leadership.
I would learn the best lessons of my life after 30, which is when most people settle down. Nope, not this ninja. I am hardheaded as they come and would pour everything into my coaching career. Why do I say coaching career? Because at 30, that is what it was to me. In my mid-30s, it became my business, and now as I am about to turn 40, it is my passion. It has evolved just like I did as a person. You and you alone choose to carry guilt and shame from your past with you. It took me many years before I realized this.
Oh yeah, one more thing. If you surround yourself with people who always remind you of your guilt and shame, they are assholes. Leave them. Trust me as someone who now sees that if you take a bath with leeches, you know the outcome.
The lessons I learned where absolutely essential to endure now in hindsight because it prepared for me to lead when the time really mattered, and that time comes in every leader’s path. This walk-in leadership comes with peaks and valleys, just like life. I say this because you have to forgive yourself quickly and learn to fail forward. These two things alone were the key takeaways from my evolution.
In the next part, I am going to dive into the year that furthered my evolution. 2011 was monumental for me as I began to look at my coaching not just as a career, but as a business.
About Jeff Black
Jeff is a nationally recognized health and fitness coach, public speaker, podcast host for The Excellence Cartel, owner of Iron House Strength & Conditioning, bodybuilder, and Osteogenesis Imperfecta Advocate. He is also a roundtable expert on IntenseMuscle.com.
Today, Jeff works collectively with some of the top coaches in the health and fitness space presenting to other coaches and individuals on health and fitness. He has a passion for leadership and serving others to help them be their own hero. He is recognized for his results, but above all else, the passion he has for the coach’s heart he holds dear.