Leadership Series – Part 2In the first part of my series on leadership, I introduced you all to the 5 levels of leadership, as taught by John Maxwell. I also gave some glimpses into what going from a positional leader, level 1, to a permission-based leader, level 2, might look like. In part two, I want to expound on level 2 leadership in my own career. It started when I was 22 years old and left for New York City to service a mission and be a part of a vision that inspired my heart. As I have come to realize over my leadership journey, two components have to be aligned for you to want to work towards mastery of your craft, which starts in the transition from level 2 leadership and level 3, I believe. When the mission and vision sing to your heart, you can summon insurmountable energy in the form of true raw passion for carrying you through the peaks and valleys in the pursuit of mastery. Like any leadership journey, it has to start somewhere, and for me, it started with a promotion at age 24, which would ultimately begin my pursuit of leadership. I found out early on that I loved serving others in the form of a positional hierarchy. The higher I could go, the better I could help others is what my naïve self-rationalized at age 24. Later on, I would come to realize serving others is hard if the mission doesn’t match your own mission statement, which finally culminated when my heart no longer beat when following the vision. This story has roots found in two things I want to expound on – mission and vision. These to form a beautiful couple in terms of separation of going from level 1 to level 2 on the leadership ladder. You have to pursue a mission that resonates with your own mission statement. This is step 1 in the transition from level 1 to level, which I will expound on in the next part in my leadership series. The other part is the vision. You have to be able to see it, feel it, walk-through it, experience it, recreate it, and execute to achieve it. If you cannot do 2 or more parts of those 6 parts, I believe you will always struggle in your pursuit of mastery in terms of your craft and influence. Now do not get me wrong there are going to be times that it is a struggle to relate to one of these parts, maybe even two, but if your continued misalignment persists for some time on two or more critical parts of your vision then you need to step back and review your mission statement. Are you aligned in your heart still on both fronts, where it ultimately matters most when leading others? Are you leading through permission, which is resonated by your strong alignment with your mission and vision? Or are you still lost trying to lead through disconnection, which ultimately is the tall-tale sign of positional leadership? Only you can decide that, and while you think about it, I want to share my journey in leadership to which history and reflection have given me insight into why mission and vision are so important in your pursuit of excellence and mastery.For to explain what I mean by all this, I feel it is best though for me to go over my early leadership years that began at age 22 when I was sworn in for the Department of Homeland Security working under the newly created Transportation Security Administration. TSA would be in charge of securing our nation’s airports in the post-9/11 world. I remember being in college watching on Good Morning America the 2nd plane hit the other World Trade Center tower. My heart sank, watching both towers burn on TV. I sat stunned in shock, watching people jump from the towers to the ground below them. I was beyond angry by the time the towers collapsed. In the coming weeks, our country would go to war on terror. In the coming weeks, our country would respond by beefing up our national security more so than ever.One day while on the phone with my dad, he encouraged me to apply for the TSA. His reasoning was it was a great way to grow a career for me. My mom and Nana also told me to do it as both were aware of the security a federal job brings. I figured, why not. It was better than working the bars at night bouncing while attending college, pursuing something I was not passionate about. I went to the website and applied. A few weeks later, I was called and set up with a time for testing. The tests to me were pretty straightforward in earnest reflection. Reading x-rays was not hard for me because of my youth and being exposed to so many surgeries due to my brittle bone disease that I could simply see what they were asking me to identify. I left that day confident I did right, but I figured someone older would get the call over me. I settled back into college life and went about my business.Then a week before my birthday in September of 2002, I was contacted by NCS Pearson, who was hired by the government to undertake the massive operation of hiring 45,000 people to work for the TSA. I was offered a job as a screener, the person who x-rays your bags, and frisks you if needed. Pretty cool, I guess, but to my 22-year-old self-learning, I had tested into a group that would continuously be traveling was cooler. I was stunned to be getting a position traveling to help meet congressional deadlines, but I said sure and hung the phone up. I had 3 weeks to get my life together because I was going to be leaving for New York City to be sworn in on October 13th, 2002. I kissed my college life behind, left my girlfriend at the time home, quit the bar, said goodbye to friends, and hasta la vista to Dungeons and Dragons. I was told I would not be home very much for the first year, but at the end of the year, I would have a spot waiting for me at my home airport in Knoxville, Tennessee. Something that a year later would prove to be a lie, but I was very fortunate to secure a spot in Nashville at their airport after over 2 years traveling on behalf of TSA. Early on in my homeland security years, I was very much a positional leader, but I also was quiet and reserved. I would listen to others intently because I knew through listening it was the only chance I had to improve their performance. I got to know my team and did things to let them know I understood them along with their needs. I would do things such as give them a 5 or 10 extra minutes on their breaks to rest a little longer or to properly enjoy their time away from the pressure our job brought us daily. I even exploited sending them to work on continuing education as much as I could afford to. It gave them extra time to rest and was my quiet way of thanking them for their continued hard work. These things led to me having a team people wanted to with, but also leave their teams to have me lead them. Of course, this kind of attention was great to my ego, but it ultimately led to being viewed by management, rooted in personal insecurities, as a “problem” and that was more based off of the fact I was confident and most damning of all, popular among my co-workers. I can look back and see the management team rooted their “leadership” in position-based leadership. They ruled with fear and let me give an example to help you understand just how control and position go together. There was a screening manager who I actually did not mind, a nice guy, but was in the wrong position. He was not even a manger, and he knew it. His own insecurities in his being the leader of our morning crew operations for DHS led him to exert his power through fear. For the morning shift, we always had a higher call-out amount than the night shift. It was easy to understand why – being at work at 3:25 in the morning is hard for a lot of folks. You get sick more often, and overall you just feel worse over time from never getting enough sleep. Though this guy thought it was due to people being weak, so he decided to make it where you had to call and talk to him personally on the days he was working if you wanted a day off. I remember how it killed the morale of the morning shift, and what ended up happening was everyone just kept their heads down to stay out of his way. Terrible way to lead, but I guess his superiors liked the results he delivered because he was allowed to menace others for a few more years after I left before he left DHS. It is with a reminiscing smile that I can admit I put up with his shit for a few months. I was used to the afternoon shift where things were more laid back, and the supervisors, along with management, let us execute our roles along with responsibilities like we were supposed to. When I was promoted to the morning shift, it was a whole new world for me. My direct supervisor, a really chill guy named Gary, who I liked, became some infuriated with me over time because I wouldn’t just go along with it. He was always taking the time to build me up, and I am thankful to him for that, but I just couldn’t stand the idea of having to eat someone’s shit sandwich when I knew in my heart it was wrong the way he was leading. Gary came from the military to which he always said it is what it is, just do your job and keep executing at the high level you do. This now, I realize was when my gut was starting to sour, and my anxiety was beginning to grow when I would drive into work. I was fundamentally struggling with the mission I was working on daily. How was I best serving my team when I disagreed with almost all the ways morning management wanted me to lead them? I was the new kid on the block, having recently transferred to Nashville, and subsequently being promoted quickly, all eyes were on me. I didn’t care about the pressure. You have to remember I had to learn to walk again. Once you get something back that most take for granted, stress doesn’t bother you a bit. I was slowly becoming disenchanted, and as I would find out later in my life as I review my past to see my progress over time as I walk this journey that is life, I would realize the mission was fading to me. I was struggling daily to hang around something that was now beginning to break my heart because it challenged my very core principles and values.Eventually, one day I decided to drive into work I was going to leave DHS. I had a good number of night-time clients from working part-time as a personal trainer for extra money because I could not bear working more than 40 hours a week at TSA. I also believed in my district manager at Gold’s gym, Billy along with his general manager, Charlie at the club I was going to work full-time at would have me filled up with clients in a month or two tops. A month or two of suck to feel free again was the easiest decision I made for myself in quite some time at that point in my life. I was excited to work alongside people who loved helping others. Best of all, I was already making a difference in some of my clients’ lives. What I know now is my heart was burning white and bright because I was aligning back to a mission and vision that resonated with me. I also realize now part of the reason I hung in there with DHS was that I loved serving. Deep in my heart, there is nothing better than serving someone, and I genuinely believe that. It wasn’t until my mid-30s when I was faced with partnering with my former business partner at the time that serving my community is where my heart truly lies. I also realize as I have grown in my own leadership over my life that I fell out of love with the vision that DHS offered me. I love my country and felt I was serving my country to some degree, but over time, the in-fighting, national politics, terrible hires of supervisors, and management combined enough for me to no longer love serving others with the TSA. It was time for me to break free and begin my walk-on who served me best in my heart.I wanted to share this example of my past with you all because being a servant leader who is the last real trait of a leader was something I felt deeply and early on in my leadership journey. I knew my position meant jack shit in the grand scheme of things. I knew I was simply the collective voice for my team and was trusted to manage that voice best I could. I also knew that in my heart, I could not go along with something that basically gutted me daily to be a part of. Both the mission and the vision were conflictive to my heart, and I can tell you that you have to have your heart whole if you want to serve others. This is the critical component you must understand as you evolve as a leader – you have to resonate with the mission you serve and the vision you see. If you do not resonate with either, you will miss out on the synergy that true passion brings you with the alignment of who you are and what you represent. Through passion, great things happen, but for those great things to happen, your mission and vision have to inspire you to pursue the value of grit above all else because grit is how you survive the valleys of your leadership journey you will find yourself on along the way.In the next part, I am going to discuss the next level of leadership – production. To be a producer, you need to have wins, values, and continual development in character for this transition to take place in your leadership journey.
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.
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