Crossroads in leadership: Again or anew

Tim Wenzel - Crossroads in leadership

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The first article in a new, regular series from Tim Wenzel, CPP, Co-Founder and President of The Kindness Games delves into authority philosophies and the right questions to ask when given or growing in leadership.

Each morning I woke up, stomach in knots. I couldn’t eat, I feared I wouldn’t keep it down. My morning routine included staring into the mirror, trying to motivate myself.

“Hey, get it together! What is wrong with you? It’s not like someone is trying to kill you. Let’s go!”

I’d drive to my worksite, stare at the building, willing myself out of the car. The anxiety, the worry about what was on the other side of that door had gripped me for seven months. Each day I would go into work wondering what battle I would have to fight, what ridiculous nonsense was waiting, yet I had no clear enemy to fight. No way to win. But I needed this job…

Ironically, this was a role very early in my career AFTER I had spent four years in Iraq as a soldier and security contractor. I had thrived in Iraq and the very real danger there didn’t bother me very much. In fact, I was far less stressed there, than at this particular job in the US.

It was at this point that I realized the importance of leadership. The toxic environment was created by one person and fueled by three out of 12 people on the team, yet the majority suffered under the actions of a few…

It was at this point that I decided I would research, observe and find leadership methods that worked well without coercion, without the need to control a team by fear.

This is where our journey will begin. I want to walk the path to becoming a leader and examine the crossroads – the decision points that will shape our identity and methods in leadership. It doesn’t matter if you’re in leadership already, if you’re just beginning your journey or you’re contemplating if this path is right for you; we can examine these crossroads and contemplate the impact of these decisions together. 

Root causes of poor leadership in security

In my opinion, the root cause of leadership woes is our nexus to government service. Law enforcement, fire and EMS and well as the military exist as functions of law. Their existence can take varying forms, but exist they will. There are incentives to establish your career, ensuring healthy retention and talent pipelines. Leadership philosophies are generally geared towards leading people into conflict of varying types, with a zero-sum view of the outcomes. Win at almost all costs.

Difficulty can begin when you lose that authority which had been enshrined in law. You join an organization which is revenue and growth driven. Organizations which compete for market share, talent and competitive advantage. Goals and objectives incompatible with your experiences…

You meet your team who seem free to speak their mind. They question you, your peers question you, the bosses question you… You aren’t used to being questioned, it’s disrespectful and you wonder how to regain control, to establish your authority… You need this job…

Insecurity mounts, your inner critic points out that you’re an imposter, you don’t belong and you cannot succeed and if you allow it, fear becomes your guide. A zero-sum strategy is beginning to form in your head and you too are on the path to creating a toxic, possibly illegal work environment. What will it cost to win?

Universally across our industry, this will sound familiar. Maybe this has happened to you or someone you know? You most likely received leadership advice – mentoring which came from this perspective. While not true of everyone, this is the predominant culture within our industry… I call it: “the insecurity in security.” It’s a contagion.

However, the leader I’ve described isn’t a bad person. They didn’t come into this role with ill intent, they found themselves in a foreign environment without the structure they were used to. They had non-transferable leadership philosophies. A mindset created specifically for an environment they chose to leave. The leaders I endured at times in my career were generally good people who had lost their way and had succumbed to insecurity and fear.

That’s why its a good idea to take a step back and evaluate.

The crossroad

How and why are you entering leadership? It’s never too late to re-examine your path, to make different choices and begin a different journey. If you’re aspiring to lead or considering walking this path, now is the time to set your purpose and thoughtfully make some decisions. Some of us choose leadership and many of us are thrust into it without intentional preparation.

Why do you want to be a leader? My friend Rob McKenna of WiLD Leaders defines this term simply. “Leaders go first.” Leaders by definition have people who follow and there is power in this relationship. Understanding why we wish to lead is key to understanding how to wield the power of this relationship.

Leaders are responsible for business outcomes and people to varying degrees. They have more stress and anxiety available to them by the nature of their role. How can we effectively manage and choose the stress we will bear?

Leadership comes in all forms. Process, project, program, governance, thought and people leadership all require a common competency but have vastly different applications.

Struggling well, leading teams, learning to be curious and engage in the conversations and debate which marks the modern workplace are all things we will be diving into as we walk this journey together.

Think about these questions. Make notes on how you’ve arrived and what your motivations are. These questions distill into this one. “Who will I become?”

You can find Tim on LinkedIn here.

The next installment of Crossroads in leadership will be released on 5 June!

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