The Art & Science of Leadership with Kevin Black '99

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  • Our Mission: This podcast aims to share leadership stories from our VMI Corps of Cadets and high-profile leaders who visit the Center for Leadership and Ethics (CLE) and VMI.
  • Your Hosts: Derek Pinkham, Conference Project Manager and Emily Coleman, Assistant Conference Planner
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Forbes coach, entrepreneur, author, adjunct professor, podcaster and founder of Black Market Leadership alumnus Kevin Black '99 shares how VMI provided him the hands-on opportunities to lead and feel what went well and what did not. He also explains the value of VMI's inter-service atmosphere of working with other ROTC departments and how that served him after graduation. Black is now a leadership consultant with his own consulting firm Black Market Leadership (also the name of his podcast). Black incorporates hands-on experiential learning through wargaming simulations. Simulations allow employees and teams to be in high-pressure but safe environments where everyone's natural behaviors come out and where leaders can observe the strategies which are working as well as the ones which are not. He talks a lot about the value of failure in safe environments and being a life-long learner. We hope you will enjoy Black's engaging and energetic style of speaking. So, buckle up and have a listen! 

Transcript for The Art & Science of Leadership

DEREK PINKHAM: Welcome to the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics Leadership Journey Podcast!  
EMILY COLEMAN: This podcast aims to share leadership stories from our VMI Corps of Cadets and high-profile leaders who visit The Center for Leadership & Ethics and VMI Post. We are on this Journey with you.  

PINKHAM: Hi, I’m Derek Pinkham, 

COLEMAN: and I’m Emily Coleman, we are your hosts of the podcast. After Kevin Black, VMI class of ‘99, retired from the US Army, he worked hard to become a Forbes Coach and leadership expert, business consultant, a professor, and an author.  In the podcast, we touched on Kevin’s leadership experiences at VMI, the US Army, and creating his consulting business. 

PINKHAM: He is a passionate and energetic speaker, so buckle up! And without further delay, we give you Kevin Black. Welcome, Kevin Black class of 99. To the VMI journey, podcast. 

KEVIN BLACK '99: It reminds me of the ancient Greeks. There's a difference between happiness and pleasure. Pleasure is of the moment and happiness is long-term and that's really important. Once you have that long-term goal, what you want to do… do you want to become a general in the marine corps or the air force? That is a long-term goal and your decision-making will affect that. You want to become the best surgeon… whatever… but you got to do… that, that's the first thing. Find out your ultimate value or values. Once you do that, your decision-making will be clear. For me, I have found a gap in leadership development. My goal is to connect leadership and strategy together. Today they're seen as two different things. They're not. They're absolutely interrelated but there's no voices about it. That's my goal. It's become the go-to person, the thought leader on that subject so everything I do is based around that. 

My definition of leadership has four parts to it and I’ll space them out so you can hear them. Leadership is the art and science of influencing others to actualize a vision in the most constructive manner practical.


Now, let me… there's a reason why I have this definition. First of all, it's an art and science.

What do I mean it's a science? ‘Cause, there's a huge body, there are over 2,000 years

of knowledge, of data information on leadership itself. So, that there's a body of knowledge out

there but why it's an art is It’s a stylized application.

I said also there’s a science of influencing others and notice I didn't say persuade. You have to create the kind of trust, the kind of organization that when you give a directive, uh, you give orders as you might say, that people will do that without having to be persuaded.

That third element I mentioned was actualize and vision and notice I didn't say task. I didn't say mission. Why? Those are easy. Those are specified but as the fog of war comes, as you say, as change comes, sometimes obstacles occur. Sometimes opportunities pop up and you don't have time to either report them back. You have to exploit them now or navigate them now. Do you sit there and wait, or do you keep driving forward and taking the initiative? That's what it means to actualize a vision. It means going above and beyond just what your normal task is and doing those implied tasks getting, in essence, to the spirit of the law versus the letter. That's really what it means and it means training people, developing and educating leaders to have that kind of self-confidence that they can go around orders they can go around to direct us even, even disobey them if the situation calls for it if it still achieves the ultimate vision. And finally, I said the most constructive, uh, manner practical. As things change, information changes, you have to do your best with the information and resources you have at your disposal as George C. Marshall once says once a thing is done, it's done. Move on. So, you cannot beat yourself up for perfection.  So, that's my definition. The art science of influencing others to actualize a vision in the most constructive manner.

I teach American military history here at Scottsdale Community. I would recommend anyone read Victor Davis Hanson's The Second World Wars, it's a huge book, or watch them on YouTube, it might be easier, but why I’m telling you this is teamwork. What does that mean? It means individuals coming together for a common purpose. People as a team have to come together [to] figure out who you are. Figure out where your strengths are. Figure out where those points of conflict may come and then once you take all the information together, then you look at the environment. What is the mission that we are required to do? What are the requirements? Is speed a requirement? Is security a requirement? Is slow methodical pace? Is it quality or is it land grab? Once you take the dynamics of that team and then compare and contrast them to the environment, you have a formula for good teamwork.

Going back to the World War II thing, read about the Americans and the British. We're both fighting Germans, the common, the common, uh, enemy the Germans, Japanese; but guess what? They had two different objectives in mind. The British want to re-establish their colonies. Americans? Hell no! We're not doing that. So, just because you’re a team does not mean you will have the same values. It doesn't mean you have to this means you have to come together for that same cause and then articulate what these conflicts may be and get over them but guess what? Most of the time you don't know what's going to happen. Things happen, uh, you know, as your army is moving forward, your soldiers start to leave. Other nations get involved in the war. They throw a wrench in your plan. That falls into what they call an emergent strategy, and this goes to what you're saying.  Did I know specifically the [future career] path? Absolutely not, but I knew the highway.  I knew the broad highway that allowed me to go from different lanes and this is really what, uh, believe it or not, the U.S. Army tries to teach. This is what they call mission command called alftrox tactic.  That's situational decision-making. And why that's important is if you create a highway, a general path, you know, where you generally want to go, but what happens is as you move along, opportunities exist or pop up. Obstacles pop up and they may change your course, but they will not deviate from your general direction. So, if you have the confidence to make those changes, uh, the, you know, the self-esteem the self-knowledge, the self-awareness, knowing where your strengths are, you can navigate that fog of war, that friction, and still hit your endpoint. But it's really important though to know what that endpoint is.

I think it was is it Jim Collins, is it? Good to Great? Did I say it right? The author of Good to Great put out an article I think a year or two ago and he went to West Point for some reason, he didn’t go to VMI went to West Point for some reason to do a study and he found that the one trait, I think, it's the one decisive trait that makes leaders very effective especially in corporate America is the willingness to fail and that is a fantastic, uh, it's hard to get. I think for me it was from… I was a four-year wrestler, uh, wrestling was, again, a very individualistic sport, but it was all about you. If you won, it’s on you. If you failed because it was about you, but you always continue driving and I think a VMI that's one thing you have. A very safe place to fail and it's okay to fail.

COLEMAN: The CLE would like to thank the following:  Cadet Caleb Minus ’20 for the intro and backing music. Find more of his musical stylings on his Instagram page (@mynusofficial). Col. David Gray, USA (ret.), Director of the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics and of course as always, our podcast Guests.  

PINKHAM: Find this podcast and other CLE programming information on the VMI Center for Leadership & Ethics website, or our try YouTube channel. Follow the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts. See you next episode of the Journey. Thanks for tuning in! 

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