Businesses compete over top talent and invest a lot into retaining them once they’re brought on board. While on work travel recently, I sat on a plane next to a Principal Consultant from a boutique firm, like Enterprise Knowledge (EK), the one I work for now, and he engaged me in a conversation about what he could do to keep his people from jumping ship. “We pay them very well,” he said, “but we can’t seem to keep them around for the long run.” According to the Herzberg's Hygiene Theory, compensation is important, but once that box has been checked, other factors are necessary to cultivate in a workplace in order to motivate employees and increase their job satisfaction. “We had zero percent attrition last year,” I responded, “and here’s why…”
Agile leadership also takes many forms and rather than behaving according to how leaders should act according to some textbook, they develop their unique strengths and characteristics, then use them to create positive work environments that make people want to actually work there. Here’s a profile of the the top three leaders in my organization and how they demonstrate agile leadership.
1. Creating a Shared Vision and Getting People Excited About It
Our President and CEO, Zach Wahl is the embodiment of the charismatic leader. He generates this excitement for who we are as a firm and where we’re going. What distinguishes him from other executives is that Zach doesn’t sit in the ivory-tower of his corner office only to be seen during annual company events when giving a speech about how we’re performing as an organization. I see Zach almost every day and each encounter with him sheds more light into what he envisions for the future of EK.
Beyond just sharing his vision, Zach encourages each member of his team to help create the future of our company. He’s been known to asks us what benefits we would find value in, how our website should look, and what actionable ideas we have for improving the organization. Zach doesn’t just ask, though. He listens. Then, he frees up the resources and support to make things happen.
2. Coaching and Confidence-Building
Joe Hilger, EK’s COO, is a coach on the baseball field and in the office. One of the most powerful things he’s done is look me in the eyes and say, “I think you’d be great at this.” He is our biggest cheerleader. He finds opportunities for us to shine on client projects and then he gives us confidence in our ability to deliver. When things don’t go exactly as planned, he’ll sit down with us to re-strategize our game plan so that we can go back out there and hit a homerun. Executives like Joe make you want to work for him because he believes in you and makes you believe in yourself.
3. Communicating and Managing Change
Katy Saulpaugh leads the agile practice at EK. Better than anyone I know, she’s able to bring out the wisdom of a team through her facilitation skills. Although she may be the smartest person in the room, you’ll always hear everyone else’s voices loud and clear when she’s guiding the conversation. She connects people to one another and by doing so, she grows a team or organization’s ability to come up with creative and effective solutions for the challenges they face. An agile guru recently said that "facilitation is a skill of the 21st century" and it resonated with me. Leading is no longer about me telling people what they should do. Instead, it’s about helping people to see for themselves what they should do and empowering them to do it.
Katy is also an agent of change. She understands how daunting it might be to take a leap of faith into the unknown. However, she knows the value of doing it anyway because taking the right risks catalyzes growth and progress for individuals and organizations. She was actually the reason why I took the leap of faith and joined EK when it had just been conceived.
Here’s the key for me: all of them do what they do how they do it in the most authentic way. They didn’t read a book about how to be a good leader and decide one day to do so. They took their natural strengths as individuals and they developed their own agile leaderships styles accordingly. These are leaders who care about their people and as a result have created an agile company culture that I, along with my other colleagues, love to be a part of each day.
Agile makes you redefine what it means to be a leader. An agile approach to leadership is more in alignment with what motivates humans to perform than the traditional command-and-control style that reigns in hierarchical, machine-like organizational structures. Seeing organizations as more of a living organism rather than a set of interconnected cogs in a wheel is the first step to being an agile leader. Humans are more complex than machines, but what we all share is a need to be appreciated, cared for, and seen for the qualities and talent we bring to the table. It takes a special kind of leader to nurture that.