Growth and Change Require Agile Leadership and Bedrock Values
The agile CEO is humble enough to question assumptions and accept suggestions but firm on core principles.
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Every year we see a new best seller or startup sensation promoting the latest and greatest formula for success. We eagerly study these books and download every TED talk, even knowing there is no definitive guide to success. The path to success lies in continuously evolving and optimizing your leadership strategy, a process I call "agile leadership.''
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There are numerous studies on the strength of agile methodology in software development but an "agile'' strategy is applicable to leadership and management practices. The challenges you face grow more complex with time, money and success. A great leader pauses to reflect and evaluate their leadership on a consistent basis. That is critical for personal growth and sustainability.
Guided by an agile philosophy, I have led my company, LivePerson, from start-up to global tech enterprise through the cycles of the dot com era. I have distilled five tips for becoming an "agile CEO."
1. Short-term cycles, long-term goals. Long-term goals are best achieved through continuous, short-term cycles. Long-term goals help focus you on your unique value proposition despite distracting trends and competition. Evaluate and status-check progress periodically and make necessary changes to your strategy, your organizational structure and even your culture. Keep your eye on the prize of executing against your mission. Listen to the signals along the way that help you deliver only the best.
At LivePerson, we've established new processes and philosophies, while course-correcting or re-evaluating things that weren't't working along the way. I don't consider these setbacks. Our willingness to assess and reflect on our decisions at key milestones has brought us closer to our goal.
2. Connection. At our company, we practice and preach the importance of meaningful connections. Connection inspires us to serve our clients exceptionally well, work together efficiently and get involved in our communities.
As CEO, you find opportunities and new possibilities for innovation by constantly interacting with your staff. Breakthrough ideas can come from anyone in the organization. By practicing "connection" I discovered two individuals in unexpected parts of my company who each pitched an innovative product idea that is now an essential part of our platform. Their ideas provide immense value to our customers.
Connecting is more challenging as your organization becomes larger but the payoff is substantial. Balance strong leadership with transparency by connecting with people beyond your direct reports.
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3. Value failure. We often hear "failure is not an option" but failure is an important part of every entrepreneur's journey. Failure is an opportunity to optimize and reinvent your approach to create an even better outcome. Almost everyone I know who is prospering in the technology space now has experienced rock bottom. There, ironically, you have nothing to lose.
I lost more than $50,000 on my first venture but, instead of panicking, I asked myself how I could use my experience to create a company that would provide unique value to the world. A couple years later, I started LivePerson. Failure fueled my desire to get it right the next time.
4. Check yourself. We get comfortable with the status quo, especially when things are good. Many entrepreneurs are their own biggest critic but resisting self-analysis is perhaps an even bigger enemy.
Every few years, I take a step back and, as objectively as humanly possible, engage in a round of self-analysis. If this were day one as CEO, what would I do differently? The next day I return to work with a fresh perspective and take on challenges with renewed clarity.
5. The X factor. One day I walked past a small room two of my senior staff were sharing. When I asked why they were occupying this small room, they responded, "We're directors now, and directors get offices." The Company had become so distracted by titles and hierarchy, that we were losing sight of our true mission and innovative spirit.
In the following months, the company came together to establish our core values and guiding principles. We all agreed on two principles: "help others" and "be an owner." Today, our physical environment, hiring practices and customer relationships are shaped by these shared principles. Our continued growth and innovation is a testament to that.
Leaders who humbly embrace the agile philosophy will be well-equipped to grow with their companies, survive a fickle marketplace and achieve lasting success.
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