Agile Leadership: Preparing for an Unconventional Career Path | Emily Phillips | TEDxUWMilwaukee

[Applause] how many of you grew up knowing exactly what you wanted to do some kids get to college and they're lucky enough to have that all mapped out it's in a spreadsheet they know when they're going to get married they're gonna have kids are going to move to what suburb we call them accountants for the rest of us it's just not that clear the world that we live in tells us that we have to play it safe right we need a master plan what are you going to do in one year three years five years our corporate ecosystem still operates on this antiquated platform of predict accurately and plan accordingly but because of Technology the pace of business has accelerated and now you can't be an expert for very long we place a premium on education designations and being able to prove that you've done it before before we give you an opportunity right how many times have you heard well we hire for potential but I'd like to see the portfolio of all the examples where you've done exactly what we're looking to hire you for my experience has been quite the opposite I had had a very unconventional career path I've had three different jobs and three unrelated industries and I've been pretty successful or so they tell me and they told me to say it today I've learned that being an agile leader is a concept where you prepare yourself for the unpredictable you can't always know what comes your way and you can't always have the answers so how do you do it how do you prepare for the disruptions that you know life will give you now bear with me I promised I wasn't going to give a nerdy talk but there's some definitions we have to cover a jali leadership is a style of leadership that's entrepreneurial the old-school predictin plan relied on people to be able to dictate and lead right if you could predict what was going to happen you knew how to boss people around but in this new environment you need to be able to act agile a with mental agility so I've learned that you need three things three components in agile leadership one you need an iterative process two you need to build a tribe of resources and three you need to get uncomfortable daily push yourself outside your comfort zone so what is an iterative process besides being really fun to say I've learned that an iterative process for me has six components and then we're done with the math one in any environment in any business in any industry create a problem statement build a hypothesis set out to prove your hypothesis disprove your hypothesis sometimes for architect a solution and five reach out to that tribe of resources anytime you have questions need help introductions outsource knowledge and when it's all said and done step back reflect on how it went refine could you've done it better did you do it well how do you keep doing it and repeat so what's a tribe of resources a tribe of resources are a group of people that you have in your pocket at any given time not literally but they're people you meet starts when you're little on a playground when you go to school the people that you're sitting next to if you've had a chance to talk to them you never know when you're going to meet somebody essentially you meet them and you say wow you are super cool I think I can learn something from you I might even be able to teach you something I want you in my tribe and the really important component of this piece is that you help them you're loyal to them you protect them you push them you challenge them and you help them daily my absolute favorite one to hate but love because this is a talk that I'm giving and I'm telling you that it's important to do these things is pushing yourself outside your comfort zone now I'm going to give you a hypothetical example of this one because I'm sure you've all you're all familiar with your own comfort zone and pushing yourself outside it but let's pretend for a minute that you're helping a group of really smart students put together a TEDx and you're helping them with some sponsorship grid and some introductions and things and then one of them approaches you and says would you can that are talking no I was I thought we're doing like a corporate advisory thing like I thought we had some and then all of a sudden everything inside your body like contracts and you're just like that sounds terrible I mean you speak your industry all the time you're always presenting on economics and things like that and I'm you don't know what that's like but TEDx that's crazy and then somewhere inside you all of a sudden you hear this weird voice and it's like I would love the opportunity to give back to my community you're like wow whoa which is that bad and pretty soon you're on stage giving a talk but that's okay because as terrified as you are you go back to your process and you ask your tribe and they're like yeah you should totally do it and like I can't believe they're in my tribe and then you're doing a talk but the bottom line is you stand in front of individuals every day right leadership is about leading within yourself and so you know you have a process you have your tribe you push yourself outside your boundaries but it doesn't really work like what's the point I have learned that if you have all of these things if you do these things if you're intentional about your approach what you approach becomes far less important than how you approach it because that's the key if you're confident in how you'll approach something even though you don't know the answers you've never done it before then doesn't matter whether or not you've done it before right unless you're looking for a cardiac surgeon there are some exceptions to this process so the nerdy parts over thanks for bearing with me and I appreciate the left the nice part is my personal story right so in theory it sounds great an execution is it possible my story starts when I was four I used to play adult all of the time it's very strange child few friends and I would I read like crazy and I fell in love with this idea of being an attorney I would line my dolls up in the courtroom and I was constantly you know winning everything I think and pretty soon you know that wasn't enough and so then I made partner in my mind by 30 because I thought at four 26 years as possible and that wasn't enough so then I thought politics because I was experiencing out with my parents and discipline so I thought I had what it took pretty soon I was everyday just imagining that I was changing the world and my dolls were never ever ever bored they were never bored my sister she hated playing with me but my dolls they were voters so it really counted so fast forward right four years old you've got a plan adults would ask me all the time like would you want to be able to be a ballerina you want to be a princess I'd be like whoa I don't I don't think so I feel better for these adults like have a very specific career plan I want to be a attorney I want to be partnered by 30 I want to be a two-term governor and then I'm gonna end up in the Oval Office and they would look at me and mostly out of concern for my parents and Pat me on the head which only fueled the fire for me like my commitment to my plan I knew what I was going to do five six seven eight move forward senior year in college when the inevitable disruption occurs and for me it was a car accident on March 28th 2004 I was involved in a car accident I lost my entire left eyelid and my vision in my left eye and a handful of other injuries that have become greater as the story goes on I had no idea how long it would be for me to get back on my feet the doctors didn't know how long it would take to reconstruct my eyelid which was the point of most of the surgeries in order for me to stand my mom's health insurance I had to stay a full-time college student as many of you imagine being in school for longer than you have to without a point other than surgery which an eyelid is important so I suppose that's a different point it is exhausting so three years later I finally was eligible to graduate while I was eligible to graduate a while before but I could finally graduate and I was sitting there I'm pretty sure I sprinted across the stage to get my fake diploma they mail it is very disappointing experience and at the party when I'm talking everybody and I'm so excited right I finally have my diploma I'm excited except I was exhausted I didn't know what I wanted to do next law school wasn't even on my radar anymore because after seven years of full-time work full-time school and then three over the last seven years were full-time work full-time school full-time surgery I don't want to go to law school if somebody gave me a homework assignment I was gonna throw the book at him like I was done so they asked me what do you want to do what do you want to be and I thought like I just really have no idea my favorite what do you do with your liberal arts degree like well it's 2008 what do you think I should do everyone's hiring so it's an awesome time to graduate from college so I worked at a restaurant downtown and I had access to all these really successful people I used to call them the Milwaukee Business Journal people until I met a lot of them and they're even more awesome now and I thought to myself I bet if I talked to these people I could figure it out and this was the birth of what I now call my own iterative process or what people anybody can use it right so I created a problem statement number one I need a job number two if I interview all these really successful people that seem to have everything figured out I might be able to find a job 3 prove it I had to actually go interview all these really successful people and after asking them all sorts of questions what do you do how'd you get there do you like it would you recommend it would you recommend me for it no for I architected a solution I'll and in my very first job I was the print agent assistant at a full at Ford models international modeling agency and as a history sociology major I was the perfect fit because I knew nothing about modeling I was a jeans and t-shirt kid I loved pizza I didn't know about this like all his Fitness stuff they were talking about and and I thought well you know what I'm going to be the best print agent assistant they've ever hired and so I became a professional sponge and I think I asked like a hundred questions a day and pretty quickly I learned that anything you can predict that can go wrong on a photoshoot will go wrong in a photo shoot and this is where I came into this experience of agility and constantly having to be on your feet and thinking quickly and I thought to myself boy this sounds a lot like serving corporate world isn't really much different than a restaurant one you have to figure out what people want ie read their minds – you have to deliver it and then you have to figure out when they want it right ie yesterday and when things go wrong you just fix it no excuses they don't care just fix it and never in that process is it ever about you so I work to the modeling agency for a couple years and I loved it and I had a lot of fun but then I made in a very important discovery I learned that you could get a paycheck that had a comma in it and I was very excited about this punctuation had never been so important so I interviewed several different companies and I realized without a technical degree the really only place I can make some money was to get into sales so I interviewed with with a information technology company a management consulting firm and they asked me a handful of questions and I didn't have a business background obviously wasn't a programmer I didn't have any experience and software but I said you know I worked full-time going through all these surgeries I didn't know anything about modeling I increased revenue there during the middle of a credit crisis I'll figure it out so they took a chance on me and they hired me day one I'm super excited sitting in a conference room in walks this guy he's got a magic marker and a whiteboard I went through this very extensive full day of training to become an expert in this field so it writes everything out this is how software started by Lowell and I'm like oh okay got it got it uh sure is me to my cue now I have a phone I have a laptop and I have 600 companies to call cold call and a lofty sales goal so a couple weeks go by and I'm calling people and calling people with this script and I have no idea what I'm talking about nobody's answering voicemails or even more awkward I just no idea was going on and then if a person did answer they'd ask me a question I was like uh google quickly quickly I don't know we should get together in person to talk about this it was awful I felt so stupid and so clueless and then pretty soon I thought to myself why aren't you using your own process why don't you use the same tools that you used to get your first job to become really good at your first job in your second job and then I called all my former clients from the modeling agency and I said you know I really miss working with you because I knew what I was doing and this new job I don't really know what I'm doing so would you mind introduce me to someone in your IT department because I'd like to learn how technology drives your business function I know how your business works and I know how you know I understand the brand and stuff so let's make that happen and they did and pretty soon I could ditch all this cold calling nonsense which is incredibly character-building but a very high-cost and I was getting meetings and I was getting opportunity then I learned the business and soon I reappropriation also help and give back so I was excited I had to come in my paycheck starting to think about maybe adding a comma but that was years away and I'm at the top of my game at 28 years old pretty soon I'm at a business event and I run into a woman she's a works at an investment firm and she asked me what I did for a living I asked her how much she loved technology her eyes glazed over so I said I help people get things that they don't have and she said oh well what are your career plans and I thought to myself well I haven't really thought about it since I was four and she said what do you you know what do you want to do with your life and I didn't know her very well so I didn't mention the world's word or the words world domination quite yet but I she got me thinking and so she asked me to come over to her office and have a cup of coffee so I went to her office I've always been an opportunity enthusiast and pretty soon it was clear that she was looking to hire a junior partner to her practice to be her eventual successor of a ten year plus plan and I thought wow in this moment in time everything I've worked so hard is validated I haven't known what I was going to do things have have come to me and I've worked incredibly hard I've used this process I've asked for help and now this person I mean because this is like high finance right this person is asking me to take this jump and take this risk and I left her office thinking oh but god you have to be a financial adviser that sounds awful technology that's really cool but the more I thought about it the more that I learned about this job seven months I did my due diligence in learning what this opportunity would entail I thought if you use the same process that got you your first job I got that made you better at your job your second job etc why couldn't you learn finance and then this intriguing piece to that like maybe you could like give the industry a little facelift so I took the job and it was very difficult as I packed up my office from new resources and all the spreadsheets of like you know you're killing it put him away because I'm going to see that for a long time and I thought to myself are you making the right decision are you really going to be able to do this before fear could run wild and the insecurities could control me I built a transition plan my problem statement was I didn't know a lot about investments my due diligence or my build the hypothesis interview everybody I could get my hands on for the first two years I conducted 3,000 discovery meetings I met with subject matter experts I met with individuals ask them what they loved about their advisor if they didn't like their relationship did they need an advisor by chance and pretty soon I started to fill in the blanks and build a framework and I realized again that no matter what environment you work in if you take the risk and you figure it out all you need is your process your tribe and to push yourself outside your comfort zone because working in a very top elite firm with people that have Ivy League degrees like ornaments on a holiday tree it's okay you can always learn right so it's been three years since I've been at Baird and I love it it's an incredible opportunity and I think to myself what's next hopefully not another job for a very long time we've had it with that but why is it relevant why does it matter to have a process to use your people right because agile leadership is this concept where you lead from within you get to know yourself you get confident you're fearless you take care of people in your life your tribe and you protect and you help each other and if you push yourself outside your comfort zone you're always prepared for whatever comes your way and the next thing that comes your way I'm a little bit afraid because this is intimidating in itself so I don't know what's next but you'll be able to handle it our community requires more of this type of leadership our business requires more this type of leadership when you leave today think to yourself what are the things that you are most afraid of what have you not done because I guarantee you everything you've done to this point has prepared you for this so challenge yourself and remember the nerdy parts the iterative process but glue the tribe of resources and to get outside your comfort zone thank you [Applause]

Maurice Vega

14 Responses

  1. It was a nice talk and all but … I don't think my dev team or anybody I know would like if I'd refer them as a tribe of resources. It's like called your customers whales. So dehumanizing…

  2. Great speech and topic. I feel your story and your advice has the potential to help a large group of people. Good on you @Emily Phillip to make this message reachable for everyone.

  3. I do not believe this woman ever lead any company, sweating about matters related to run a business and taking care that everybody is enough business and money coming to the coffer. such people like to spend much time in the coffee corner, talking about various private matters with colleagues. this agile is a big nothing…

  4. Are you Searching for online courses just google search as "Zoe Talent Solutions".

  5. This was interesting. I don't usually comment on YT, but am curios to know what people think if the 'process' that Emily referred to become inadequate by itself. I mean, the process which brought you success over the years, over and over again, may itself become a bad fit. What if the process of gathering a tribe of resources and getting out of your comfort zone lands you in a zone where you're not comfortable and the tribe isn't around. Just thinking aloud, would love to hear creative counter arguments.

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