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

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
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
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
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
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