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July 18, 2017 /Insights /

The Journey of the Modern Leader

I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of leadership—how leaders motivate teams, why some people pop to the top while others are content to follow the path. As I’ve grown and evolved in my own personal and professional leadership, the pieces have definitely come together a bit more, creating a better vision in my mind—the kind of leader I respond to, the kind of leader I want to be and, above all, the importance of coaching in an employee-centric environment. An environment like Adobe.

It’s a concept that I’ve been drawn to for quite awhile and one that, increasingly, has taken center stage within the company. We’re all about that people-first approach—an approach that, for me, has helped drive my own personal growth as an individual contributor, a manager and, now, a leader. I’m inspired by curiosity—the fact that successful coaching hinges on open-ended questions and a genuine desire to understand a situation. I’m inspired by the creativity and resourcefulness of the coaching process—empowering my team to problem solve and troubleshoot, versus the traditional ask-answer-ask-answer model that used to dominate the workforce.

From DOER to Empowering the Doer

I’m also fascinated by the transition from being a doer—the person who rolls up their sleeves and digs in—to empowering that doer to do their best and be their best. It’s nuanced, but it’s also enormous. Done right it fuels everyone’s success—the leader, the contributor, the team—and, I believe, has the power to change an organization and change the world. Done wrong, though? It’s basically micromanagement 101—not ideal for anyone.

It’s why I’m so enthusiastic about Leadership Circles and coaching —the value, to me, is limitless. And—total transparency—right now, I’m in the thick of it. Over the last few weeks I focused my curiosities and passion into unpacking these questions and other sky-high notions of leadership in the 21st century—because, recently, I started Adobe’s Leadership Circles program.

It’s a unique program that, already, has produced significant results in the marketplace. Partner companies have seen sales increases up 75 percent, with “accelerated performance” placing participating leaders in “the top five percent of their organizations.” The stats are, without a doubt, impressive.

But taking a step back and looking at today’s fast-evolving business landscape, the need for true leadership and the modernization of that leadership—the approaches, the strategies, the goals and the players—has become mission critical. And that’s why I jumped—that’s why I wanted to pursue a path towards modern leadership, performance and coaching.

Starting My Journey To Modern Leadership

The program started five years ago with the Worldwide Field Operations (WWFO) and, to date, 160 women have participated. This year, in addition to the program in WWFO, Adobe added a second program for women in two of our major business units, Digital Marketing and Digital Media, as well as Cloud Technology. Women were nominated based on their accomplishments, leadership and leadership potential. Each participant works through the 10-month program, including three two-day, in-person sessions and monthly 60-minute Connect workshops. But despite the limited face time, the program itself is intense and immersive—the “virtual” nature, in many ways, adds to the sense of modernity and connectivity that’s central to leadership in today’s experience business.

Now that I’ve begun this journey, it’s clear to me and to my fellow participants that the path towards modern leadership looks different—very different. The program has pushed us to truly clarify our vision for leadership all under the umbrella of Adobe’s own organizational mission. By finding and drilling down on critical priorities that blur departmental lines and break down siloes, we’re focused on optimizing our teams, our own talent and expanding potential—ours and those around us.

Gaining an Inner Edge

It’s an approach anchored in Adobe’s own principles and best practices for managing in the matrix and driving change, as well as The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership by Dr. Joelle K. Jay, a book that unpacks personal and professional achievement, and guides managers down a unique path so they can best make their mark on their organization and the greater business landscape.

The book is broken down into 10 essential personal leadership components that tie back to living well—simply, the idea that by starting with yourself and understanding your role in the bigger picture, you can enhance your personal life and take performance and success to the next level. It’s a powerful balance, especially compared to antiquated views of leadership—the executive burning the midnight oil, with no life, no well-being and no personality beyond the grind. It’s an eye-opening approach and one that, hands down, is central to the evolution of the modern leader.

Changing the Leadership Model

As I’m beginning to put the pieces together, it’s clear leadership has shifted from performance-reward to connection, self-awareness and one-on-one relationships—the things that inspire excellence in others and ourselves, versus the things that promote reactive workflows. It’s an interesting approach that’s definitely more nurturing and people-first, with an emphasis on restoring ourselves and our team, and ensuring our lives have fulfillment and meaning—in other words work smarter not harder.

Again, it’s a big shift from where I sit and one that, I believe, speaks to the changing priorities and goals of the millennial workforce—a workforce that’s poised to be the biggest very soon. They don’t look, act or react like the task-oriented Gen Xers or the loyal Baby Boomers. They’re more nimble, more fluid and more driven by relationships and the inspiration that comes with.

And, in a lot of ways, this approach gets in the mix with this influential segment, driving greater value and greater balance than I’ve ever seen before. “Millennials have a strong desire to work in a place that has a deep value system and culture,” writes Forbes. “The first thing millennials seek out in a workplace is an environment to collaborate in openly. They want to create meaningful work, something with a spine that feels like it’s making an impact on the world around them.” With this approach they—and all of us—are.

What Comes NEXT

The end goal? Help everyone work together to solve complex problems. Build relationship intelligence and not just a back-and-forth. This modern leadership approach is becoming more and more central to Adobe and the company’s internal and external missions. The organization offers leadership training and experiences to all employees, with a focus on personal leadership and best practices designed to boost performance and organically enhance business results. “At Adobe, we build high performing global teams,” explains Matt Thompson, Adobe’s EVP for Worldwide Field Operations, “and in order to do that, we want to attract the best talent in the market. When we provide an environment that supports women’s continued growth and development, our female employees are even more engaged and will continue to recruit exceptional talent into the company.” They’re benefits that go beyond just personal develop and growth. “When you love your job, you’ll be good at it, so from a sales perspective, it helps drive Adobe’s business. It’s a double win. Our investment in Leadership Circles was money well spent.”

Driving My Team Forward

And for me? I believe everyone can embrace and integrate these modern notions of leadership, no matter their immediate position and responsibilities. For me, being about to facilitate these key learnings within my group and within the greater organization has been a game-changer and, truly, is what gets me up and out in the morning. These notions are going to become increasingly important, too, as we engage new, younger workers within Adobe and the extended industry—again, they’re on the brink of being the biggest generation in the workforce. How are they working? What are their expectations? How can we integrate their natural workflows—mobile, let’s say—in the experience, for the better? What can we do that’s completely different from what we do now, to enhance the environment and the success?

But it’s not just the younger workforce. For me, coaching comes down to integrating your strengths and passions, your team’s strengths and passions, and the work itself. It’s what I’m trying to do in Adobe Document Cloud—putting the people and the pieces together in a strategic, motivating way. In a way that will work seamlessly and better prepare us all for the future of work.

This is just the beginning—lots more to come on my journey towards modern leadership. I’ll be digging into key themes and topics impacting today’s modern leader, from building and maintaining high performance teams to coaching and reviews to the future of the workforce as we know it. They’re all themes that, no matter your position, your industry or your niche, are critical to growing, evolving and excelling in this in-flux, relationship-heavy work environment. And they’re themes that are central to our collective success now and in the future.

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