My Leadership Journey From Self to Selfless

What is a journey to leadership? Can anyone take that journey? Are we a chosen or are we destine to be leaders? I’ve often asked myself these questions and after my training, I made myself look for these answers.

For me, my journey was one off opportunities and champions. I grew up in the age of the 1950’s style of management. Where leaders were set apart from the workforce and only tangible through a multi-layered top-heavy business model.  But there was a wind of change that was taking place with how companies would run their operations. A man named Deming who had earlier been rejected by American business was now being adopted as Japan was in the process of destroying many American practices and controlling the markets. At the time, I was taking college at night to complete my degree. I had one business class that was modeling Saturn, GM’s new automotive branch, and how it was adopting the Deming model. It was eye opening. The concept of a team working in a peer level highly communicative environment. This was unheard of at the time. Deming flattened the business model and it was making sweeping changes in the American business model.

I was working as a receiving clerk in a warehouse when I got a call that a cost engineer was looking for an entry level data entry clerk. A man named Ed Friarburg recommended me as he new I was in college and taking computer classes and it would be a good move for me. I took the job and worked for a man named Hilton Hoover. He gave me every bit of bandwidth to be creative. The PC had just come into the workplace. It was a $4800.00 toy for me. I worked with BASIC programming, Lotus 123 macros and did some work on a VAX mainframe. It was a great launchpad for me. Hilton often told me that I was too big for the job and I would outgrow him. For me, I was content. I was making good money, loved the work and it was at the local government nuclear facility where people pulled every string to try and get a job.

Hilton championed my drive to learn. He extended so many opportunities to me and really primed my interest in what was to be an explosive business during my early years. Still at this time, it was all about me. I was in no mindset for leadership. I may be leading in my knowledge of technology and people reaped benefits from that, it was not the traits of leadership for me at this period in my life.

I later took a job working as an IT technician for the DOE complex’s security contractor. Wackenhut was a great company to work for. It wasn’t until a man named Larry Adcox took over the IT division that I would start to get my feet wet in leadership. Larry moved me to be over the IT team as he had IT and Document Control under his purview. I had a team of 6 people. In order to manage this team, I was enrolled in a management training program. In this program, I was taught all the pieces of government regulations in managing employees, but what was the best part of this was the introduction to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits. We got all the tools for 7 Habits. I used them and drew that up that water in a sponge. It was eye opening for me because it had portions for self-improvement and how to execute listening, understanding before talking for effective communications. Still, this training was about self and self-improvement and not necessarily about team. Now team for me was easy because I treated my employees as peers. I was often told I was to close to my employees, and I needed to maintain a level of separation in order to effectively manage and make good decisions. I never got that, nor did I ever do that. These people were part of me being successful.

After working at Wackenhut for 12 years, I got an opportunity to move into a director’s job for a company in east Tennessee. This was going to take me and my young family away from the town I’d grown up in, but something told me that this was an opportunity for me. We moved in 1999 and I started a new leg in my journey. This job was over an entire team with much larger scope. We were spread across the US, it was a private company and not anywhere run like a government organization from where I came. It was a hard transition and came with some collateral damage for me. I lost my family as me and my high school girlfriend, then wife, divorced. It changed me. I also experience my first failure as leader and was demoted because of a decision I made in siding with the facility president over my direct manager who was located in Maryland. I sat in timeout for 3 years rebuilding my confidence. Locally I was still respected, but in the company, I had a stain. It was after some transitions in our company that my manager in Maryland came and asked me to take a bigger role than I had before. Along with that promotion, she enrolled me in SIM (Society of Information Management) training. I received a 90 pound box of books to read. I was flown to Dallas, TX once a month for a year long training program. This training was designed to take technical people and give them the soft leadership skills to be effective leaders. It was an expansion of Covey with a tie in of Deming to be more rounded and in tune with the individual. It was a big change from all the models I’d had before. It was now acceptable to be close to employees as individuals and earn the respect and ultimately trust of these employees. This model still had to compete with the old 50’s model, but it could be executed and interfaced with that model if the business allowed. I was lucky, our CEO was a people person.

But, one thing in life is always constant and that is change. Our company was acquired, and we were now a 6 times bigger company than before. My CIO made the transition in the merger and she gave me full reign with IT development team. I was able to do that for 6 years until a new CEO was named and he changed his whole direct report team and my CIO was let go. I now had a new manager who was a very controlling and pretty much sidelined how I managed my team. Basically, my whole team was at her beck and call. It was probably the darkest time in my career and had me contemplating a change.

As fate would have it the CIO would move on and bring in my current manager. With him came Agile. I fought Agile. I didn’t see how it would fit in the model we were using. We were in the middle of a huge deployment and I didn’t have the time to put into what he was requesting. He asked me to at least take the training and work with him. I agreed and enrolled in Scrum Master training. I have to say, the whole process was eye opening. I now had a tool to implement with my SIM management model to give all of my employee’s accountability. I was given every bit of leeway to implement Agile. My team was reluctant but followed the practices. We became one of the most successfully managed teams in the company. Our value grew exponentially. We were producing and delivering on schedule with better efficiency than ever before.

I learned of a new program in Agile called CAL and I enrolled taking along with me one of my lead employees. I was looking to expand my leadership and bring along a team member to ultimately take on a bigger role in our growing IT initiatives. It is here that I learned that leadership is a selfless role. All of the things I’d been told along my path were coming to fruition. NO I in TEAM, A team is only as strong as its weakest link, parable of the sticks from my Christian upbringing. All of these where showing me that a team of one only works on a field of no competition. Pair this with Agile leadership and you now can transition quickly, fail quickly, fix quickly and move with business. Agile also gives ownership and with ownership, you get investment in the success. Assembly line tasks limit ownership and innovation.

Ultimately the biggest lesson learned for me is that Leadership is not a journey of destination, but a journey of transition. It is a journey of learning and growth. It is a journey of change in thinking and purview. You learn to take a 360 look at all situations and invest in others to reach better decisions. It is not for the complacent. And the answers to my questions that I started with are all here. The journey is not for everyone, leadership is opportunity well executed. Leadership needs champions and programs such as I’ve been engaged in give me the opportunity to create new leaders and motivate them to be successful.

So, what has not worked for me in this journey? That is a good question. The biggest thing that I’ve found that proved difficult or near impossible to do was when I take this selfless model against a top-heavy directive driven management model. It is viewed as soft. I’ve been called a weak leader for this style of management. What I had to do was look at the health of my team and the measurement of our successes to grade how I am doing as a manager. That is an exercise in patience because that is some slow growing fruit that is produced. I equate the demands of management against my style as them requesting me take 9 women and have a baby in a month. It can’t be done. No matter what resources are thrown, it doesn’t accelerate or reshape the manner in which I manage a team.

What does work is when that fruit 1st produces. I have never been told to change what I’m doing once the challengers see the results of our work. I have found that giving ownership and investment in any endeavor stimulates great accomplishments. It is a practice to be an Agile leader to persuade individuals to judge by results.

Where does this take me? Having 38 years in this industry and seen the transitions I’ve seen from a 10MB 16K IBM 8086 personal computer to the vast expansion of the internet and multi-media, I’m at the point in my life and career to help others build leadership skills. I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I would love to transition into a consultant for leadership and team building after my IT management life closes.  I am grateful for this journey and will never be surprised by any of the transitions that my come my way. Ever learning, growing and sharing is what leadership has become for me.

By: Daryl Grantham

My Agile Leadership Journey took me from a structured top-down management model to a flat, cross functional team model with open communications and accepted commitments. Communications, Trust and Commitment are the foundational elements required to adequately navigate Agile. I learned early on in my career these concepts with Covey 7-Habits. In tangent, Agile has given me the tools to make strong leaders within my team and extend my productivity to a refined recordable, reportable and deliverable product or products for any organization that my team performs work for. Agile is a journey with no destination. It is an infinite process in adaptation and change management that allows cross functional teams to perform at their best.  It is my goal to give back to this process by educating future leaders and demonstrate how Agile can work in any professional environment. Braintrust, like many of my champions and sponsors I’ve run across in my career, has provided me with a skill set that will find function wherever my feet and thoughts may carry me.