Emotionally Intelligent Leaders and Strategic Agility

The truth can be uncomfortable…leaders shouldn’t avoid that.

Achieving strategic agility is difficult because it’s based on shifting your mindset and rooted in emotional intelligence. But cultivating that mindset is worthwhile: Research shows that strategic leadership—which strategic agility falls under— is the most important leadership trait.

​Seeing an article talk about emotional intelligence as strategic agility in the same breath surprised me at first. As a military officer I feel that I have had to cultivate and grow both of these traits…and continue to do so.

But this is HARD.

Heck it was only in the past couple years I could even verbalize my career lessons in to terms like these.

I love this last point too.

When leaders consistently practice habits rooted in strategic agility, they empower their teams and organizations to do the same.

​Amen to that!!

Three things I can guarantee:

  1. Your organization will only survive if you empower your team
  2. Seek their feedback often, act on it, and you will move faster than you think
  3. As the leader, you must focus on making them better people – not just better employees – and all the goodness will follow.

The 4 management styles of emotionally intelligent leaders

Your Goals May Be a Mirage Hiding a Cliff

People think that summiting the mountain is the goal…they’re wrong.

People think that summiting the mountain is the goal…they’re wrong.

If you start a new job, build your own business, or begin a training plan to climb a mountain, you better realize that your goal should not be promotions, contracts, or summits. All of those things are the result of a lot of hard work and dedication, but they should not be the outcome you seek.

After finishing college, I took up rock climbing to fill the void that being a college athlete had filled. Like most people I started in the gym to establish my confidence and skills, and before long I was lucky enough to befriend folks who climbed outdoors.

Fast forward a couple years and I was now an experienced indoor and outdoor climber, working part time at my local gym, climbing bigger projects outside, and even volunteering with a local Mountain Search and Rescue Team.

The more I was around my outdoorsy kin, I learned lesson after lesson…but none stuck out to me as much as this one.

It’s not about making it to the top. It’s about making it back down.

Photo by alan parker via unsplash

In the Search and Rescue world, “the way back” is always at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Why? Because SAR folks are out there rescuing people who reached the summit and didn’t plan (properly) on how to get back down to safety!! It is quite literally, life and death on the side of a mountain if only one half of the equation is considered.

The same can be said of a lot of things in life. (maybe not life and death…but failure and true long term success)

Author and entrepreneur Ryan Holiday was recently interviewed by GQ, and addressed a comment about how motivation should not be outcome focused:

I work with lots of different writers. I ask, “Why do you want to write a book?” And whenever someone tells me it’s because they want to be a New York Times’ bestseller, I’m out. Because it’s a bullshit goal. It’s a goal that you have almost no control over. So the idea that you are going to spend a year or two years or five years of your life engaging in a process to get an outcome that you don’t control is insanity.

When your motivation is not really outcome focused, and you intrinsically like the thing, I would argue that the best work comes from that place.


Writing a book (or climbing a mountain) is a fantastic pursuit, but when the goal of that process is only recognition (a summit in the mind of the writer) you are destined to ultimate failure. You may summit that mountain, but you will be up there all by yourself, with no plan and now way down.

You will freeze to death in the cold of desolate success. Unless you consider the whole journey.

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.

–Ernest Hemmingway

How to avoid the outcome focused cliff

1. Don’t get locked in on the goal

Avoid being like the intrepid Wile E Coyote, who gets so focused on catching the Road Runner that he falls into the canyon amidst a cloud of dust. Force yourself to step back and look at the big picture. Only then will you see the hazards that are just past the “prize” and know to adjust course to avoid disaster.

2. A partner can keep you in check

In the mountain climbing world, a solid partner is not only competent and as motivated as you are, but will also not be afraid to tell you when to turn around. It’s easy to be so motivated to achieve the goal you set for yourself, that you lose sight of everything around you. Like a snow storm that envelopes the top of a mountain, reducing visibility to only your own feet; your career dedication has the potential to harm you more than help.

A worthwhile partner can pull you out of that haze and show you the abyss you were about to march right in to. We all want to see that life changing sunrise come over the horizon…but sunrise is when visibility is at its worst….your partner can tell you that light you see is a train about to hit you, not the sun.

3. Accept the cliche: you have to love the process

If you are reading this article then you’ve probably heard “you have to love the process” a thousand times. That’s because it’s true. In the context of this article…if you don’t love the process and are only focused on the goal you set, you will be let down once you reach that goal. Sure you’re a success…but was it at your own expense? Others expense? What’s next?

Passion for the process safeguards you from those potential pitfalls; and that “process” may mean different things for different people. For some, it may mean the actual work, for others it may be the people they work with, and yet for a few it may be the overarching mission of their organization. Either way, the passion is there and will keep you steady.

“The big picture doesn’t just come from the distance; it also comes from time.”

Simon Sinek

Implementing this ethos in your life and career takes time. It’s hard when all you see in the short term is the restrictions all around you, not allowing you to do what you would like. Yet, if you can keep coming back to those three things to steer away from that cliff…you will be shocked at how beautifully things can turn out for you in the long run.

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams via Unsplash

If You’re Not Moving Forward, You’re Drifting Backward

3 Rules to Help You Find that First Success in Business

I’m a new boss. Things are good…and I have decided to ignore the age old advice: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

I came in to a good situation with my current job. My people are good, they know what they’re doing and (largely) do it pretty well. As the new boss, I find myself asking the question…do I need to press to make things better? Or will I risk running into a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” situation? It is tempting to just sit back, relax, and enjoy what is sure to be a smooth couple years here.

If you were in my shoes what would you do?

Would you ask yourself:

“Is that who I am?”

“Is that how I got here?”

“Is this a formula for further success?”

My answer to these questions is a resounding “No”

So this past Saturday, I wrote the below on a post-it note and stuck it right on my computer monitor.

If you’re not moving forward, you’re drifing backward.

Picture yourself sailing accross the vast ocean of life. There is wind in your sails, favorable currents beneath you, and you cruise right through life events like high school, college, or starting a career. Then the wind changes and life tosses you around like a wild storm that howls across the waves, doing its best to drown you. Your life currents will always vary wildly and often try to push you in a direction you don’t want to go. Many times you have to break out the oars and start rowing, or build an engine and keep it fueled to keep moving in the direction you want.

If you stop rowing and just hope that the winds will get you there….you will be disappointed. If you stop moving forward, you WILL drift backward.

Josep Castells via Unsplash
Josep Castells via Unsplash

Life is like the ocean. It can be calm and still or rough and rigid but in the end it is always beautiful.

How many ways can we apply this in life?

  • work
  • play
  • exercise
  • relationships
  • that next project or hobby you wanted to start?

Even if you take the most incremental step forward, that means you have not drifted backwards. I wouldn’t even settle for maintaining the status quo. Life moves to fast for the status quo to remain…the status quo.

With all this in mind…what do I do?

If I bring this back to my current situation…the new boss….let’s apply three rules that I have learned during my 15 year career, that I am confident will steer any organization towards success.

1. Just try something

Ignore Yoda’s advice of “there is no try”…that’s bull. In the tech world the big companies that succeed often say that it doesn’t matter if you fail, as long as you fail fast and fail forward.

Try something until you find what works. Even it it only works a little.

2. Make people the most important thing

Too many companies pay this second point lip service and then wonder why they have such a high employee turnover rate. Some estimates say the employee turnover rate for big tech companies is 40% each year. If you think about how big some of these companies are…those are astronomical numbers.

Ever heard of the e-commerce company Next Jump? It has a couple hundred employees between New York, Boston, and London; has annual revenue in the hundreds of millions; al with a turnover rate of 1%.


Their story is quite incredible and while most companies will never have a “no fire” policy…most companies don’t invest in their employees the way Next Jump does.

3. Iterate Through Constant Feedback

Just like our example of sailing on the ocean of life…currents are never a straight line. If you want to maintain your direction, you have to constantly accept instrument feedback and adjust accordingly.

The same goes for your business/project/new job. You may have a vision of where you want to go; but remember, you’re putting people at the forefront. If you truly do that, you need to listen to them, consider their feedback, respond (to prove you actually listened), then act.

What business do you think will be most successful? The one that is only directed by it’s single leader? Or the one that leans on the collective intelligence of all its employees?

My money would be on the latter.


(Ok, kind of a bonus rule that’s not a rule)

Many may see this last point as untenable. What about down time? What about employee burn out?

However, if you do those first three steps, what you will have done is create an organizational culture that is truly sustainable. It won’t stop. A culture that tries new things, puts its people first, and then actually listens to and acts on the collective intelligence of those employees….tell me who would not want to work there?

That’s a business that is more family than business. Growth will be inevitable because the employees will grow as people first…and as employees second.

You’ll never drift backwards when everyone is rowing in the same direction.

So what do I do as the new boss? First I just have to try something.

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