Leadership requires fluidity. At the helm of a company, a classroom, or a little kickers soccer team, you’ve got to stay open-minded and agile. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, but it really just means moving quickly with ease and certainty. It means you’re prepared. You’ve done the work. It’s foundational to our culture and critical to our partnerships. It helps me be a better dad, coach and CEO.
My own origin story, full of dramatic plot twists, has taught me well the importance of being nimble. When I was seven, my family moved from England to the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly called Zaire). I loved it, and really thrived at school. In September 1991, to protest the army’s unpaid wages, they began looting and ravaging the city. Two thousand French and Belgian troops, some flown in on U.S. Air Force planes, arrived to evacuate the 20,000 endangered foreign nationals in Kinshasa. We returned to England briefly, and then off we went to Canada. I finished high school in Vancouver and attended UBC for pharmaceutical studies. Great plan. Totally on track. Except, I fell hard for computer science, changed my degree and co-founded a tech company, ResponseTek. Did I know how to code or run technology for a SaaS company? Absolutely not! But I jumped.
Then came 2001—the bubble burst and back I went to finish my degree. ResponseTek was fortunate – we succeeded, but many didn’t. I traveled a lot and experienced many amazing cultures around the world. Fast forward to 2015. Married with one child, one on the way and helping to coaching a local soccer team. All is well. And then, just two weeks before the birth of our second child, I joined Cymax Group as VP of technology. Ecommerce was fairly new to me, and I knew even less about its complicated ecosystem. I jumped directly into a complex project that the team had been working on for months. There I was, the new boss, neck-deep in the trenches during long nights and weekends to get that one over the finish line. I’m sure I got in the way a few times, but what an incredible team-building experience. The trust and transparency we cultivated are reflected in the culture of our organization today. If you do the work, it shows.
In 2018, I took another leap into the role of COO and then, two years ago, became the CEO of Cymax Group. The ability to embrace new challenges with confidence and curiosity has fuelled my career, and I’m grateful to my parents for instilling that. We must adapt or die – as the pace of change accelerates, we balance opportunity with risk and trust our experience and instincts. In fact, many of our greatest strides have come from turning risk into an opportunity. We see a problem; we build a solution, and then we share it. That approach has made us a leader in the eCommerce ecosystem, and it’s a big factor in the success we’ve had this year.
When things turned in the early days of March 2020, we made the call quickly: overnight, our team went remote without a glitch because we’d built the systems and the processes, and we trusted them. I think back to the spring and remember the adrenaline we were all running on. My priority was to make sure everyone was safe and ok. I personally connected with as many team members as possible. We’ve maintained our culture of communication with virtual coffee connects and poker nights. It’s not easy, though. No amount of agility could make the last nine months easy.
We’ve grown by more than 30% since then. Everyone gets the full-court press – (virtual) coffee with the executives and personal meetings with every department. Collaboration from day one is so important.
RELATED: Cymax is hiring in Vancouver
As a leader, the priority is to empower people to create their own stories and build their own success. My goal is to help amplify strengths and potential. It’s a key factor in the relationships we build, too. We get stronger as a team when we get stronger as individuals, in the same way our ecosystem gets stronger as we all succeed and grow.
Cultivating a sense of ownership means more big ideas, more innovation and way more fun! We’re all in this together, and the collective goal is to make things better and easier. For everyone. And, honestly, it’s the smart way to lead. Our senior management team has been with me every step of the way, navigating a rapid rise with grace and precision. We’re here because they’ve embraced this culture of transparency and partnership. We rise together. That’s how we work in-house, and it’s what drives our partnerships. When a team is empowered, motivated and understands organizational goals and direction, it’s much easier to get buy-in. A feeling of inclusion and shared experience helps build the confidence to ask questions and challenge the status quo. That foundation of trust and transparency enables you to respond quickly and with intention. It fuels the What Ifs and the Why Nots.
A diverse team offers access to insights and ideas you don’t already have. As a leader, you rely on expert advice from people you trust. People who challenge you. They say that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. That level of self-awareness and humility is essential to growth as a leader and as a person. Rather than diminish authority, it allows you to direct attention organizationally, and it empowers your team.
Fluidity is essential, both to the success of a CEO and to an organization. Once you’ve decided for sure, 100 percent, absolutely, that THIS IS THE PLAN, the universe inevitably laughs, right? But if you’ve got the people, the processes and the partnerships in place, you can reset with confidence, dream up some big hairy audacious goals and achieve them because you’ve already earned the trust of your team and your stakeholders. Do the work, and it shows.
The big win for organizations going forward will be this increased sense of ownership and autonomy, a direct result of the remote way we’ve all had to manage in the last few months. Find the right people, empower them and trust them to deliver. That’s how we’ve always operated and it’s served us well these last nine months. Agility and resilience – both so foundational to our culture – have powered new ideas and directions this year. Learning to adapt in real-time – a strength of ours before the pandemic, and it really shines through as a differentiator for us now. We’ve shifted into a new gear. I’m betting you have, too.