How “Wacky Women with Magical Powers” Get Things Done

Leadership
BY SHANNON ADKINS

CEO Shannon Adkins on Modern Leadership Podcast

During the episode, she shared how her personal and work experiences have shaped her leadership style and beliefs.

Here are some key takeaways—on business and career—from Adkins during the podcast:

On Leadership

As early as high school, Adkins says, she adopted a commitment to making a difference and a strong sense of justice and equity. Those commitments have become even more relevant in the current business environment, which requires leaders who model empathy, self-awareness, collaboration, and communication.

“Now we find ourselves in the 21st century recognizing that those leadership attributes that perhaps come more easily to women are in demand for everyone,” she says. “If somebody tells me I need to be more aggressive or bang the table louder, I’m going to say, ‘No, that’s not actually aligned to who I am authentically. And to my authentic self-expression, I’m going to lead the way that I’m going to lead.”

One of the most important parts of the equation is authenticity. “Really know who you are and who you’re not,” Adkins says. “Be able to lead from that place of self-awareness and authenticity so that you can recognize your own triggers and interrupt yourself, and give your team the tools to interrupt you too.”

On a Shared Purpose

To engage employees and sustain business, Adkins believes the work must be purpose-driven. Workers of all ages demand, and deserve, to have work that’s more than just a job—they want to do something they believe in.

“I cannot engage and motivate my team to be accountable, and in today’s labor market, to even just stay at my company, if there isn’t a clear connection to what we’re doing and why it matters,” she says. “We heard this from the CEO of BlackRock, right? If a business isn’t authentically articulating and acting consistently with a declared purpose that matters to the stakeholders, it’s going to be a tough battle, right?”

Part of offering a shared purpose comes back to leadership, and to conveying an overarching vision: Where are we headed? Why? “I’m great at building momentum and inspiring people to that shared purpose, and having people see what’s ahead and how we’re going to get there and their part in that,” Adkins says. “It’s an important skill in leading my team. It’s also an important skill in our work with our clients, because we work with people who are often the unsung heroes of massive transformation inside of very large corporations.”

“The scale and impact of an organization is going to be limited by the leadership inside of the organization,” she says. “If you can create more leaders in your organization who have autonomy and accountability for producing extraordinary and outstanding results, who feel personally committed to those outcomes, your business is going to grow and scale much faster and much more effectively. It’s a company then. It’s not an individual or a hierarchy. It’s a company that’s striding and evolving in ways that are unpredictable and magical.”

“Resisting the urge to micromanage, resisting the urge to let fear dominate your narrative, resisting the urge to freak out when that one deal doesn’t close, but continuing to stand in that possibility and design from that place of abundance.”

On the Force of Business

While some people look to government to influence big policy moves, Adkins sees business as a stronger player.

“Business is the most powerful force on the planet,” she says. “At the end of the day, the power and the influence that business has in the United States of America, and really across the globe, is second to none.”

Adkins would like more recognition paid to businesses, such as Certified B Corporations, that understand their obligation to account for and solve for negative social or environmental impacts in their business model.

“It’s not a right to run a business and do harm,” she says. “Check out what it looks like to become a B Corp…It’s both an important attribute for our employees to know that we are purpose-driven and that we are willing to be assessed against those criteria by an independent third party. I think it’s going to be the wave of the future. We’re riding that wave and invite everybody to do that.”

On Work Culture and Opportunities

At one point Adkins considered a career in the legal or policy field, and although she chose another direction her work now delves into those areas.

“We certainly find ourselves doing more and more advocacy and policy work as entrepreneurs and as business owners,” she says. “But I’m really very proud of the culture we’ve created at Future State and really inspired by what is becoming kind of the new norm, or at least certainly the new aspiration, for organizations to lead in an equitable and fair way that recognizes the strengths of individuals and builds upon them.”

It’s a lesson she learned in one of her first jobs, while working at a small company “full of wacky women with magical powers” who jumped into big work challenges.

“People who are oriented toward what they can offer and what they can give do better and have greater success in the end. It’s the antidote to resentment,” Adkins says. “It’s the opportunity for people to be empowered by orienting around a stakeholder view, orienting around being of service, being a servant leader, making sure that they’re contributing and providing opportunities to support others.

“It’s good business. It’s good for your health. It’s good for your well-being. It’s a better way to live.”