Eric Herbelin Captures the Zeitgeist of Leadership

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How Eric Herbelin empowers employees 

Eric Herbelin, a veteran in the leadership and transformational change space, has passionately adopted the philosophy that people and their innate talents have the ability to transform an organization. He believes that when people are empowered, they will inevitably lead an organization towards growth with the right support and management. 

During a time when the leadership and transformational change space is cluttered with jargon and complex techniques, Eric Herbelin’s perspective remains distilled and direct. 

“We need to become more employee-powered,” says Herbelin. In simple terms, this means trusting your employees to deliver results in their own unique areas of expertise without micromanaging them. 

At the crux of Herbelin’s leadership style is a fundamental belief in people and their ability to generate positive change and momentum as long as there is a clear vision. By empowering employees, you also allow them to take ownership. 

“I have always been a natural delegator, and empowering teams to create a culture of ownership creates shared leadership,” says Herbelin.  

Herbelin goes on to say that ownership is a privilege that also comes with a degree of accountability. By empowering employees, you give them more autonomy, which also allows you to effectively manage them and monitor their performance. It’s a great way to ensure KPIs are met, and the longevity of the organization is ensured. 

In addition to Herbelin’s tried and true techniques as an executive, other leadership trends have emerged in recent years. 

The early 2000s and Agile Leadership 

Eric Herbelin was working away on strategic and operational planning in the early 2000s. He was also building his own data analytics tool. As Herbelin was in charge of driving the processes of a large corporate enterprise, he was constantly looking for ways to improve existing processes and make workflow more efficient. 

Herbelin built software based on Excel at the time. As he pioneered simple yet effective ways of delving into company data and making more informed decisions, the emergence of Agile Leadership became popular in the leadership space. 

In simple terms, Agile Leadership is about being as adaptable as possible. This leadership principle values being quick to respond and is focused on empowering others, as Herbelin has championed throughout his career as an executive. It allows large organizations to pivot or change direction quickly in response to new information or challenges. 

According to Better Works, a system software company specializing in performance management, “Agile Leadership is based on the belief that individuals and teams are self-organizing and capable of autonomy and trust. Agile leaders empower their teams by providing a clear vision and goals, encouraging decision making, collaboration and removing obstacles.” 

Another core component of Agile Leadership is mental flexibility. That means embracing ambiguity and complexity without getting paralyzed. It’s best to work on decision-making frameworks that allow for quick shifts and immediate action. 

At the crux of Agile Leadership is speed and agility, removing unnecessary obstacles, trimming away unnecessary processes and only adopting new technologies that benefit the organization rather than slowing it down. Large goals are broken into smaller manageable tasks, and the organization is able to pivot with ease. 

A leader that adopts the Agile Leadership framework doesn’t approach Agile Leadership as a binary leadership principle (i.e., Agile or not Agile) but rather approaches the framework on a continuum, constantly innovating to make the organization more agile and more ready. They don’t only promote change, but they drive the change themselves – they generate momentum. 

Other thought leaders in the Agile Leadership space, like the Agile Business Consortium, have broken Agile Leadership down into a subset of principles. According to the Agile Business Consortium, the first principle is that actions speak louder than words. Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see,” and this is not just the core principle of an agile leader but the core action. 

Agile leaders develop themselves to be humble and empathetic, and this inspires their colleagues to improve on common virtues like kindness, care and compassion. Leaders work on themselves before they work on others, and they move quickly, rapidly advancing and improving. They also get the work done and lead by example. When employees see their leaders working hard, they’re encouraged to work hard towards the same vision as well. 

The Harvard Business Review published an article entitled, Like It or Not, You Are Always Leading by Example. The piece asked leaders how they lead by example, asking leaders to detail instances and anecdotes where their actions set standards for others to follow. It sought to discover what leaders actually do that influences and inspires. 

There were many concrete examples outlined in the article, such as a Silicon Valley start-up CEO who attended his company’s diversity and inclusivity training workshop for the entire day so everyone knew he took it seriously, or a manufacturing executive who pointed to her on- and off-site Spanish lessons to better communicate with her workforce. Another example lent to readers was a founder who immediately pointed to promoting the college drop-out into a senior management position over an MBA, asking people to value performance over credentials. 

Eric Herbelin himself has always been one to value performance and personal development over credentials, and although his academic track record is impressive, it was always the results that drove him to forge ahead. 

“I hated the fact I was in a classroom, and I just wanted to do something, so I told my parents at age 15 that I didn’t want to go to college or university and that I wanted to start working.” 

Leading Through VUCA 

Another leadership principle that has regained traction since it was first introduced in the 80s is VUCA. Though commonly thought to have been invented by the U.S. military, it actually first appeared in 1985 by two economists and university professors, Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, in their book Leaders.

Recent economic and geopolitical developments have prompted leaders to revisit VUCA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In the VUCA world, nothing can be taken for granted. 

VUCA accounts for the volatility and complexity of markets, customers, supplies and regulations. Because uncertainty breeds ambiguity, employees can have emotional responses to the current landscape. They might feel isolated and find it more difficult to manage tasks and their time effectively. This can have a negative impact on morale and productivity, and this is what VUCA seeks to address. 

While the market is constantly changing, people remain creative and adaptable. By empowering employees, as Herbelin has championed over the decades, effective leaders can integrate VUCA principles into their leadership style. The first way to do this is by demonstrating objectivity. That means resisting making emotional and subjective decisions, remaining objective and helping provide definitive clarity around problem-solving. 

VUCA also encourages leaders to be confident in their employees and themselves. A leader who is confident about the future will help people remain resilient amid challenging situations. This is another way of leading by example – when an organization sees that leadership is confident, they tend to mimic the sentiment and perform better. 

Change also affects individuals differently, and leaders must adapt to account for the unique experiences and reactions of their employees. By demonstrating emotional intelligence, reverting to objective frameworks and liaising with all stakeholders involved, an executive can demonstrate VUCA leadership effectively. 

In addition to these traits, VUCA leadership encourages leaders to be empathetic, demonstrate integrity and facilitate realistic expectations that are in line with goals, targets and objectives. Weaving all these traits together, at the end of the day, it is also paramount to be democratic and practice regular engagement with employees. 

Leadership as art or science 

Interestingly enough, while leadership can be broken down into frameworks and approached like a science, it’s often debated whether leadership is truly a science or an art. 

Whether leadership is a repeatable and proven process that can be learned through literature and practice or an innate ability is hotly contested. 

While some believe that viewing leadership as a scientific endeavor holds leaders back from realizing their true potential, others find safety and generate results within the structure of tried and true leadership frameworks. 

For Eric Herbelin, it’s about keeping your finger on the pulse of what is happening within the organization and outside of it as well. While no leader can get everything right 100 percent of the time, leaders who adapt to change, drive transformation and growth and believe in the innate capabilities of the organizations are the ones who excel. 

Herbelin says it’s also about the data. You may consider numbers a science, but they definitely paint a picture – a picture you cannot ignore. 

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