Meet our Emerging Leader Award finalist - Jordan Reynolds

Two-and-a-half years after launching Tactical Groups New Zealand business, Jordan Reynolds now leads a 12-strong business that is tasked with a range of complex projects.

One of three finalists for this year’s ACE New Zealand Emerging Leader Award, we spoke with Jordan about how he’s navigating the challenges of leading a SME through its start-up phase, in the midst of one of the most challenging periods the consulting sector has ever faced.

What are some of the challenges you faced around establishing a SME in Aotearoa?  

From my perspective, there have been three key challenge sets.

The first has related to the need to have an adaptive leadership style because, at the beginning, every time you grow by one or two people, you're basically doubling the size of your business. The leadership style that you need for two people versus four or six people is really different – and we're at 12 people now, so it's had to change again.

That means you don’t have the ability to get comfortable in a particular leadership style, like you would in a larger organisation. My career experience previously had seen me managing a larger established team. In that environment, even if the team sized changed by 20%, the leadership requirements stayed roughly the same. In comparison, my current role requires a pretty dynamic approach to leadership, which changes as the business changes.

The second challenge set has been around the need to get extra buy-in from your employees – even right from the start, when they’re thinking of joining the business. That’s because, essentially, they’re taking a bit of a punt on a ‘garage band’, rather than a household name. That can be a difficult decision, particularly when the economy is feeling volatile. Two or three years ago, people were really worried about where their next payback would come from in the midst of COVID-19, so to join a start-up felt a little bit dicey. That's changed over time, but I definitely think the need to get employees buying in to a small team remains heightened.

The third challenge set for me has been doing more with less. As a SME, we don't have the resources and tools that big organisations have to deliver team and experiential outcomes for people that work for us. So, I think it’s been really important to play to our strengths as a small business - we can do things more dynamically, have more fun and be more engaging.

For example, when team members ask me what our policy is on X or Y, I'll say, ‘that sounds like a great idea - why don't you make one’ rather than ‘here are the rules for what you do in that situation’.

What advice would you give others in a similar leadership position to yourself?

Back yourself. But also, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable around where you feel your gaps might be.

These days, I think people have a heightened sense of awareness around leadership. If you're fudging it or faking it in an area, they'll see through you. So back yourself, but be open about where you think your blind spots are and work with your team to help you fill those.

Also, be aware that you don't need to do everything. As a leader, I am actually very happy for my team to lead work streams. Often that means I’ll take on the role of supporting and reporting into them if it gets the best outcome in areas where I'm not strong.

We’ve heard you describe yourself as a “procurement geek”. What are some of the opportunities in procurement for New Zealand? How can the professional services sector lead the way?

I think the opportunity for New Zealand in the procurement sense is, of course to look offshore and see what’s being done around the world to get better outcomes, but also to recognise that our challenges here are very different.

We have a really constrained market - we are crying out for more engineers, more builders, more materials… there's not enough of everything here, and we’re at the end of the world, far away from everything, dealing with inflation and all these constraints. With that in mind, I think our opportunity is to be better at using collaborative procurement models that make the most out of the resource and skill sets we have locally. We could be working laterally across our consulting and construction sectors to engage a wider array of firms to address resource bottlenecks. Yes, there needs to be commercial tension, but in balance we also need to be a little bit more pragmatic and inclusive in terms of how we leverage our consulting sector. 

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

It’s the absolute variety of opportunity I get. So, one day it could be marketing and strategy and the next day it’s helping a client solve a really complex project problem, or hiring new team members or working with consultants from other businesses to deliver a big project. I’ve never had a role before which brings such variety to my day-to-day.

I also really enjoy, and increasingly so, setting a direction with my team and then seeing them work together (and not always with me!) to progress us towards that vision. It's really fun getting up into the crow’s nest, surveying the course and saying, ‘this is where we want to be – I’m not sure how we’re going to get there, but let’s get aligned on the goal and breakdown what actions will get us there.’ I find that, when you take that approach, you see people finding a lot more stretch in their roles and getting a lot more fulfilment from them. That’s because they're not just there from nine to five, they're also responsible for figuring things out. 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m a really big proponent of servant leadership. Servant leadership is about taking a step behind the team and pushing them forwards, doing what needs to be done to build their trust and helping them reach their own potential – including having them lead me on projects where it feels right.

My mantra is that leading can include being a good follower. That means, if I set a really clear goal in terms of where we want to be, I might contribute as an administrator on a small task, just to give the team space to really play to their best strengths.

In keeping with that, the key thing I enjoy about leadership is bringing those high-performance components out of each person and letting them realise that they have their superpowers, but they also have their weak points. I encourage my people to lean on their colleagues when they need support – the effect is integrated high-performance that acknowledges both strengths and weaknesses.

Is it important to have mentors?   

In my mind, mentors are the difference between stagnating in our careers and growth. So I’ve always had mentors, whether they knew they were a mentor or not, that was giving advice and guidance and asking the right questions that helped me deconstruct barriers I have built around myself in my mind. So, yes, I think mentors play a really key role – particularly in the consulting industry.      

What would you say to someone who was thinking of applying for this award next year?

I was really keen to apply for the Emerging Leader Award because I felt really uncomfortable applying for it. That in itself told me something it was worth doing. I think it’s a great platform to encourage others who have a little bit of self-doubt and feel ‘imposter syndrome’ to really have a go and push themselves, whether it’s in the context of an award or in their organisations and careers.   

To anyone thinking about applying in future, I would say, ‘don't hesitate’ – you'll get a lot of value out of the application process itself.

For me, I got a huge quantum of value out of the reflective process that’s required in order to write the application. I hadn't actually taken a moment to take stock on what I'd achieved before, so I'd say it’s worthwhile even approaching it as a reflective exercise. And don't hesitate to do so because you might uncover some real exciting things about yourself.

Jordan is one of three finalists for the 2022 ACE Emerging Leader Award, the winner of which will be announced at our Awards gala dinner in Rotorua on 2 September, as part of Conference 2022. Keen to celebrate with us? Find out more here

The ACE New Zealand Emerging Leader Award, sponsored by Tonkin + Taylor, recognises individuals who have a passion for leadership in the consulting sector, show a commitment to developing themselves, and demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities in their work and in their communities.