7 Questions with Ted Kniker
Name: Ted Kniker
Current title: Executive Vice President
Current organisation: IMPACT Paradigm Associates, LLC
Ted Kniker is an internationally recognized expert and thought leader in organizational performance improvement, with extensive executive leadership roles in the public and commercial sectors. His work as Chief of Evaluation and Performance at the U.S. State Department was recognized by President George W. Bush, benchmarked by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and called a best practice by the Office of Inspectors General (OIG).
He is Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of IMPACT Paradigm Associates (IPA), where Ted oversees the Consulting, Coaching, Facilitation and Training business lines. Using systems-based methodology, he consults, coaches and facilitates C-level, Senior and Mid-level leaders in leadership, organization development, and performance improvement transformation efforts. His people-based approach supported by data focuses on transforming organizational climate, organizational culture and organizational strategies to be aligned with and successful in complex and changing environments.
Ted is a highly sought after speaker and is currently an Adjunct Professor for American University’s Key Executive Program, George Mason University’s School of Policy, Government and International Affairs, and The George Washington University Center for Excellence in Public Leadership. He has several professional publications and was on the Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2004 and 2007. Ted holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from George Washington University, is certified in Program Management and Analysis, and was a Presidential Management Intern (now Fellow). For fun, Ted is in the Golf Hall of Fame for hitting hole in one his first time golfing, he was an extra in The Dark Knight Returns movie, and is featured in the music video “Needle Down” by the band Streetlight Circus.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
The most challenging aspect has been during the transition between start up and growth stages, where one has to balance business development, service delivery, customer relationship management, and product/service innovation. Most leaders are good at one, maybe two of those things, but to be the one to handle all of it before being able to scale can be difficult.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I spent the majority of my career as a public servant in the Federal Government, spending the last several years as a senior official. I left the government to become the executive director of a think tank, which had provided an offer I couldn't refuse. I was looking to have more leadership opportunities and work both with the public and private sectors. The move afforded me the opportunity to truly lead an entire organization and its operations, gain experience working with a board, and to mentor and coach a wider range of employees.
From there, I moved to executive positions with a couple of other firms whose work and approach were more aligned with my interests and values. The CEO of the last firm decided to change its business model and converted all employees to contract positions, with little notice. To continue working on some existing contracts, I had to start my own firm. I had heard for years from colleagues, clients, and friends that I should have my own firm since I was the expert bringing in a majority of the business. Basically, I was forced into the opportunity to lead my own firm. Moving to a start-up situation has provided new and exciting opportunities.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I try to structure my days around doing things that allow me to give my best for the right kind of work. Generally, I start my day with coffee (a must) with my kids at breakfast ensuring they are getting their day started well. I try to do something relaxing with them to set the tone for the day. As I get to work, I review all incoming communications first to see if any new priorities have emerged. I've generally already planned out tasks for the week/day and so I will work most of the morning on key analysis or writing projects. I try to schedule my meetings and calls with people in the afternoon when my energy level is a little lower because I find the interaction boosts my energy levels and focus. Usually late afternoon I take a break to be with my kids to work with them on something they need. After dinner, I will return to work if there is something that needs to be finished up that day. If not, I'll spend the early evening either doing the extracurricular work/innovation for the business or relaxing. Late evening, I try to relax as much as possible and attempt to prepare myself to get as restful sleep as possible.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The most significant leadership lesson has been - have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve and WHY. Knowing the why gets you through the hurdles and obstacles. But you have to know the direction and be able to communicate your end sight and the journey in a compelling way to bring others along and have them want to participate. I find that when I invite others into the vision, they have a role in shaping both the end state and the process to get there. I much prefer having diversity of thought and lots of ideas to expand on my initial vision.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
There are so many, but I come back to The Servant (James C. Hunter). The book legitimized the style of leadership that I believed was what real leaders should be. It gave me confidence in how I lead.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
Building leadership capacity needs to be front of mind, intentional, constant, and consistent. To build the capacity, one needs to know the leadership framework that the organization will use (what are the competencies and capabilities). Top leaders need to model the behavior. Staff need to have opportunities to learn and practice leadership. Feedback is essential. Building leadership capacity goes hand-in-hand with being a learning organization that integrates purpose with mastery and autonomy.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
After being at a new organization for about 4 months, I learned that the CEO was going to shut down the parent organization and close us as well. I was given a choice - work to shut down my own organization and leave with a significant severance, or try to get my organization sold to a new owner. For me, it was a choice of both priority (do I focus on myself or the people I lead) and personal accountability (do I play the victim/blame game or do I take initiative and action). I opted for leading my team and focusing on action to survive because I deeply believed in the mission and the potential of the organization. The parent organization had been unsuccessful in finding a buyer, which left little time for me to lead my own process, but I was able to identify a buyer and run through the M&A process within 50 days, all while keeping productivity, morale, and revenue at high levels. In hindsight, it would have been far more advantageous to me personally to have walked away and shut the organization, but I know ultimately that given the difference and impact the organization has made with its customer base, I made the right choice.