After years of working for others in the Baltimore-Washington corridor's thriving government software industry, Anne Wagner, her husband, Mike, and a few others established WaveStrike.
The idea was to not only provide critical software solutions to the U.S. intelligence community and Department of Defense, but to create a better place to work.
They must have succeeded because WaveStrike is The Baltimore Sun’s Top Workplace among small companies and Anne Wagner, the Annapolis Junction-based firm’s president, is this year’s winner of the Top Workplaces leadership award among small companies.
Wagner took some time out of her schedule to answer five questions about leadership for The Baltimore Sun:
What is a leader's role in building a place where people want to work?
A leader’s role is to set the tone for the organization, model the behavior that you want your employees to follow and make sure employees know that they are appreciated. Our leadership of WaveStrike is based on creating a culture and workplace that represents all of the aspects that we want from a place to work. We took different elements from various places we worked over the years to develop an organization that had all of the elements that we wanted and continued to improve the organization by incorporating feedback from employees on a regular basis. We want our employees to know that we listen to their suggestions and that their opinions about the culture of the company are as important as ours.
What is your influence on your organization's culture?
My influence on our organization’s culture is to provide the insight and knowledge I have of our customer’s and industry partners to the employees. This knowledge combined with knowing what is important to our employees’ shape the type of work we will pursue as the company grows. Other than setting the strategic direction, my influence on the culture is to be supportive of the employees, their careers, work-life balance and growth both technically and professionally. I strive to understand what each individual employee is working on, what challenges they may be encountering, accomplishments they have made (big or small) and look for ways to make their day-to-day easier if possible.
How do you decide when to be hands-on and when to delegate?
It’s easy to delegate when you have a great team around you. As the company has grown we have added key members to the operations team and delegated different aspects of running the business. We are still very hands-on, but we have developed a trusted relationship in our team. We hire excellent people, who we hire for both fit with the company culture and technical excellence. Sometimes our decision to delegate is to create an opportunity for an employee to grow in a new area, other times it is to give them a chance to use one of their strengths to excel in a new way.
What's the hardest lesson about leadership you've learned?
Expect the unexpected. Situations can arise with customers or employees that are unexpected, as a leader you must remain flexible to adjust to the situation to support in the best way possible. We’ve had a number of unexpected situations happen during our five years in business and we’ve learned from each one. Taking a lesson from each situation and learning how to operate the business better has been something we’ve strived to do throughout our operations.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in leadership?
Surround yourself with great people and strong mentors. You’ll need a network to be successful because nothing is accomplished on your own. Hire people that are a fit for your culture, not just smart people but ones who believe in what you are trying to build and will represent it well. Create strategic partnerships with other leaders who believe in similar ways of doing business and with the same ethics. Continue to improve your own skills and never stop learning so that you become a better leader for your employees.