Moving from management to leadership

Paragon IT hires first director of leadership development

Des Moines-based information technology staffing firm Paragon IT Professionals is building out its IT Leadership Forum, a leadership program it has offered since 2010, as a more comprehensive and internally run initiative.

Joel Jackman, co-founder and executive vice president of Paragon IT, said a steady stream of companies asking Paragon to deliver the forum’s training within their organizations led to Heidi Bedier joining the firm’s team in the new role of director of leadership development. With 25 years of experience in leadership and organizational development, Bedier will explore ways to strengthen the existing program and identify additional leadership development resources Paragon can offer. 

The origin of the leadership forum is in part of Paragon’s mission to help develop future IT leaders and help organizations create their leadership culture, which has only become more important over time, Jackman said.

“What we have found is leadership 30 years ago was management; today, leadership is such a specific skill,” Jackman said. “Although people I think in general are getting better at it and are more aware of what those needs are, it’s easy in theory and hard in practice.”

He said there is a gap Paragon has sought to fill specifically among technology leaders as they often move into leadership positions with years of experience and strong technical skills but not always the skills or support they need to lead a team.

The demand on leaders overall is “much higher” right now, he said, partly because of workforce shifts causing them to align with employees’ needs and goals in work and life more than ever. Three years into the pandemic, employers are continuously navigating how to support both professional and personal development for a workforce seeking flexibility in how and where they work, Bedier said. 

“It’s figuring out that balance between what does the worker of today want, the business needs that we need to match up with, and how do we create not just thriving businesses but thriving people that can thrive within those organizations, systems, processes and community at large too,” Bedier said.

Jackman said the popularity of remote work in the technology sector in particular puts leaders in a position of delivering the value and investment many employees want with teams distributed across “everywhere.”

“They want to not only feel value, they want to know what does success look like?” he said.

Jackman said leadership will always be about “building capacity in people,” but having and developing quality leaders has also become paramount to hiring and retaining workforce, especially with tight competition for IT resources.

“By fostering improved leadership skills, our industry has a better chance of obtaining and retaining and really engaging their workforce, which is the sign of a strong leader today,” he said. 

Paragon’s Leadership Forum continues to garner interest because it offers a setting for development that companies may not have internally, he said.

“Even as robust and brilliant and successful as these huge organizations are, they don’t always have the formula for what we teach,” he said.

The forum brings together groups of 20 to 30 IT professionals and zeroes in on practical, applicable knowledge. Jackman said a top priority is ensuring the sessions aren’t overly structured and participants can share their personal experiences and learn from one another.

Jackman said there is a gap to fill specifically among technology leaders because they often move into leadership positions with years of experience and strong technical skills but not necessarily the skills or support they need to lead a team. The forum currently runs in-person once a year for four months. 

It will not be offered in Des Moines this fall to extend the opportunity to Paragon’s other markets in Nebraska, Minnesota and Arizona. However, Bedier said with her new role, custom consulting services working directly with a specific team or organization to address their needs will be available.

“What was so unique about the opportunity that Paragon has is we can be the eyes and the ears and potentially voice and advocate for things that are needed,” she said. “When the leaders are talking [about] their challenges, then we can hopefully start to build solutions around that.” 

Bedier said in the consulting capacity, she will act as a doctor, chef and coach, identifying the needs, developing a customized plan of effective and practical solutions, and then seeing the team through implementation.

“It’s not just delivering something and then letting them go; it’s that coach component to how can we continue to be ongoing support and help you to continue to grow individually and collectively within your roles that you have,” she said.