Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Number One Leadership Activity to Drive Innovation

Guest post from Dr. Kumar Mehta:

Every leader wants to consistently create mind-blowing products and offerings that customers love and line up for.  They know that if they don’t innovate, they will be left behind, the world’s simply moving way too fast.  They are looking to institutionalize the innovation process.  This means building a culture where innovation happens every day.  It means creating an environment where innovation is not the domain of a select few individuals, rather every single person believes they can contribute to creating great products.  It means pushing the boundaries in everything you do.  It means a relentless focus on altering customer experiences in meaningful ways.
As a leader you can institutionalize innovation in your organization by creating an innovation biome, or a sustained environment where innovating becomes a habit.  Creating the innovation biome, however, requires all elements (teams, departments, priorities, etc) residing within your organization to act in concert and support each other. If your corporation seeks to alter its genetic code and transform itself into an innovative juggernaut, then it needs to operate with an exceptionally high degree of conviction and shared belief that innovation is a priority.  This is the number one factor that drives organization-wide innovation.

This starts with leadership.  You cannot tiptoe your way into innovation. You simply have to commit to your direction and share your conviction and vision with all related stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, customers, and partners. And everyone around you needs to share in that belief.
Shared belief has incredible power, probably more so than any other factor that drives change. Shared belief in a vision provides everyone involved with the confidence to go all-in and help make the vision a reality. Any ambiguity or second-guessing makes the already challenging task of moving a company in a new direction a lot harder.

Take for example Moore’s Law (the belief that chip capacity would continue to increase exponentially).  While this wasn’t a scientific law, it was a shared belief that has driven the forward progress of the computer industry for decades.  Or take for instance the shared belief inspired by President Kennedy as he boldly stated a vision and commitment to put humans on the moon and return them safely to earth.  A vision that was realized because everyone involved shared in the belief. 
Or learn from Apple’s example, when it launched the iPhone with a degree of commitment and conviction that made irrelevant one of the most desirable products of the time, its own iPod.  There was nothing wishy-washy about the launch of the iPhone, no “minimally viable product,” no “let’s wait and see how it does.”  It was full commitment from the leadership of the organization.  The company went all-in, knowing full well that they were risking the sexiest product of the time with an untested device. 

The more you believe in a vision, the more likely you are to achieve it and, in turn, make the belief real. Belief motivates people to take the necessary actions to make a vision come true, creating an upward cycle.
For the better part of the past decade, most people have considered Apple to be the most innovative company in the world. This is not because Apple kept proclaiming it was innovative; it is because it kept churning out one game-changing product after another. Now, everyone expects Apple to produce nothing short of breathtaking innovation. This shared expectation results in exactly that—breakthrough innovations. The perfect upward spiral. The belief is shared by everyone: Apple’s customers, employees, shareholders, partners, and even competitors.

The first step to creating an innovation biome is to make it clear, through words and actions, that innovation is a priority. Making innovation a shared belief requires actions that go far beyond appointing an innovation czar or developing an innovation dashboard. It requires thinking about innovation in everything you do. It requires not accepting mediocrity and ensuring that every offering, big or small, enhances a customer experience journey in a meaningful way.
Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of THE INNOVATION BIOME, has been at the forefront of innovation, research, and data analytics for over 25 years.  He founded Bridges Insight, an innovation think tank committed to researching innovation and helping organizations accelerate their rate of innovation. He has applied many innovation frameworks in his fourteen years at Microsoft and throughout his tenure building out innovative companies.  Mehta also serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California and serves on the board of The Committee for Children. For more information, please visit www.BridgesInsight.com.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What Good Is Vulnerability?

Guest post by Constance Dierickx:

What I am about to say will annoy—no, inflame—some. Some people repeat words or
phrases as though the ability to pronounce a word is equivalent to understanding what it means or why it is important. Vulnerability is too important to be reduced to mere utterance and prescribed like baby aspirin. It’s little wonder that executives are cynical about leadership trends, those who sell them and the invalid assessment tools to go alongside. 

Concepts that smack of a “touchy-feely” philosophy are disregarded and mocked. That’s if things go well. If they don’t go well, an entire company will adopt a framework and before you know it, the whole company will look at people through the lens of a test result. This gets in the way of learning about people, but it does provide a defense. Defense against what, you may be asking? Defense against responsibility for bad decisions because you haven’t taken the time, don’t have the ability or don’t care enough to find out what your colleagues are great at and what they aren’t. 

Vulnerability allows people to get to know one another. The value of leaders knowing the people in their company is inestimable, but it cannot be achieved without interaction. Too often, leaders have three outbound lanes and one inbound. Communication is focused on what a leader wants to say, not what they need to hear and learn. 

When we listen, we realize things we didn’t know and understand people in a way we hadn’t before. For some, that feeling of “I didn’t know as much as I thought” is a painfully vulnerable one. For others, it’s fun to open up, knowing that doing so will force them to adjust, sometimes dramatically.

Clearly, different levels of openness are appropriate, depending upon the context. Indeed, healthy individuals are more or less open, depending upon the circumstances. Even so, I know you can think of people who are stuck at one extreme or the other. Effective leaders are strategic in their thinking about when it is best to be vulnerable (admit mistakes, imperfections, for example) and when they must be circumspect (such as when planning an acquisition).

Boundaries


While vulnerability is important to building trusting relationships, boundaries are the essential ingredient that permit us to regulate how vulnerable to be in a given situation. Think of someone you know who shares too much. On the other end of the continuum, how about a person you know who can’t part with the most benign bit of information? Both create awkward exchanges, impeding the development of rapport, an important precursor to trust and willingness to share information. 

Of course, as with most things, we don’t drive in the ideal lane all the time. We go along fine for a time, then drift. Usually, the consequences are minor. Indeed, being inconsistent, despite the bad rap it gets, is very human. Most everyone says more than they intend sometimes or remains tight-lipped when it would be more beneficial to speak up. Patterns of behavior are the best indicator of who we are.  

It’s no surprise that individuals have preferences and habits regarding vulnerability and boundaries. Organizational cultures also have various levels of tolerance for openness. This colors the relationship of people to one another and either promotes curiosity, learning, and innovation or inhibits it. If vulnerability is okay and the boundaries healthy, people can try things and succeed or fail without being psychoanalyzed as a result.

It is the job of leaders to establish healthy boundaries, foster a culture to support them and deal effectively with exceptions. 

Courageous Vulnerability

On September 28, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, addressed all the cadets at the academy, with his staff, instructors, coaches and other professionals in attendance. The occasion that prompted this action was racial slurs that had been found on some message boards at the academy’s preparatory school. There is no better way to understand what Silveria did than to
watch the video.

While it was reported a few days later that the act was committed by a cadet who initially appeared a victim of the act. Silveria’s response to the Colorado Springs Gazette is worth “Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed.”

Address the incident he did. The video of Silveria’s response has been viewed nearly 2 million times and rightly so. His actions are an outstanding example of how to deal with vulnerability and use it as a pivot point. He didn’t shrink from the events. One of the most impressive aspects of his speech was the assertion that it would be naïve to think that, but for this instance, things are perfect. He managed, in five minutes and 29 seconds to admit vulnerability and set clear boundaries.

Here are the lessons exemplified by Silveria:

1. Be matter-of-fact about imperfections, every leader and every organization has them.

2. Accept responsibility without dramatization.

3. Set clear limits about what is out of bounds and take action so these are not mere words   

Most situations in business aren’t dramatic nor are they public. Perhaps that isn’t as fortunate as it sounds. It’s easier to ignore too much or too little vulnerability and boundaries that are loose or rigid when things are smooth, especially when a business is admired and/or profitable. There are always currents beneath what appears a smooth surface. Leaders who manage well in high-stakes pay attention to the dynamics in their organizations all the time, not just when the cameras are rolling.


Constance Dierickx, PhD, specializes in working with organizations in high-stakes transitions, including mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, CEO succession, strategic change, and crisis. She has worked with clients such as AAA, AT&T, Belk, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, DIRECTV, IBM, NextGear Capital, Olive Garden, and others. She has advised over 500 executives, on five continents in 28 industries.
High-Stakes Leadership: Leading Through Crisis with Courage, Judgment, and Fortitude describes the critical aspects of leadership needed in high-stakes. Leading requires the courage to make conscious decisions, judgment to separate information from spurious data and short-term trends, and fortitude to remain true to oneself and one’s mission.

New Year’s Leadership Development Goals 2018 Edition


The beginning of a new year. A fresh start! For many leaders, it’s a time to reflect on accomplishments for the past year and establish goals for the upcoming New Year. 

It’s also a good time to set leadership development goals, either as part of a formal development planning process, or just because it’s a proven way to continuously improve as a leader.

While leadership development goals should always be specific and relevant to the individual leader and linked to the organizational context, there are a few common ones that most any leader could benefit from.
This year’s edition includes one action step to take for each goal.

1. Become more self-aware (and aware of others). I’ll learn more about my strengths and weaknesses. More about my own emotions and how to control them, about other’s emotions and how I am coming across to others, and how to harness this awareness of self and others to be a better leader. I’ll take a multi-rater assessment or figure out some other way to get an accurate assessment as to how I am perceived by others. I’ll take stock of my values to become clearer on what really drives my behaviors and what’s important to me.

Action step: I’ll take at one assessment.
2. Delegate more. My unwillingness or inability to let go is causing me to work long hours, preventing me from having the time to be more strategic, and is retarding the development of my team. I’ll do some serious self-reflection, or work with a coach or mentor, to figure out what’s causing me not to delegate. Is it my own ego? Is it a lack of confidence in my team? Once I get to the root cause, I will create a list of everything I do and make hard decisions on what to delegate, who to delegate to, how to do it, and by when. I’ll have conversations with each direct report and my manager, asking them for their input on what they think I should be doing less or more of.

Action step: In order to begin the process of learning to let go, I’ll let my dining companion order my meal the next time I eat out.

3. Be more strategic. I’ll improve my ability to see the big picture and take a longer range, broader business perspective. I’ll learn to step back from the day-to-day tactical details of my business and focus on the “why”, not just the “what” and “how.” I’ll learn to speak the “language” of strategy and apply these concepts to leading my organization.
Action step: I’ll read one book on strategy and apply a strategic framework to my work.

4. Be a better listener. I need to learn to pay attention and demonstrate to others that that I value what they have to say. I’ll use active listening, open-ended questions, body language, and eliminate distractions that get in the way of my ability to listen.

Action step: I will put down and mute my smartphone during meetings and conversations (at home and at work).

5. Become a better negotiator. I’ll learn the “art and science” of negotiation, and use proven negotiation techniques to collaborate and reach win-win outcomes with my manager, direct reports, peers, suppliers and customers.
Action step: I’ll learn a proven negotiation framework and apply it to one personal and one business opportunity.

6. Learn to resolve conflict. I need to stop avoiding conflict – and start dealing with conflicts head on in a more constructive way. I’ll learn different approaches to dealing with conflict – my preferred approach – and how and when to use more effective approaches. I’ll then apply what I’ve learned and tackle a lingering conflict that needs to be resolved.

Action step: I’ll learn a conflict resolution process and apply it to a nagging business issue that I’ve been avoiding for way too long.

7. Be a better coach. I need to spend more time coaching and developing my team. I’ll shift my leadership style away from always directing and telling and learn to guide and develop my direct reports. I’ll learn and practice the “G.R.O.W.” coaching model with each of my direct reports until it becomes natural and a part of my leadership style.
Action step: I’ll practice asking more open-ended questions and giving less advice when my employees come to me with problems.

8. Develop my team.  I’ll learn more about what it really means and takes to become a high performing “team”. I’ll do a formal team assessment to learn about our strengths and weaknesses, then work with my team to establish an action plan to improve. Possible improvement areas: building trust, establishing structure and processes that encourage and enable teamwork, and practice “shared leadership”.
Action step: I’ll conduct a session with my team (or any team I’m on) to develop a list of team norms.

9. Lead Change. I’ll learn from the classics: John Kotter, William Bridges, Peter Senge and others and apply these proven models and techniques to a significant change that I need to drive this year.
Action step: See above.

10. Stretch myself with a “strategic challenge” project. Work with my manager to come up with a developmental “learn by doing project”. Something above and beyond my regular duties that gives me an opportunity to learn and apply new leadership skills. I’ll apply many of the skills I’ve been working on under “live fire”, where the risks and rewards are high.
Action step: Select at least 3 of the goals above, complete the steps and apply what I have learned to a specific challenge or project.

Do any of these leadership development goals sound like they benefit you? If so, does it look overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. You can work on all 10 at the same time during our 6-day Leadership Certificate program! The program includes a 360 assessment and other assessments with one-on-one coaching. My colleagues and I at the University of New Hampshire will work with you to develop each of these critical skills and more! Learn leadership lessons from best in class business school faculty, executive coaches and peers using a proven leadership development model. I hope to see you at our next program in the fall of 2018!