WHAT IS THE ONE MISTAKE YOU WITNESS LEADERS MAKING MOST FREQUENTLY?
Leaders frequently underestimate the “people” side of the business equation. Leaders often rise in companies based on functional expertise. When some reach the executive level, they may not have honed the skills necessary to develop other leaders. In the long term, their success becomes their undoing. They often have a special confidence in their own talents, which makes them less sensitive to their ability to develop others. What companies increasingly need from their executive leaders is less about their own functional prowess and more about how well they mentor and grow others.
One of the most important questions to ask leaders is: Are you the kind of leader who can build the strength of leaders beneath you? If you’re not a good leader, good leaders won’t be able to work for you. A leader has to hone those skills or other good leaders will leave.
WHAT STEPS SHOULD LEADERS TAKE TO ENCOURAGE CREATIVE THINKING WITHIN AN ORGANIZATION?
They’ve got to give their people time to think. Far too often, the business culture is “always head down and on-task.” We never give people time to think or dream. People need time to do both and their engagement in the business improves when you give it to them. The second piece of the puzzle is that leaders rarely create an environment that offers incentives for creative thinking. Sometimes, leaders still look at an employee as a “cog” in the business mechanism — with employees needing to crank out “work” in order for them to be considered productive. That’s a hard paradigm to shift. Leaders cannot force commitment from people, but they can encourage a “volunteer spirit.”
WHAT IS ONE CHARACTERISTIC YOU BELIEVE EVERY LEADER SHOULD POSSESS?
Every leader needs the ability to grow. Leaders have tons of learning they have to do as they lead — or they fail. To succeed, they constantly have to grow and learn, and that requires emotional stability and maturity. Without that ability to relate, without that emotional intelligence thing, (which is difficult to do) they will fail. Emotional intelligence becomes more and more important, the more people you lead and the more diverse the organization.
I find the most successful long-term leaders are most comfortable in changing environments. To them, every challenge becomes an opportunity to expand understanding. Every new person he or she comes in contact with is a chance to see how well he or she is able to relate, motivate, coach, lead and learn.
I love the television show Undercover Boss. The ability of the CEO to learn in that environment is what makes the difference. Fundamentally, that’s the attitude good executive leaders have. They assume they’re not the smartest person in the room and constantly seek input from the people around them.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BUSINESS BOOK AND WHY?
Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, is my favorite. It’s so simple and so true. The book is based on the study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than 100 years and 30 industries. It aims to provide a systematic approach toward making competition irrelevant by creating uncontested market space.
If you look across the board, it’s surprising how few companies take a hard look at what one thing they could do that would change the comparison — that would change the game. Southwest Airlines is an old, but classic example. They looked at an industry that had one model for doing business — airlines used dissimilar aircraft operating out of the “hub and spoke” model. Southwest said, “We’re not going to go head-to-head with the airline industry. We’re going to do something different. We’re going to go point-to-point with the same type of aircraft on all routes.”
All of a sudden, Southwest was a different type of airline. Being different now is in their DNA. They will never compete with other airlines on the same value continuum. They did it again recently, when they chose not to charge for luggage. They’ve figured out how to make their difference relevant to the consumers.
WHAT NEW WORDS OR BUSINESS CONCEPTS HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT RECENTLY?
Coopetition isn’t new, but it’s relevant. You can work with the competition. It’s finding synergy in the marketplace. You grow the pie and everyone benefits. For example, Cisco has a great way of working with partners in helping manufacturers bundle their products, making them more attractive to consumers. I think as we look at global competition, American companies have the opportunity to leverage the marketplace. We have advantages here that we can use with each other.
WHAT ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVE METHODS ORGANIZATIONS CAN USE TO HELP A NEW EMPLOYEE UNDERSTAND ITS CULTURE?
Leaders have got to get new employees engaged upfront and interacting within the organization, particularly in leadership — or they won’t get it. In general, those things that drive the culture of the company come down from the top. Employees respond to how leaders treat them, and most of the anecdotes regarding “how the company works” come from experience with leadership. The more engaged employees become with leadership, early in the game, the better they assimilate. Mentorship is critical during this introductory period so that the employee does not derail, and we make sure they understand what they are experiencing, especially for high-potential employees. Matching high-potential people who get the culture and can coach new employees is an essential piece of the puzzle.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS SOCIAL MEDIA’S EFFECT ON THE WORLD OF BUSINESS?
Plain and simple, social media makes more information available to more people. It does that in a three-dimensional (information can come from any direction) way, with selection of topics based upon areas of interest and/or people of influence. The ability to sustain a formal structure with linear communication lines from the top down is broken. What people relate to now is the “cloud” idea. Like it or not, new information doesn’t just come from the top. It comes from many directions within the organization — which doesn’t gel well with the linear communication model of yesteryear. If you’re not careful, people become intimidated by the change in access to critical information.
Social media applied to a company’s intranet enables people to talk at different levels. It unleashes the flow of information so that people have access to more than what traditionally would be available in a “top-down” hierarchical environment. Consider the remarkable way information moves on Facebook. Think about the possibilities if we could get that same fabric in a company struggling to get information from Point A to Point B.