Leading for Success: How to Create a Culture of Innovation by Following 10 Leadership Behaviors
The marketplace is exceedingly brutal. What was technologically exciting a few years ago is now mundane. Some 20 years ago the Sony Walkman was seen as the epitome of cool. For guys like me, we went with clones since Walkmans were too expensive. Just recently, Sony announced (finally) that it would cease production of the Walkman, except for specific markets (notably developing countries). Indeed, it was the CEO of Sony who two decades ago had to convince others in the company that a non-recoding tape device had a market. Walkmans then were as hot as Ipods are today.
Laugh all you Gen Yers, if you wish. But I have a story about black and white TV for another time.
Why do some companies “get it” while others don’t when it comes to generating continuous innovation?
- Why is Hyundai such a roaring success in North America when Chrysler’s a basket case, hooked to taxpayer-funded life support?
- Why was Brazil’s Embraer able to turn itself around from financial collapse in the early nineties, becoming one of the world’s leading manufacturers of mid-sized jets?
- Why is Steve Jobs of Apple able to consistently invoke paradigm shifts for consumer communication electronics, then to watch wannabe “competitors” scramble to devise their insufficient clone versions?
- Why does Samsung produce such cool products, especially from a country (South Korea) that had a totalitarian government only a few decades ago?
- Why has Google become the preeminent search engine?
- Why is Amazon ranked number one in customer service?
- What the heck happened to Sony?
I propose there are four main ingredients which serve as the foundation for success for corporate innovation.
1) Be Curious Explorers: These individuals stay in constant contact with their clients to not only ensure that the company’s products and services are meeting their needs, but more importantly they probe to find new solutions and applications. Their aim is to be first-to-market.
2) Go GLOCO: Think global, act local. Understand what’s happening in the global marketplace, then determine where you ADD VALUE. Don’t mimic what’s happening in another country or culture; tailor your products and services to the unique needs of each market niche.
3) Use the Appropriate Technology to Leverage Change: There are too many examples of failed companies that tried to drive change through technology, only to find they were pushing on a string. Understand your market, your clients’ needs and the relevant technology to address the issue.
4) Make It So! Execute through leadership: This is where leadership really kicks into play, where YOU as the leader must now enroll and align your people towards a shared vision. And the only way this is going to happen is if you give people the space to be themselves, to create that special one-on-one relationship with a particular client, and to empower themselves to create and to make extra-ordinary things happen. Innovation.
Note: The Make It So! ingredient (yes, I borrowed it from Captain Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise) is so very true. Many years ago when I was a neophyte manager, my boss was a senior executive in a large organization. Louise was a remarkable executive: conceptualizer, big thinker, relationship-oriented. And a HUGE delegator of authority, but at the same time results-oriented. The two of us would talk about a proposed project and how it would advance the organization. Once conceived, she’d in essence say, “Make it so, Jim.” It was incredibly empowering.
What do we each need to do to contribute to creating a hotbed of innovation in our organizations, whether it’s in business, government or the non-profit sector? I present below my list of 10 behaviors, not definitive by any means, which are key to dealing effectively with rapidly changing markets and consumer tastes.
- Listen Actively: as Stephen Covey states in his 7 Habits, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” (Habit #5). If you’re not keenly hearing what your customers are saying or signaling, you’ll miss potential business opportunities.
- Self-initiate: Empower yourself by not asking for permission to be creative or to ask unorthodox questions. Be your own idea factory and actively seek out others to share and discuss.
- Become a Change Master: Embrace change and what’s happening in society with enthusiasm. Don’t look in the rearview mirror; look down the highway of change.
- Be a Sponge for learning: Never think, even for a nanosecond, that you’re almost “there” when it comes to knowledge. As humans we “know” but the smallest molecule of all the knowledge generated to the current point in time.
- Think laterally: When you hit the wall when it comes to trying to generate new ideas and solutions for your customers, step back and reflect on the problem through a new lens. I recommend going for a walk in the woods with your canine friend.
- Bust Barriers: Your ideas will drown if you remain trapped in your silo. Blow up the barriers by moving across your organization. Plant seeds with those who seem ready to embrace the new. Find change agents among your colleagues.
- Be a Trender: No, I’m not talking about what’s cool to wear or what music is in. Understand what’s going on in the world (see being a sponge) and try to make sense of it when it comes to your customers.
- Become a Synthesizer: There’s a whole lot of information out there, much of which is either useless or redundant. But there are gold nuggets of exquisite knowledge waiting to be discovered. Learn how to filter out garbage information and distill what’s really important to your business.
- Be Adaptable: This means being open to outcome, not attached to it. Ride the wave of change, both through rough and good times.
- Expand Your Knowledge and Expertise: If you want to be taken seriously by senior management when it comes to introducing ideas that could lead to innovations, it’s vital that you have a strong grasp on your own knowledge and what you bring to the table. Take time to solidify this. Then go for it!
There you have it folks, a few ideas and perspectives on how to move your organization forward so that your customers and clients are served more effectively and that new ones are brought in continuously. Take time to reflect on the 10 behaviors and which ones you see as being in need of more attention. Take the necessary time to work on them and to hone them.
Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.