A person presents a highly viable idea for generating profitable growth. It fits within the organization’s skills and passions. It connects well to the needs of the targeted customers.
So why doesn’t the idea get support from executives or mid-level managers?
1. It might not be successful, and therefore no one wants to take the risk of associating their name with a failure. The odds of any idea failing are far greater than the odds of the idea succeeding. The downside of being associated with a failure is greater than the upside of possibly getting credit for a success.
2. It might take time and energy away from current tasks, which might hurt a person’s performance, evaluation, and pay.
3. It is simply easier to continue to do what you know how to do than it is to learn how to do something new.
4. It is a more efficient use of a day to do a lot of what you are already skilled at than to struggle doing something you are not skilled at. You feel more productive doing a well-skilled activity, even though it may not be the best activity for producing results.
5. Egos represent a huge problem. For some people if they did not originate the idea, they will automatically resent it and resist it.
6. The payoff for the idea in the short term seems insignificant compared to where your business is making most of its money right now. Consequently, the idea is forgotten even though it leaves an opening for a competitor to come in and steal the low end of your business.
If you are going to successfully innovate in your company, then you have to know what you are up against. Make a list of all the reasons you can think of as to why people will fight an innovation no matter how good the idea might be.
My definition of business leadership: influence how other people think so they make decisions that improve results for the organization in a sustainable way.
Comment from audience member: “Influence is the wrong word. Leadership is about empowerment.”
Definition of empowerment from dictionary.com: to give power or authority to; authorize, to enable or permit:
To me, business leadership is about both. You should empower people to make their own decisions, but you still have the responsibility to influence how they think. What are the three or four steps that you encourage people to think through before making a decision? What are the key items or values that you want people to consider before making a decision?
They may not reach the same decision you would have, but it might be an even better one because you influenced how they think and then gave them the room to make their own decision.When it comes time to make a decision, give them the room to think on their own. Your influence should have occured before a decision needed to be made. If you step in and influence how people think as they are making a decision, you will come across as micro-managing them.
If you are serious about being a business leader, it’s important to know it’s not a part-time job where you work at it for twenty-five hours, three days a week. If you spend the other two days behaving in a way or treating people in a way that is not consistent with being an effective business leader, then people will never take you seriously as a leader.
You’re either all in, or you’re not in at all.
One of the greatest challenges of being a great business leader is maintaining consistency all of the time. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to take vacations and exercise regularly. You need the energy and the health to be consistent over the long term.
Every aspiring business leader I’ve met craved autonomy.
The person wanted the freedom to make his or her own decisions and use the leadership approach of his or her own choosing. The leadership mindset is, “Clarify the desired outcome for me or with me and I will guide the group to that desired outcome.” When given autonomy, ordinary people can display extraordinary leadership abilities.
However, that freedom comes with one condition. The leader has to be held accountable for his or her actions and results. If the results are consistently poor, then that makes it easy for the boss or the board to say, “Sorry, but it didn’t work out.” What is much harder is when the results are reasonably good or even fantastic, but the leader’s behaviors are consistently demeaning or overly controlling. Now the boss or the board has a much tougher decision to make. They allowed this business leader to have autonomy, but the person’s behaviors went against everything the company stands for.
In that situation, the leader has to be held accountable with negative consequences. Otherwise, the boss and/or the board sends the message that people can act in ways that contradict the values of the organization. Autonomy is one thing. That gives people the freedom to flourish. But if the person chooses actions that are massively negative, then he or she has also chosen to be held accountable with negative consequences.
I encourage you to give your employees as much autonomy as possible in making decisions, but also hold them accountable for the behaviors they choose to use and the results they generate with positive and negative consequences.
One executive is driven by stimulants: salary, bonus, company car, title, promotions, etc. Another executive is driven by a purpose to make a difference in helping an organization to be as successful as it can be in the short term and the long term.
Neither one of these people exist.
No one is completely stimulant-fueled or purpose-fueled. However, which end of the spectrum you are closest to will impact your long-term performance. Stimulants are provided by someone outside of you. They have to be continually increased in order to fuel better performances, or even to maintain the status quo. Purpose comes from within you, and a great sense of purpose can fuel you over an entire career and continually generate greater performances.
I encourage you to focus on the purpose of your work, which only you can define.
When an executive doesn’t know how to influence other people, the person is ignorant in that area of being a business leader. That’s not good, but it can be overcome.
When an executive thinks he or she has all the answers on how to lead people and has nothing left to learn, the person is arrogant.
When ignorance and arrogance overlap, the executive has no hope of becoming an effective business leader. A person with an open mind can overcome ignorance through training. We all learned to drive didn’t we? But when an executive simultaneously doesn’t know how to lead AND thinks he or she is already a great leader with nothing left to learn, the organization has a big problem on its hands.
This requires a two-step process to solve the situation. First, the executive has to drop the arrogance. Second, the executive has to work hard to learn critical skills in the area in which he or she is ignorant. Only when both of these things happen can there be genuine hope for the person to become an effective business leader.
If a person is exceptionally good at strategy or execution or product development or buidling relationships with key customers, that person has a very valuable asset for being an effective business leader.
However, if that person also has an extremely negative attribute such as dominating employees, acting in an abusive way toward other people, or stealing money from the company, then the good does not outweigh the bad. There is a basis of behaviors that no person can fall below and still be considered to be an effective business leader.
You need to build on strengths in order to build a great organization, but those necessary strengths do not mean that a person can operate with extremely poor behaviors just because he or she has a great strength. Too often individuals and their bosses turn a blind eye toward a debilitating weakness within the person while focusing solely on his or her strengths because the business results at the moment are really, really good. You need to confront your extreme weaknesses and so does your boss. Otherwise you will have great short-term success and end up derailing your career and your organization over the long run.