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After studying and working with some of the strongest leaders across the world for the past 40 years, a dominant leadership characteristic we’ve identified is that they’re often unconventional thinkers. A question they constantly ask themselves and others is, “why should something be like that?” Every problem is viewed as solvable – as an opportunity – rather than an insurmountable barrier. Stellar leaders feel at home with ambiguity. They’re creative, imaginative and insatiably curious. They aren’t afraid to take risks or challenge the status quo.
This begs the question – are adults capable of unlearning ingrained patterns of behavior? Are they capable of broadening their aperture of perspective? Would we see greater levels of innovation, engagement and passion if colleagues worked on initiatives they wanted to versus had to? The answer is a resounding yes!
Every day we help organizations make these same types of critical leadership and cultural shifts, all in the service of delivering significantly better business results. Here are three steps you can take to amplify your organization’s strategic agility:
1. Define Your Opportunity: Start first by articulating the greatest opportunity facing your organization today that could be seized if the organization were able to work closer to its full potential. Paint a picture of that aspirational goal that aligns, inspires and motivates people to want to reach for it, without fear of failure. What’s the silver lining or the driving force that makes it essential to execute with enhanced speed, ingenuity and agility?
2. Launch An Employee Network: Traditional organizational structures are fantastic at reliability, efficiency and short-term results, but terrible at delivering big, bold out-of-the-box change quickly. Launch an employee network staffed entirely by volunteers whose singular focus is to be on the bleeding edge of innovating and improving the business each and every day. For those familiar with Dr. Kotter’s work or newest book Accelerate, this is what’s long been referred to as building a guiding coalition or dual operating model.
Akin to creating an empowered mixed-age Montessori classroom, a guiding coalition is comprised of a diagonal slice of the organization and devoid of rank, titles and narrow job descriptions. This diverse network of thinkers and doers volunteer their discretionary time to work on both existing and emerging strategic priorities that will make an immediate impact.
3. Reinforce Desired Behaviors: It’s essential that an organization’s most senior leaders model and reward what they hope to see more of across the business. Employees need to witness and understand what’s expected of them in this flexible Montessori-like reality. Learning new behaviors like fast fail, rapid experimentation and bias for action takes practice. Typically we see a tenfold increase in innovation when organizations create urgency, give permission and heighten expectations that it is everyone’s job to be innovative.
A perfect example of what happens when the wrong behaviors are unintentionally reinforced comes from Andrea Beaty’s brilliant children’s book, Rosie Revere, Engineer. 8-year-old Rosie is a passionate inventor, inspired to create gadgets that improve the lives of her friends and family. Sadly, Rosie is left deflated and despondent after a favorite uncle laughs off one of her latest gizmos.
“He laughed ‘till he wheezed and his eyes filled with tears,
all to the horror of Rosie Revere…
She stuck the cheese hat on the back of her shelf
and after that day kept her dreams to herself.”
Does this scenario sound familiar? Do your corporate leaders immediately look for flaws in new ideas rather than ferret out the small gems of possibility? Are the majority of resources allocated to quotidian business activities versus efforts directed toward innovation?
Fortunately for Rosie, she has a great-great-aunt whose character is modeled after Rosie the Riveter, the iconic model of strong female WWII production workers featured in the famous “We Can Do It!” wartime propaganda campaign to boost worker morale. While she too laughs when witnessing Rosie crash-land her newest helicopter design, her very next reaction is what we don’t see enough of in most organizations.
“You did it! Hooray! It’s the perfect first try!…
Your brilliant first flop was a raging success!
Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!”
How will your organization respond to its next perfect failure and prepare for its next supreme success? By creating a corporate kindergarten culture where Montessori mindsets are cultivated and rewarded and we can unlock the full potential of each individual in your organization from top to bottom and every level in between. It may just be the answer to propelling America’s emerging innovation economy to the moon and beyond.