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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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Creating a Culture of Innovation

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Hewlett-Packard Company co-founders David Packard (seated) and William Hewlett run final production tests on a shipment of the 200A audio oscillator. The picture was taken in 1939 in the garage at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, California, where they began their business.  Photo courtesy of Hewlett-Packard/Newsmakers

Hewlett-Packard Company co-founders David Packard (seated) and William Hewlett run final production tests on a shipment of the 200A audio oscillator. The picture was taken in 1939 in the garage at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, California, where they began their business.
Photo courtesy of Hewlett-Packard/Newsmakers

Effective leaders are the key influence in bringing about innovation and opportunity. Their search for ways to advance and grow the organization takes them far beyond the traditional structures, methods and concepts that have worked in the past. In today’s fast-paced market climate, empowering members to test new approaches and ideas is critical. This creates the innovation, creativity and opportunity needed to drive change.

The forces of change come from both inside and outside the organization: customers are the source of demand for product and service innovation; process innovation generally comes from within the organization itself and through its employee members. There are definite factors needed to create the innovation—in essence a willingness to break from past methods—to effect positive change and incremental transformations.

A major function of the leader’s role is to stimulate innovation and creativity, to bring about incremental transformations that improve an organization’s products, services and overall quality. This is necessary in order to meet both external and internal customer needs. Accomplishing this is done through developing an empowered environment that instills and reinforces innovation.

In order to create an environment conducive to the full empowerment of its members, leaders must depend on consistently influencing others while keeping all communication channels between units, divisions and upper management open. Leaders realize that employees doing the frontline work are the best resource to utilize in designing more effective processes, generating creative ideas and quality improvement concepts, and implementing the best solutions to overcome inefficiencies.

Only when employees take an active role will creative innovations, new ideas, processes, services and product improvements consistently flow within and out of the organization. Whether this state is successfully attained or not depends on whether leaders acknowledge the factors generating imagination, resourcefulness and risk taking in their employees.

There are three chief characteristics of an environment supportive of innovation, creativity and risk taking. Successful establishment of this environment is dependent upon leaders building recognition of these factors. They include:

Experimentation and Breaking Away from Constraints

Leaders are experimenters by nature. However, they need to instill this desire in employees to experiment with new approaches to old problems, to accept the challenge of trial and error. Throughout this process, leaders actively help employees remove the barriers to creativity and innovation by identifying and breaking down self-imposed constraints on personal perceptions, thinking habits and patterns.

Outsight and Insight

Because innovation depends upon creative ideas—most of them coming from outside general conventional thinking—innovation within an empowered environment depends heavily on what is referred to as “outsight.” Outsight is the ability to perceive external realities. It is the necessary forerunner to insight, or the ability to apprehend the inner nature of things. An awareness and understanding of outsight forces comes through openness and flexibility. It is up to leaders to open the doors to the world beyond conventional boundaries and expose employees to a broader spectrum of situations, problems and concerns.

Developing a ‘Hardiness Factor’

Uncertainty and risk are part of the price both leaders and employees pay for being innovative. Leaders generally thrive on uncertainty and risk, but it is often another matter for employees. To overcome feelings of insecurity in regard to these two areas, the question becomes, “How do employees within the organizational unit learn to accept the inevitable failures and accompanying stress of creative innovation and the circumstances surrounding it?” The answer rests in cultivating a sense of hardiness and resilience.

When a healthy sense of hardiness reveals itself, it will be observed through actions and beliefs mirroring the sentiment that “uncertainty and risk are more interesting than being fearful.” Employees know they do have a definite influence on specific outcomes, which motivates rather than intimidates. They see uncertainty and risk as opportunity.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Mistakes as a Source of Innovation

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos  Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Effective leaders adhered to an unalterable expectation that mistakes and failure need to be an acceptable part of the process of innovation. They opposed “zero tolerance for mistakes” policies, many of which are still being practiced in many companies today. They considered these to be hindrances to innovation.

“It’s easy to believe that Jeff Bezos is one of the great innovators. But that’s not exactly the case. His rise into Fortune 500-dom actually has little to do with innovation and more to do with iteration. If anything, Amazon demonstrates how a cutting-edge Internet company – of all things – can succeed slowly. The trick is taking a million tiny steps – and quickly learning from your missteps.” [1]

The mega-inventors of the 19th Century are also prime examples of this philosophy. “[George] Westinghouse (Westinghouse) built on his engineering skills, learning how to design and evaluate industrial trials. Time after time he turned trial failures into commercial successes. Even his competitors hailed his problem solving skills…” [2] “[Thomas] Edison (Edison Electric) viewed even disasters as an opportunity for learning. On one occasion his lab stove went out in the dead of winter, causing an assortment of expensive chemicals to freeze. On another occasion unprotected chemicals were damaged by sunlight. Instead of bemoaning the losses, Edison put aside all other projects to catalogue changes in the properties of the bottled substances… ‘He knew how to turn lemons into lemonade.’[3]

Walt Disney (Disney) took a proactive approach toward mistakes. “Walt found a way to push improvement without laying blame. [He] take(s) a look at what [someone says]… not glossing over a problem with the gag. He implicitly acknowledges it could be better. But rather than indulge an employee’s criticism of another worker, he demands a positive, forward-thinking attitude – ‘what we can do to make it better…’ Walt kept employees engaged and contributing by not shooting down suggestions, but instead steering employees toward improving their ideas… Walt’s approach to suggestions as the difference between responding ‘Yes, if…’ or ‘No, because…’ [4]

As Sam Walton grew Wal-Mart into a retailing giant, he realized that “not all of his ideas worked. The minnow buckets didn’t sell. People in Wisconsin didn’t go for his Moon Pies. But when he saw he was wrong, he admitted his mistake and went on to try something else. And he wanted his associates to be the same way. He’d get them together on Saturday mornings to share their success and admit their failures. That culture of candor produced a great environment to capture ideas. It helped that he had ‘very little capacity for embarrassment.’[5]


[1]  Quittner Josh, The Charming Life of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Fortune Magazine, April 15, 2008)

[2]  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 61

[3]  McAuliffe Kathleen, The Undiscovered World of Thomas Edison (Atlantic Magazine, December 1995)

[4]  Niles Robert, Disney Legends Recall Walt Disney and the ‘Yes, It…. Way of Management (Theme Park Insider, November 19, 2009)

[5]  Walton Sam Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2012)

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Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Five Strategies to Maintain Your Focus

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While it is easy for managers to start out with the best of intentions, many can be detoured by the uncontrollable events impacting their professional lives and company. When a crisis occurs, there is a tendency to immediately confront the challenge. While well-intentioned and often necessary, managers should not allow this thinking to cause them to lose focus on their goals and development.

Maintaining a results-oriented focus takes discipline and perseverance in the face of constant interruptions that demand both the manager’s time and attention. If managers are focused in their thinking, it must be strategic in nature, focusing on the long-term growth of the business rather than on the problem or crisis demanding their immediate attention. The ultimate solution to every problem must fit into the long-term goals of the manager.

It is important for managers to grasp that maintaining a focus on long-term goals and objectives and attaining a desired outcome is the result of doing the right things, at the right time, and in the right sequence. Often managers allow uncontrollable events and problems to make them lose sight of or even abandon their long-term plan and goals.

Managers who want to successfully maintain a results-oriented focus that allows them to consistently achieve their goals and desired outcomes must:

Develop Mental Discipline

Successful managers have developed the mental discipline that keeps them focused on their goals regardless of the problems and uncontrollable events they may encounter. Such hurdles must be overcome on the path to the successful accomplishment of their objectives.

Mental discipline allows managers to always keep an eye on their goals. They consistently keep the summit of the mountain in view, and do not allow daily problems to impede their progress. While daily problems may cause a setback, managers always make sure they are moving forward one step at a time.

Managers should understand that the attainment of mental discipline takes a conscious effort and perseverance. While not an easy road, it is achievable.

Adopt Strategic Thinking

To achieve and maintain a results-oriented focus, managers must learn to take a protracted view of their business, which means acquiring and polishing strategic thinking skills. These skills allow managers to create their focus and form part of their personal vision—the top of the mountain—in the first place.

The long view is opposed to tactical thinking that focuses only on short-term day-to-day activities. As companies evolve, many are empowering their employees and delegating the tactical activities lower in the organization. Employees assume much of the day-to-day decision making that directly impacts their performance and relationships with customers.

Plan

While strategic thinking was considered passé and outmoded during the heyday of the dot-coms, it is now clear that a lack of planning contributed mightily to their downfall. Successful managers develop a realistic plan, work the plan and stick to it. It is a simple concept, yet does require discipline.

A great deal of a plan’s success lies in its execution. Many managers develop excellent plans, but, because they have not properly executed and held to them, fail to see their fruits. The best plans are not complex instruments, but simple and designed to be easily and effectively carried out.

Question Activities

Many managers have a natural tendency to want to control everything within their sphere of influence. Yet it is this desire that causes many to lose focus on their long-range plan as they attempt to personally put out every fire and handle every issue.

As leaders, managers must empower their employees and delegate the tasks, assignments and responsibilities that do not advance them toward the attainment of their desired outcomes. In this light, every activity on their to-do list and calendar must be questioned on a consistent basis; if a particular pursuit does not advance the manager toward the accomplishment of their goals, it should either be delegated or eliminated.

Monitor Results

Successful managers tie the metrics that measure their unit’s progress directly to their plans. They then determine the frequency and content of the report that allows them to actively monitor progress toward their own and the organization’s goals.

Additionally, managers have flags built into their metrics that immediately signal potential problems when the numbers reported to them are outside normal ranges. The report allows them to quickly act and resolve the problem before it gets out of hand.

Excerpt: Professional Development: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Related:

Five Critical Steps to Maximize Performance

Execution: Six Action Steps

Performance Plans Create Results and Maximizes Performance

Objectives Allow Managers to Focus on Obtaining Results

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Performance Management: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Maximizing Financial Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Making the Questions as Important as the Answers

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Within the workplace leaders need to emphasize the importance of questioning, and can do this by welcoming all those “why” and “how” questions, and asking a lot of them as well.

Leaders need to be content with leaving many questions unanswered, and by doing so, create a collection of unknown working elements that offer evidence to the prominent place that curiosity holds within the organization.

Leaders can use questions and answers to make the employees’ work life and environment curious and exciting. To do this, questions should mirror employees’ sense of adventure, interest and curiosity. Observing and questioning their world of work helps to establish an outstanding and superb sense of teamwork.

To make questions as important as answers it is necessary to safeguard employees against excessive organizational routines. Routine, rigidity and tight boundaries tend to snuff out the questioning process before it begins to achieve any glimmer of light, hope or momentum.

Organizational cultures often contribute to the problem of attaining positive workplace growth and development when they tend to allow, incorporate, or spread, a bland veneer of “sameness” or a status quo of “apathy” throughout the working environment and workplace landscape. This trend presents a special challenge.

Related: Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Faced with a bland, dominated working landscape, it is up to leaders to find ways to liberate their employees from the continuous shaping of ideas, opinions and the peer pressure of “sameness.” Employees can be freed from these organizational culture constraints by becoming good questioners. When employees are surrounded by leaders and supervisors who provide immediate, simplistic responses to all the questions they ask, a false impression is created that emphasizes: “Answers do not require serious thought or ingenuity.” Employees are prevented from observing firsthand just how initial questions spawn additional ones, which eventually lead to fresh answers. As a result, they tend to lose out on the opportunity to experience mind searching, analyzing and decision-making.

Related: Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

Look at Questions and Answers as Part of an Uncompleted Puzzle

Working environments tend to present an endless supply of puzzles. The only problem is, many employees spend most of their time and lives avoiding puzzles and serious questions. Yet, if every question has a quick and easy answer, the purpose of inquiry is lost.

Puzzles within the mind tend to arouse a sense of curiosity and stimulate questioning. While some employees may be bewildered when at first attempting to figure something out, good questions will start to break up their mental log jam and begin to unlock everyone’s frozen thinking, while at the same time, setting them on the path to greater understanding.

Puzzle avoidance leads to stagnation. A healthy organization keeps its employees’ heads out of the sand and tries to see what is coming in order to be prepared. A healthy group of employees learns to wrestle with difficult questions and predicaments rather than rely upon recipes and formulas, which may have worked in the past.

If leaders provide a continuous menu of workplace puzzles to decipher, employees will develop at a faster pace, feeling confident and resourceful in the process. Ingenuity and skill will grow faster. Confronted by a problem, quandary or an impossible situation, employees will less likely be shaken or fearful. Over time, they will actually begin to greet dilemmas as a “challenge and a test of ingenuity.” However, at certain times it is important for leaders to make it a point to answer some questions, especially more complex or wide open ones, with an admission of ignorance or uncertainty.

There is no such thing as a “right question” or “truly perfect sequence” to search out answers since effective questioning tends to require a certain amount of “mind mining” and “muddling around.” Tough questions are intended to invoke some trial-and-error reasoning engagement and outcomes. Dilemmas, paradoxes and perplexities all deserve and require some “messy questioning” that is balanced by a degree of disciplined, logical inquiry. Thinkers who are able to “shift gears” from the right to left side of the brain, and back and forth between logic and license, will typically generate deeper and more workable insights.

Related: Building Critical Thinking Skills to Enhance Employee Comprehension and Decision Making

Maintain a Focus on the Importance of Questioning

One of the goals leaders should have is to teach their employees how to find or fashion satisfying answers to work-related puzzles by learning to ask good questions in effective sequences and combinations. As part of their human nature, most employees will tend to seek stability, predictability and certainty in an uncertain world, instead of embracing the challenges associated with it.

Instead of learning to use good questions to adapt and adjust to a changing world, they more often than not, adopt a “foxhole” mentality. Unfortunately, without experience in the realm of unanswerable questions, employees will not be prepared to deal with the riddles of work and life.

As a second goal, it is up to leaders to share a sense of wonderment at the vastness of “what is unknown.” In this regard, questions will often end up becoming a collection of segmented pieces and bits of inquiry whose answers are as confusing as individual puzzle pieces that have no frame or outline to place them into.

The question is: How can employees be motivated to relish the challenge to find complex or difficult answers and solutions? Will they be able to deal with ambiguity? When leaders treasure and value the “mysterious and unknowable,” and extensively question things themselves, always seeking answers (even if certain solutions remain abstract, unreliable or unattainable), their employees will tend to become more prepared to deal with the puzzles of everyday situations, events, issues, as well as unforeseeable future occurrences.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices on developing effective questioning skills in the workplace to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. Click here to learn more.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog | 800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

August 7, 2012 at 10:48 am

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