Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Creativity is the #1 Leadership Quality

In a recent survey of over 1,500 CEOs worldwide, creativity was chosen as the top leadership quality by 60% of the respondents.

The results speak directly to the CEOs’ perceptions of the degree of complexity in today’s marketplace. Economic, environmental, political, and other forces affecting business can be overwhelming and are increasing. The ability to create new processes, business models, products, and services that flex with these challenges is essential to success.

In addition to creative leadership, the report states the areas that need the most attention for business success are ‘customer intimacy’ – getting close to the customer to co-create products, services and processes – and ‘operating dexterity’ – the ability to streamline operations and change business models in order to maximize opportunities. Both these areas require a creative mindset and culture throughout the organization.

This is the first time in this biannual study from IBM that creativity has been the most important leadership quality. According to the IBM 2010 Global Chief Executive Officer Study, “Traditional approaches to managing organizations need fresh ideas – ideas that challenge the status quo.”

The most successful companies today have challenged the status quo, and continue to do so. Here are a few ways that these organizations lead and foster creativity:

• Google encourages their employees to work on projects they are passionate about with their 20% policy – 20% of their work time can be devoted to projects that have been initiated by them or their fellow employees.
• 3M has their “bootlegging policy”, where technical staff are encouraged to spend 15% of their time on their own projects.
• Corel developed iCapture, a tool where employee ideas can be documented; and iCouncil, a team that manages the process for utilizing the ideas.
• BoozAllenHamilton has a yearly “Ideas Festival” where employees are able to showcase their ideas to senior management.
• GE encourages “Time to Think”.

Two main obstacles to encouraging creativity at work are 1) fear of failure and 2) lack of time.

The wise leader will understand that these two potential roadblocks must be addressed in order for employees to contribute their creative ideas. Leaders should cultivate an environment where it is okay to try new things, to speak out, to challenge the current ways of doing things. Time for thinking, for brainstorming, for incubation and building of ideas needs to be incorporated into the workday.

Creative leaders develop an organizational culture where:

• Ideas are encouraged, valued, and generated freely.
• Ideas can be adjusted and morphed by others – an idea doesn’t have to be fully complete to be considered.
• Criteria for evaluating and a process for testing the ideas are in place, understood by employees, and active.
• Ideas are implemented and measured.
• People who deliver ideas are recognized.

When employees see that their ideas are taken seriously, and that there is in fact a system in place to make their ideas reality (and not just brushed off), creativity mushrooms. A creative environment will only be as strong as it’s leaders place value in it. And in today’s world, those leaders that encourage and take advantage of a creative culture will be known for their standout organizations.

Check out filmmaker David Lynch's take on "hooking" ideas.

Relax, and let some ideas flow, as you listen to this cover of Louis Armstrong's "I Get Ideas". I couldn't help but include this...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Leading => Self-Confidence is Key

A month ago I participated in a teleseminar with Marshall Goldsmith, a leading executive coach and author of numerous books, including Mojo and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Marshall shared a lot of sage advice about coaching executives, but one piece about women leaders struck me. “The average woman is a better leader than the average man,” he said. What held a lot of women back, according to him, was that women are in general “more perfectionistic”, “too hard on themselves”, and “carry around a lot of guilt.” The result is they can come across as a little less confident than men.

Recently, a colleague’s feedback for a female client included the advice: “Trust yourself.” Another female client stated she wanted to work on her confidence at work.

Women at work often exhibit less confidence than men, but men can struggle with this issue too. Even when we think we do trust and believe in ourselves, we can sometimes give off the impression that we don’t by our choice of words and demeanor. Competence, knowledge, interpersonal skills and education may be higher or equal to colleagues, but that apparent lack of self-confidence results in fewer promotions, less influence and stifled success.

In an article in this week's Newsweek entitled "The Beauty Advantage" about how looks influences one’s career, a statement buried in the piece caught my attention: “Asked to rank employee attributes in order of importance, … (hiring) managers placed looks above education: of nine character traits, it came in third, below experience (No. 1) and confidence (No. 2) but above “where a candidate went to school” (No. 4).”

Confidence is the second most important attribute that managers look for in a potential employee.

One of the characteristics of a good leader is having a presence that conveys authority and a comfort in your own skin. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t apologize for your ideas. Don’t waver in your convictions. Get rid of the guilt! Self-confidence is not the same thing as arrogance, cockiness, or being ego-driven. Self-confidence is about owning your talents and accomplishments and developing your own potential.

It begins with knowing yourself well. And that is the foundation of an excellent leader.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi talks about her "extraordinary" guilt which she consciously confronted and diminished a year before she became CEO.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Communication Styles => Recency and Primacy

I was watching a rerun of Bones on Hulu and Dr. Temperance Brennan, the forensic anthropologist, interrupted her excited assistant. “Facts first, then conclusions,” she stated in her matter-of-fact way. It reminded me of how most scientific types like to receive their information: data and reasoning first, then a conclusion. Placing the most important part of the communication last is called recency.

If you’ve ever communicated to someone using recency, and then were interrupted with something like “just give me the bottom line,” then you are speaking with someone who prefers to be communicated using primacy, where the most important part of the communication is placed first.

In studies of human behavior, four ‘styles’ have been identified. All of us have at least some aspects of each of the styles, however we usually have a primary style that is most comfortable and natural for us. If you’ve been exposed to DiSC or a similar behavior or social style system, you know that two of the styles prefer process-oriented thinking and behaviors and two prefer a more expedient, intuitive style.

The two styles that are process-oriented – called Analyzers (also known as “C”, Analytical, or Blue in some style systems) and Stabilizers (aka “S”, Amiable or Green) - prefer recency. Like Dr. Brennan, they prefer knowing that a logical, sequential set of facts and ideas have resulted in the conclusion presented. If you fail to build your case in a logical, rational manner, your argument will be disregarded as faulty and/or rash.

Expedient styles – Controllers (aka “D”, Driver, or Red) and Persuaders (“I”, Expressive or Yellow) - prefer primacy. Present the most important, bottom-line information first. Then additional information can be shared as needed in order to make decisions or gain understanding. If you begin your conversation with a lot of facts and details, you will only frustrate them and they may get impatient and interrupt, or they will tune you out. Either way, your communication will not get through as you desire.

If you are presenting to a group with mixed styles, present your information in primacy fashion. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing your expedient listeners right away. Present the most salient facts and data to support your conclusions, but if there are a lot, have a separate handout that you can give to those who want the data. Process types will greatly appreciate it if you email this supporting data before the meeting. This gives them the time they need to pore over it and they will feel well prepared for your presentation. Don’t expect the expedient types to have opened the attachment at all.

Presenting information in the manner that your listener prefers increases the likelihood that they will connect with you and accept your recommendations. The concepts of primacy and recency are useful tactics to keep in mind when applying behavior style concepts to the practical skills of influence, sales and clear communication.

In this scene from Castle notice how Lt. Beckett responds when Castle starts with his conclusion: “The bullet was made of ice.”

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Office Politics => The Power of Propinquity

One of my clients was wondering what kind of an “in” a colleague had to be promoted to a position that another well-liked, capable person had been removed from involuntarily.

I asked about his closeness with the hiring manager. “Yes, he traveled with her frequently, and their offices were in the same location”, she said. “Now that I think back on it, he spent a lot of time with her, and the guy who “resigned” was in an office a thousand miles away.”

You can’t underestimate the power of propinquity, or just plain nearness. When you are physically in the same place as someone else, you are on their mind as well as in their eyesight. “Out of sight, out of mind” is an old adage that speaks to this phenomenon clearly. Relationships tend to be formed with those who have high propinquity.

Telecommuting and remote teams are common, so communication is even more important. But even having an office just down the hall can be as distant as being a thousand miles away if you don’t make an effort to communicate often. Make sure your communications are to the point, appropriate and relevant, but do communicate – via phone, email, text, IM, webcam, if not in person. Make sure senior management knows you are available, and communication is open, often, and easy.

Do you have to golf with the CEO or drink with the boss? Although one of my fondest memories of a past CEO is watching him and a colleague singing to each other “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” in a Tokyo karaoke bar, such behavior is manipulative unless you really do enjoy it. And false, manipulative behavior can be seen through. But engaging in off-hours activities together is how relationships can be strengthened. And good relationships are at the heart of success in business and life. Propinquity makes it easier for you to build a good relationship.

The bottom line: let senior management ‘see’ you on a daily basis, and ensure they are aware of what you know and do. Get to know them well, and build a solid, trusting relationship.