Key Leadership Traits: Vision

Key Leadership Traits: Vision

I’m often asked, what are the key traits that make a great leader? That question always brings up a lot of discussion, but I believe one of the qualities that makes a truly great leader stand out is the ability to create a vision of the future they want to achieve as well as being able to communicate that vision to their team. Leaders who can visualize and communicate a clear, specific end state can then entrust their team members to perform in their specific roles with that end state in mind. This gives the team members opportunities to take initiative without needing to ask permission on every little detail from the team leader. The alternative is that you will be spending a lot of time checking in on them about small tasks and not staying focused on how the individual pieces come together to form the whole.

Having a vision should not be confused with the mission or goals you are trying to accomplish. Your mission may not actually be an outcome you have chosen; it may be an initiative that your boss has assigned you or a project that has been requested by a customer. Whether the task is one that you have chosen or not, you’ll want to formulate a vision of what the end state looks like in your own mind before you attempt to take any action. The vision doesn’t need to be grandiose, but it should be based upon completing all of the mission requirements as well as reflecting the intangible qualities such as the work preferences or style of the users.

So you don’t feel like you’re a visionary? Fear not, vision, like many leadership qualities, can be developed and not something that lucky individuals are born with. Chances are you have developed a vision in the past and executed on it, you just didn’t think about it in those terms. Here are some questions to ask yourself next time you take on a project to help develop your vision:

  • What are the mission requirements? Is the mission a problem that needs to be solved? An improvement on something that is already pretty good but you’d like to improve it? What are the actual, factual, non-emotional requirements to meet the need?
  • Who is the mission being completed for? Is it your boss? A customer? An end user who is not your boss or customer, but is represented by them on this issue?
  • How should the end product look physically? What appealing traits would you like the end product to have? Are there feeling or emotions that you want the end product to evoke in the customer/user? If not a physical end product, what do you believe would be most satisfying to the customer or end user when the mission is completed?
  • What is the quality of work that you expect from your team on this project? Are they already capable of performing at this level? Will they need additional skills or improvement in the skills they already have? How much initiative and creativity would you like them to apply? Are they used to the degree of freedom you envision?
  • What are the time and resource constraints? Are there elements that you would really like to include in your vision, but may need to sacrifice due to these constraints?
  • How will you communicate the answers to all of these questions to your team?

Remember that vision is a very personal thing. Everyone will see the outcome a little differently in their head if given room to interpret their own vision using the same facts and parameters. Also, while your vision of a successful outcome is personal, it is important that you re able to communicate your vision to your team so that they can execute it. Great leaders are the ones who can see their own vision and get them to buy into it!

 

Discussion Question: What other key traits do you believe great leaders possess?

 

Photo Credit: “Dios”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dios.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dios.jpg

Leading Millennials and Beyond

One of the topics I often discuss with my colleagues, mentors and the individuals that I coach is the role that younger people are taking in the workplace. Some of the folks I talk with have very strong opinions about these younger cohorts, especially Millennials. I don’t want to get into labelling certain groups of people (although I kind of already have), but despite opinions, the younger generations are entering the workplace, or will be very soon. The challenge for today’s leaders is to determine how we can motivate and lead the younger people coming along as well as how we can grow them into high quality leaders of tomorrow. In order to do that it’s helpful to understand the background and mindset of our younger team members.

A few weeks ago Beloit College released their “Mindset List” for their incoming class of 2018. Beloit has been putting out the Mindset List every year since 1998 to help their faculty and staff understand the “cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of students entering colleges and universities.” (McBride & Nief, 2014) While this list is mostly just entertaining and doesn’t have a lot of direct bearing on how we lead our teams today, in several years these students will be entering our workforce and we will need to be able to lead them effectively and develop them professionally once they arrive.

A few items I found interesting on this year’s list:

  • The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle.
  • There has always been “TV” designed to be watched exclusively on the web.
  • “Good feedback” means getting 30 likes on your last Facebook post in a single afternoon.

 

From the list for the class of 2015 (just about to graduate and enter the workforce)

  • The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
  • As they’ve grown up on websites and cell phones, adult experts have constantly fretted about their alleged deficits of empathy and concentration.
  • Their school’s “blackboards” have always been getting smarter.
  • More Americans have always traveled to Latin America than to Europe.
  • They’ve always been able to dismiss boring old ideas with “been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt.”
  • They won’t go near a retailer that lacks a website.

 

And from the list for the class of 2010 (those who have been in the workforce a few years and are just starting to take leadership roles)

  • They are wireless, yet always connected.
  • Text messaging is their email.
  • They have always been able to watch wars and revolutions live on television.
  • They have always preferred going out in groups as opposed to dating.

 

So what does this mean for us as the leaders of these individuals? Primarily it means that the ways that we have developed organizational culture, adapted to new technology, and offered rewards and incentives may need to be re-evaluated. Collaboration in the future will definitely mean more than meetings in conference rooms and offsite retreats.

This doesn’t mean we have to accommodate every request that our younger team members make, but it might help balance their requests with other requirements if we can see the perspective that they’re coming from. As always, at some point the mission has to come first, but there may be ways to get the mission done better, smarter or faster by considering the “younger” perspective.

Also, a piece of advice for the younger folks coming along (just in case you thought you were off the hook). Understanding and communication are a two-way street and it is just as important to be a good follower as a good leader. Take some time to understand where your colleagues who have been around a bit longer are coming from. Unfortunately, Beloit didn’t start the Mindset list until 1998 so you might have to do some research to find out what makes us tick. I promise it will be worth the effort!

 

Discussion topics: What tensions exist between different age groups on your team? What perspectives have you gained from another age group that greatly assisted you in getting your mission accomplished?

References

McBride, T., & Nief, R. (2014). The Mindset List. Retrieved from Beloit College: http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/

 

Photo Credit: “US Navy 101028-N-8590G-005 Katy Jo Muncie, a law student, holds the ship’s wheel at the helm aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans'” by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr. – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 101028-N-8590G-005 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.বাংলা | Deutsch | English | español | euskara | فارسی | français | italiano | 日本語 | 한국어 | македонски | മലയാളം | Plattdüütsch | Nederlands | polski | português | Türkçe | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | +/−. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_101028-N-8590G-005_Katy_Jo_Muncie,_a_law_student,_holds_the_ship%27s_wheel_at_the_helm_aboard_the_guided-missile_destroyer_USS_The_Sullivans%27.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_Navy_101028-N-8590G-005_Katy_Jo_Muncie,_a_law_student,_holds_the_ship%27s_wheel_at_the_helm_aboard_the_guided-missile_destroyer_USS_The_Sullivans%27.jpg

The Floor Is Lava!

One of the most interesting and amusing experiences I had at DEFCON was while we were waiting in line to register and pay our conference fee. If you’re not familiar with DEFCON, there’s no pre-registration or credit card payments accepted so everyone waits in line and pay cash to register for the conference. The line can be long at times, but it’s a great way to meet new people and see some interesting things while you wait.

The staff at DEFCON do a pretty excellent job keeping everyone moving smoothly and staying in line. I was really intrigued by the difference in styles used to “herd the cats”. In one case we had reached an area where there was a gap in the line that had to be maintained to allow hotel staff to be able to move freely without interference. The young staff member who was responsible for maintaining this open lane took a really interesting approach to his task that I felt was well tailored to the audience at DEFCON. If you’ve never been to a hacker convention like DEFCON, it’s important to know that the attendees aren’t really big on “rules” and don’t usually find “because I said so” a compelling argument for why they should cooperate.

So this young man, who was clearly very effective at reading the crowd, would simply tell each new group as they made their way to this gap in the line, “Hey guys…this area here…the tile…that’s all lava…the floor is lava.” Every single person I saw come through that area of the line, smiled and laughed and was 100% cooperative with the young man’s request. He understood (whether consciously or subconsciously) that a large majority of the crowd here was attending this event on their leisure time, looking to have a fun, positive experience and wanted a minimum of stress as they waited in the hours-long line. This young man was able to effectively lead literally thousands of people to his objective of keeping an area of the floor clear by putting forth a fun, playful attitude with a group that was receptive to that attitude.

Contrast this with another staff member further down the line with a similar task. This individual’s approach was to scream and shout about the fire marshal shutting the event down if the area wasn’t clear. This approach was met by the group waiting in line with much grumbling and a good deal of encroachment into the area that they were trying to keep clear. I don’t want to make light of the fire code in Las Vegas (they are very strict for good reason) or the Fire Marshal, but it was clear that the approach used in this case to keep the area clear was having the opposite effect. In fact, the staff was constantly struggling to keep this area clear despite the repeated warnings.

It may sound oversimplified, but there are two lessons here:

  1. Know your audience. Attempt to communicate with them in a way that will achieve your objective.
  2. If your initial approach isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change tactics. See what’s working elsewhere and if you can adapt it to work for you.

It’s up to you as a leader to decide what approach you’ll use to communicate with those you’re trying to lead. What worked in the past may not be effective with a different audience, especially one that you have no actual authority over. Your relationship with the team as well as the situation are important factors to consider as you think about the approach you’ll use to meet your next objective!

Discussion: What indicators do you use to read your audience or the climate of your team as individuals and as a group? In what ways do you tailor your messages and actions to motivate your team? Are your methods different at different times, such as time-critical or high-risk situations?

Photo Credit: “Pahoehoe toe” by Hawaii Volcano Observatory (DAS) – http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/update/archive/2003/May/main.html. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pahoehoe_toe.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Pahoehoe_toe.jpg

Evil Genius Leadership at DEFCON 22

Our first official action as a company was to attend DEFCON 22 in Las Vegas, NV and I can’t think of a better way to kick things off! This was my first DEFCON and it was astounding and a little bit overwhelming to see all of the brilliant minds at work giving the talks, demonstrating new ideas and participating in the competitions. Rob Fitzpatrick from Server Theory was kind enough to be my guide through this exciting adventure!

Even though I don’t really have a background in computer hacking, lock picking or social engineering, they’re topics I’ve always been curious about. There are some really intriguing ideas presented at DEFCON that merit our interest as leaders or business owners. As most of the speakers at DEFCON are fond of pointing out, the ideas presented there can be used “for good or for evil”. While the security risks to an organization from hacking, phishing and physical security threats are obvious to most leaders and can provide us valuable insight how to train our teams to protect ourselves; it’s also possible to find opportunities to legally and ethically use techniques, like social engineering, to refine marketing efforts or assist in negotiations.

DEFCON 22 was an exciting event that opened my mind to new possibilities and left me more curious than when I arrived. I’ll definitely be back next year and I hope to see you there!

 

Know of a conference that we should attend to expand our horizons as leaders? Include it in the comments section below or contact us at info@evilgeniusleadership.com!

Ethics

 

Ethics in leadership seems to be a topic that comes up frequently. Unfortunately, the topic usually comes up when there has been a serious breach in ethics and a very senior individual has been removed from their position, or sometimes even ends up in jail. We often ask, “How did we get to the point where this happened?”

Like many of the things we have discussed, you can help yourself out by giving some thought ahead of time to the ethics you wish to promote. Ethics are something that should definitely be included in your personal leadership philosophy. This includes both the ethics you intend to hold yourself to as well as the ethics you will promote on your team. It certainly is easier when you can make these two things the same, but not always easy to achieve; especially if you lead a team that is part of a larger organization. In this case, a standard “code of ethics” is probably the foundation upon which you build your team’s ethics. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help define ethics in the framework of your leadership philosophy before you find yourself in the middle of an ethical dilemma:

What are the ethical principles that you wish to promote on your team? Integrity, accountability, respect, and loyalty are the ethical principles that we hear about the most. This is not an all inclusive list and you should develop your own list of ethical principles you expect from yourself and your team as part of your leadership philosophy.

What do the ethical principles on your list mean to you? While there are commonly accepted definitions of integrity, accountability, respect, etc., if you ask 10 people what these ideas mean to them, you’ll probably get 10 slightly different answers. As a leader, it is important you are clear with your team about what they mean to you and that you will be holding them to that standard.

How do you promote these ethics by exemplifying them? It’s not enough to simply communicate the ethical standard. Saying one thing and doing another at best sends mixed messages to your team and can do much more damage than that. As a mentor of mine whom I highly respect says, “Ethics are not just a poster you hang on the wall.” It’s critical that you live every day to the ethical standard you hold your team to.

What are the formal means you use to promote/enforce these ethics? What actions will you take when someone falls short of the ethical standard? What actions will you take when they exemplify the ethics you seek to promote? This is one we often forget.  It’s often easy to react to a breach in ethical behavior, but we often forget to point out and reward behavior that holds those standards high.

What are the informal ways? While a budget meeting or presentation review seems pretty standard, there could be opportunities to discuss ethical considerations in the context of the task at hand. Topics could include presenting data objectively, recognizing the views of others who may disagree with the presented position, or clearly stating the disadvantages of the favored course of action. There are plenty of opportunities to promote ethics without having a formal training session.

Ethics can often be a thorny subject and my purpose here today is not to dictate to you what your ethical standard should be, but to encourage you to think about what ethical expectations you have for your team and then communicate to them and hold them to that standard. Working though this ahead of time can prevent the next ethical issue in the workplace from turning into a significant emotional event for you and your team.

What does your team discuss regarding the topic of ethics?

The Value of a Good Deputy

Every leader needs a good right hand man (or woman). I know we all think that we’ve got it under control and that we’ll do what we need to do to make the team succeed, but the truth is we simply cannot be there all the time and we can’t allow progress to grind to a halt if we have to travel for business, go on vacation, or get sick.

On the other side of the coin, if you are not the boss, but aspire to be someday, taking on the role of deputy could be a great step up to increased responsibility! Whether you’re looking to groom your next deputy, or become your team leader’s next one, here are some characteristics of great deputies:

Understand the leader’s intent – REALLY understand it. Understand the end states the boss wants to achieve, the strategies to get there and the compromises he’s willing to make (or not make) in pursuit of the goal. A good deputy ought to be able to give the 30 second elevator pitch to anyone about what the leader’s goals and vision are for the team and how best to achieve them.

Understand the leader’s tolerance for accepting risk – this is where I’ve seen a few deputies step out too far ahead of their boss. They know what the boss wants and how he wants to achieve it, but they misinterpret how much risk he’s willing to take on to achieve the goal. This conversation should occur frequently between leader and deputy as the effort progresses and conditions change.

Exemplify the culture and values of the team – This is more important than you might think. The deputy will be expected to promote the organizational culture while you’re not there. If the deputy sets a lower or higher standard for the team while in charge, it will lead to conflict down the road among your whole team. The deputy doesn’t personally need to agree 100% with the culture and values, but is expected to uphold them in your absence.

Honest with the boss – sometimes brutally so. A solid relationship between a boss and deputy will involve many frank and open discussions. Remember that there’s a time and a place for this. Unless the situation is literally life or death of an individual or complete mission failure, open disagreement between a boss and deputy is best done behind closed doors.  Have a grown-up discussion where all the issues are laid out, decide on the best course of action and agree on it before you open the door, and go out and tell the rest of the team the decision with one voice. Remember the boss gets the final say.

Empowered to act in place of the boss – and not afraid to! A good deputy should be able to take the leader’s intent for achieving the big picture and make all kinds of smaller decisions that further that end state. It is critical to understand the intent and tolerance for accepting risk when making these decisions, but with good communication between them a deputy can keep a lot moving forward when the boss’s attention is diverted by external issues.

Knows what issues he is NOT empowered to act for the boss – there are some things the leader is definitely going to want to handle himself. It can be anything, but often it’s committing the team to spending money, hiring/firing, entering the team into a formal agreement.  If you’re the boss, you should make the red lines clear to your deputy. If you’re the deputy and your boss hasn’t made this clear, see understanding the boss’ tolerance for risk above.

As I’ve mentioned, these are all topics that should be discussed between a boss and deputy early and often. Like many things in life and business, communication is the key. This becomes even more critical if either the boss or deputy travels extensively, or one has significant responsibilities dealing with other organizations. It’s important to check in with each other frequently as events unfold and the situation changes.

Finally, If you aren’t authorized a formal deputy by your organization, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. Give some of your team members an informal tryout to see if they have the characteristics described here, or if they can be grown. Even though you can’t give them a raise or new title, increased responsibility is a way of rewarding your top performers. You may just end up with an entire team of deputies who you are confident can get the job done while you focus on bigger goals!

Setting Smart Expectations for Your Team

This weekend I finished reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Friends and colleagues had recommended the book to me for years, and I bought an e-book version of it about 2 years ago, but just started reading it recently. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it; and if you have read it, pick it up again. It will be worth it!

In the book Mr. Carnegie relates a story where he was about to criticize a young secretary and he pauses. In that brief second, he hits upon an astounding bit of self-reflection. He states to himself, “You have had ten thousand times as much business experience. How can you expect her to have your viewpoint, your judgment, your initiative…what were you doing at nineteen? Remember the asinine mistakes and blunders you made?” (Carnegie, 1981)

This really hit home for me because I have been guilty of expecting others to immediately come to the conclusions and take the actions I would take simply because we have been working together for a while. I must admit I made my share of mistakes (probably more than my share) when I was younger. This anecdote reinforced to me the idea that, as leaders, we must set reasonable expectations for those we lead based on their skills, abilities and experience as they currently exist, not based on our own.

Putting our younger selves in their shoes can be a great way to get an alternate perspective on the issue at hand and how we want our team to solve it. I know from my own experience that I have led young people who are far more talented and insightful than I ever was at their age! It’s important to consider how our younger selves would have dealt with the current situation as we provide guidance to them, especially if they are finding the task challenging, or we are struggling to understand why they aren’t succeeding to the degree we expect.

Additionally, our job as leaders is to assess where our team members need to be in the future and to develop their skills, abilities and experience to get them to the point where they can operate autonomously and independently based on our intent.  This can be a lengthy process, taking years to fully develop someone. Training, education, and mentoring are all among the methods we can use to develop someone’s potential, but we must exercise patience while they get there.

Regular self-reflection is key to a leader’s personal and professional success. Taking a short trip back in time to a day when we weren’t so experienced can give us some valuable insight into how we can help our team be successful!

Works Cited

Carnegie, D. (1981). How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Critical Thinking

Recently I was having a discussion with a colleague on developing a way forward on a problem we were working on together. As he was outlining his proposed solution, I mentioned that I believed that we needed to engage in some critical thinking before we proposed any solutions.  My colleague took exception to my comment and was slightly offended that I would suggest he was not a critical thinker. After issuing an apology for interrupting his pitch, I explained that I was not saying that his proposal was not intelligent or well thought out, but that perhaps we should engage in some critical thinking as to if this problem was worth putting the effort in to solve. He accepted my apology and agreed with my point.

What occurred to me is that we might not all have the same view of what critical thinking is. To my colleague, he saw critical thinking as coming up with a solution to the problem at hand. I saw critical thinking as a more strategic function of applying a broader problem solving process.  After doing a little research, it turns out we were both only partially correct.  An online search led me to the Foundation for Critical Thinking. There I found several definitions of critical thinking from various authors including Michael Scriven, Richard Paul, Linda Elder and Edward Glaser. I won’t take up space repeating the definitions here, but there were several themes among all of the definitions presented that I think are worth mentioning in relation to being a successful leader. I added a few of my own thoughts below each one:

1)  An intellectually disciplined process (Scriven and Paul, 1987)

Are we applying logic and reason to the information we have available? Are our assertions supported by evidence? Can we trace our conclusions back through the process to our starting point without skipping steps or leaving out key pieces of evidence?

2)  Transcending subject matter divisions (Scriven and Paul, 1987)

I think this is especially important as the leader of a team of functional experts. Each of your team may see the problem from their own perspective, but as leaders, we need to view things across all of those functional perspectives

3)  Raising Vital Questions and Problems (Paul and Elder, 2008)

If the question or problem isn’t of vital importance, maybe our time is better served working on something that is.

4)  Gathering information not just for the sake of gathering information (Scriven and Paul, 1987) but using abstract ideas to interpret that information effectively to come to well reasoned conclusions and solutions. (Paul and Elder, 2008)

We often spend time gathering more and more information trying to understand everything about a particular topic or issue, but the information is no good to us if we don’t analyze, synthesize and apply it to solving the problem. Often leaders become paralyzed waiting for more information when properly interpreting the information at hand can lead to a valid solution.

5)  Recognizing the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions (Glaser, 1941)

Seeing connections between things, especially when they are not obvious, can result in finding a simple and elegant solution to a problem. Also, the logic fault of assuming a connection must be present when there is no evidence for one can lead us astray.

6)  Thinking openmindedly within alternative systems of thought (Paul and Elder, 2008)

Approaching a problem from a perspective other than your own can often lead to insights into the situation that you may not have seen before.

7)  Testing ideas against relevant criteria and standards (Paul and Elder, 2008)

Does the solution or solutions match up to what we know to be true about the situation? Does it conform to the laws of physics or other criteria that may limit the effectiveness of the solution if not well understood?

8)  Communicating Effectively (Paul and Elder, 2008)

Just as important as getting to the solution is being able to convince others to understand and support the solution. Without that support you may never get your solution implemented.

So that’s just a summary of what I learned about critical thinking this week. It turns out it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was; but, when done properly, can be an even stronger skill than I imagined. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I have a good deal more research to do on this topic, but I wanted to share my initial look into it.

How do you apply critical thinking on your team?

Material sourced from www.criticalthinking.org. The original sources cited on their page are:

A statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987.

Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008

Edward M. Glaser, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, 1941

Letting Followers Innovate

Every now and then a member of our team will come to us with an idea of a new process, method or procedure to implement that they feel will get the job done better, or will be easier, or, in the best of cases, both. As leaders we often feel an internal conflict in this situation. We want to foster innovation, but also are concern the risks and resistance that come along with change. My advice is to encourage your team to innovate, with some actively engaged leadership on your part.

It can be difficult to determine sometimes if there really is a benefit to be gained by implementing a follower’s suggestions or if they are merely whining about the status quo. A simple way that I have found to find the answer is to allow the follower to implement the change, but to make them take the lead for implementing it, i.e. you will let them make their change, but they have to do all the research on how to make it happen, assess the potential benefits and risks, come up with the plan to train the rest of the team on how to implement the change, and measure how successful the change has been.  Followers who are enthusiastic about the change will embrace the opportunity presented to them and the whiners will simply allow the status quo to continue.

As the boss, you’ll still need to provide them with appropriate guidance and direction as they develop their plan. You should let them know up front what you consider a successful outcome would be as well as any risks that you believe are unacceptable to assume in this endeavor. You should be clear if there are other processes or procedures that are off-limits to change as they consider their path forward.

Set a definite time and date that they need to come back to you to review their progress and decide if you will go forward with their initiative.  Give them a list of items they must address in that review to get your go-ahead.

Once you’re ready to let them implement, don’t immediate throw out the old way of doing things in favor of this one. If possible, run parallel processes and compare the results of the two ways of doing things. This will definitely be a little more work, but may be worth it to be able to compare your results. If parallel efforts aren’t possible, set a clear trial period, such as a month or 90 days to assess the results. Make sure the person proposing the initiative determines how to measure if the new method is successful and that you approve of the assessment.

If, after the trial period, the new way is clearly superior, or easier to accomplish, or has some other benefits, adopt the new method. If the new method was not successful, perform an honest assessment with the proposer of where it fell short, what lessons learned came of it, and if addressing those issues could result in a successful outcome. If the answer is yes, let them go back, make the adjustments, re-propose and try again.

What are other ways you’ve fostered innovation on your team while still managing risk?

Be Braver than the Bureaucracy!

Sometimes as a leader you come into an organization or team that has already been established for a long period of time and you see a need to make some changes in order to better achieve your strategic objectives. Often these teams have their own processes and personalities that may or may not be responsible for (or a detriment to) the success of the team. Depending on how large your team is and where you fit in the larger organization, you may find that making a meaningful change to the way the team operates is a Herculean task when you face the legions of people in the bureaucracy who will resist change. This will require patience, tenacity and an ability to be braver than bureaucracy!

Some tips to help you fight bureaucratic inertia if you need to make some changes:

Don’t implement change simply for the sake of change. Have a rationale for why the change is important. Is the team failing at an important goal? Have the strategic objectives or mission of the organization changed over time, but the processes haven’t adapted to the new roles?

Determine if the current processes are meeting your strategic objectives.  If they seem to be adequate but could use some improvement, solicit help from your team members. Describe the results you want and see if the team can optimize the processes on their own. If the current way of doing things is failing miserably, you may have to throw it all out and implement a new method.

Recognize that there may be some emotional attachment to the current processes. You could be “upsetting the apple cart” for someone. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the changes you believe are necessary, but understand you’ll have some smoothing to do until the team fully embraces the new way of business. If major change eliminates a task that a team member was passionate about, find a new role for them and emphasize the importance of that role to the big picture.

Expect resistance. There will be some who are really entrenched! They’ll try to wait you out, go around you or even go over your head to prevent your changes from being implemented. Building a good relationship with your functional counterparts and your own boss while providing a rational basis for the change you want to achieve in terms of meeting the strategic goals of the organization is a good way to get your colleagues and superiors to re-direct the subversive types back to you so you can deal with their concerns.

Take baby steps. Change doesn’t have to happen all at once. Making a small change and letting people get used to it can help silence the naysayers when they see it really isn’t that bad. If you’re not in a crisis and have the time, a series of small steps may get you there faster than one big step.

Figure out how you will measure if the change you make is having a positive effect. There might be a lot of people waiting for your initiative to fail so they can say I told you so. Show how the incremental changes you have made are making incremental improvements towards meeting not just your team’s objectives, but the overall strategic objectives of the organization.

Progress can’t occur without change. Most people realize this but are still reluctant to embrace change because uncertainty can be scary. There will be some who will put roadblocks in your path and try to undermine you (possibly even members of your own team) to avoid dealing with that uncertainty. Sometimes it may feel easier to give up on change to avoid fighting the battles, but you have to be brave! Use your leadership skills to communicate with your team and understand their apprehension. Show them how you’ll face the uncertainty together as all work towards success!