Why Leading with Ideas is the Secret to Successful Leadership
Guest writer Andy Golding, from Strive is firm believer in Companies Behaving Awesomely, companies where people are having a great experience at work. A voracious collector of great stories and learnings she gets to spend a lot of time walking the halls of Companies Behaving Awesomely and learning about what they do. Her awesome ‘daily grind’ involves translating theses great insights into workable solutions, and key learnings for clients in companies behaving averagely that want to change their ways.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric summed up the current era of leadership perfectly when he described leadership in the current age in the following way:
“…you will have to lead with ideas, not by controlling information.”
What Welch meant was that in the connected world we now live in, knowledge is no longer easily hidden from people and this has forever changed our attitudes towards information. It has changed our desire for information – we want it now. It has changed the way we share information – think how quickly news spreads around the world. It has also changed our attitude towards hoarding information, with such easy access to it – as soon as we no longer have it we disengage from people who hoard it often and waste time guessing what is going on. With our current tech landscape – information is moving more quickly and seamlessly than ever before.
Controlling information is dangerous because it leads to misinterpretation, misinformation and ultimately mistakes.
When we are missing information something dodgy happens, and it happens almost so naturally that we often miss it. We make assumptions, and as we know, assumptions are the mother of all f**k-ups. It is also in our nature to default to assuming the worst and that’s where the wheels come off.
For example: The board of directors, whom you hardly ever see as been sequestered in the boardroom with the blinds drawn for three full days now. Is the company going belly up? Are we getting bought out? Will I be laid off? Was that a lawyer I saw in there with them? An accountant maybe?
Your mind is racing, you’re anxious, and distracted. Now that you’ve convinced yourself that you are losing your job or there are big changes ahead, you disengage from your work. Instead you spend time fretting, or you do your work half-heartedly because – what does it matter anyway if you won’t be here soon? Then, because you can’t concentrate you go and make yourself a cup of coffee and chat to Susan. She’s seen it too, the overly long board meeting, the unfamiliar faces. She thinks the director is being replaced, or the CEO is resigning. Just like that Susan has kindly opened up a whole new possibility of worries for you. Worries based on nothing more than her assumptions.
Now imagine this, after day one in the boardroom the CEO sends a mailer to all staff. In it s/he documents that the company is facing a potential financial deficit. There are two options, lay off a percentage of staff or find cost-saving methods. The CEO openly admits that whilst s/he wants to avoid layoffs, unless they can find other options, they will have no choice. S/he then puts the problem in the hands of the staff. S/he leads with the idea that the solution to the problem could exist within the staff body. What cost saving ideas might they come up with?
Within 10 days, they had over 4,000 suggestions on what could be done to save costs. There were suggestions about tighter controls and more streamlined purchasing. Ideas poured in around more efficient and less wasteful practices. People even put forward the possibility of foregoing raises, and taking unpaid leave to ensure that everyone still had a job at the end of it all. This is not a hypothetical story, this actually happened at a major hospital in America. (Kaye and Jordan-Evans)
Instead of keeping employees in the dark and letting the rumour mill run rampant, as it does when we fill in the blanks with assumptions, this CEO led with an idea – the idea that his employees were the key to solving the problem. Rather than controlling the information and keeping it amongst the senior leadership, s/he opened up and found a sustainable solution to the problem. A solution that the people most affected had created themselves.
Imagine the possibilities if we put this into practice in everyday business. If leaders led with ideas, ideas about the future, about where the company could go, rather than keeping the information to themselves and controlling it. Too often leaders see themselves as ‘parents’ needing to ‘shield’ and protect their employees. Realistically though, your employees are adults, who outside of the workplace are running their own lives and families. They do not need to be ‘protected’. They need to be included and drafted in, for their benefit and the benefit of your organisation.