Five Key Ways Leaders Can Drive Brand Value

This post is from a Forbes article written by Maureen Metcalf in collaboration with Brad Circone. It is the companion to a Voice America interview with Brad, From Banding to Branding: How the Wisdom of Rock n Roll taught The Artful Discipline of Leadership on  the Voice America Radio Show, “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on December 5, 2017.

Given the pace of change across industries, and specifically, the pace of change leaders are required to personally keep, do you refresh your brand as your ecosystem changes? And do you, as a leader, live that brand?

A brand can be one of the biggest differentiators for an organization, whether positive or negative. It impacts what feelings are evoked when people interact with a product. Some of the most successful brands, like Google and Apple, invest a great deal in defining and living out their brand.

Brand equity often drives revenue, customer retention and price. Everyone in the company should live the brand. As leaders, we are key brand stewards — it is critical for us to have a clear picture of what the brand is, how it behaves and to humbly respect it enough to follow it. Your brand runs your company too.

1. Identify your organization’s mission, vision and guiding principles.

As leaders, we use these as the basis for all decisions. Here’s the guiding principle of a public radio station in Columbus, Ohio, of which I’m a board member: “This station will be the home of creativity and innovation in all forms of audio content — journalism, music, fiction, culture, and art — regardless of platform. We’ll accomplish this by helping every colleague explore and achieve his or her full potential, all in the service of bolstering our community and improving humanity.”

This purpose is grounded in action by leaders who use a set of behavioral guidelines and agreements that support making this possible. One key area of focus is seeing the best in everyone on the team and promoting experimentation.

2. Position the brand.

Determine how to position the company and the subsequent brand offering to evoke the feelings you want people to experience when they interact with you.

In the case of the public radio station above, its leaders selected the brand based on both internal capabilities and the gap they saw in the market. The station regularly hears from listeners who say they support the news hour and that the local content keeps them informed and connected. They also hear from local musicians who say the airtime they got launched their successful careers when others would not give them a chance. They are experimenting with several elements of funding and content to remain valuable.

When talking about the feelings they want their listeners to experience, leaders’ goals include: a feeling of connectedness at home and in the community, feeling intellectually challenged and informed and a feeling that they, too, can experiment to accomplish greater results in their lives. They want to inspire the community to grow and evolve.

3. Personalize the brand’s attributes.

If your brand was a person, who would that person be and what would they do? Leaders must take the perspective of their brand avatar when making key decisions.

As the founder of a coaching firm, our avatar is now evolving to reflect the leadership team, and more importantly, the brand our clients want that will inform our actions and preserve our promises. As change accelerates, leaders are feeling increasingly overwhelmed.

Having an external thought partner and advisor who works confidentially and addresses their biggest challenges gives a sense of support and confidence. We call this avatar “The Brand of Yoda.” Yoda prepared Luke to fight the Dark Side. He was eminently wise, able to teach complex skills and thinking, and he was supportive and tough. Luke not only had different skills, he was significantly more effective because he saw himself and the world differently. 

4. Amplify leadership behaviors and internalize the brand message.

To ensure leaders consistently live the brand, it is critical that they understand and amplify the behaviors they expect from not only themselves but everyone in the organization. Once brand attributes are clear, it is important to identify how one lives the brand.

Our company is committed to transforming leaders, therefore, each member lives the brand as Yoda, supporting client transformation. This behavior requires foundational agreements about how our team members and our strategic partners operate to ensure we reinforce the agreed-upon brand platform.

5. Activate external messaging.

Once leaders know how to live the behaviors called forth by the brand, it is important to clarify external messaging and activate it. This is where knowing becomes doing.

How do you convey your differentiation, the value you add, and create the feeling you want to evoke? It is important that all brand image elements and content are immutably aligned, from written to visual to behavioral. This messaging is informed by each prior step.

We, for example, are currently updating our own materials to convey our balance between leading, thinking and research, and the personal connections we create with our clients to help them make the changes they seek. This must be activated through our brand at every touch, relentlessly.

As a leader, if you are trying to amplify the value of your company by leveraging the brand, it is critical that you live it and lead others to do the same. Irrespective of an employee’s role within the company, they represent the brand. When one associates them with their role within the company, they are representing the brand and therefore help control and determine its ability to be loved or be left quietly alone.

Are your leadership behaviors increasing brand equity and building on the feeling you want your customers to have when they interact with your organization?

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills and system to create a regenerative, inclusive and thriving organization that will have a positive impact in the world.

How to Create a Culture of Innovation and Learning

This post is from a Forbes article I wrote in 2017. It is the companion to a Voice America interview with Guru Vasudeva, CIO Nationwide Insurance on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on April 18, 2017 Nationwide’s Journey to Build a Culture of Innovation and Continuous Learning.

When it comes to innovation, companies need to deliver results much more quickly than they did just a few years ago in order to keep pace with the range of pressures they face from competition as well as customer expectations. In addition to the range of product change and customer expectations, companies are looking at a baby boomer retirement rate of 10,000 per day, which is only accelerating technological change and a volatile geopolitical environment.

With this as the backdrop, leaders must create organizational environments that weave innovation and change into their fabric.

There are several different terms we hear when we talk about companies that do this well: agile businesses, “learning” organizations, and innovative cultures are just a few. These environments adhere to five key cultural and structural strategies.

1. Delight Customers

Organizations should seek out customer recommendations and develop a process to evaluate and prioritize ones that have the highest probability of meeting customer objectives and staying ahead of the competition.

This recommendation is drawn from my early work with Malcolm Baldrige Quality Assessments. Though this has been an enduring practice for years, how companies implement it has changed. How are you seeking ongoing feedback on priorities and customer satisfaction first and foremost? Are you creating a relationship with customers that could be most accurately described as a partnership? Have an open exchange with clients on a regular basis. In addition, solicit formal feedback on a periodic basis.

2. Actively Collaborate

Organizations must shift from step-by-step processing to working cross-functionally. All involved departments should remain informed and work simultaneously as a normal course of business. Collaborative organizations create higher-quality prototypes — and they do it more quickly.

In addition to a collaborative structure, it’s important to create an environment where every team member feels safe and encouraged to contribute. They should also feel that they are expected to contribute their best work at all times. This collaboration contrasts with organizations where “special people” contribute more often than others.

My client structures projects to ensure all team members or subject matter experts are included. The teams also conduct vibrancy assessments to ensure they are continually creating an environment where everyone feels included and supported. What are you doing to measure your culture and agreements to ensure all members participate and feel safe to share their insights?

3. Rigorously Experiment

Teams must study problems and put forward well-developed solutions. However, these shouldn’t come in the form of long studies, as many of these can take a year or longer.

By shifting to a focus on the scientific method, teams learn to formulate a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, and learn and refine solutions rapidly.

Note the word “rigorous.” I realize that the idea of experimentation is very countercultural, and if done poorly, can be costly. When teams develop skills in rigorous experimentation, they shift how they look at experiments. One example is a group that structured the work using rapid prototyping. They provided mentors and coaches to ensure people had the support they required while learning the new process.

This mentoring ensures team members contribute quickly and develop both skills and comfort with new behaviors quickly. Do you have challenges and opportunities that could be solved more quickly by taking a more scientific approach, perhaps by shortening the analysis and beginning experimentation?

4. Accelerate Decisions And Learning

In this environment, nimble decision-making is a companion to rigorous experimentation. Team members must make the best decisions possible as quickly as required. These decisions must be open to re-examination as new information surfaces.

This means that decisions should be refined on an ongoing basis. The need to be “right” must be set aside in favor of continual learning. What was once called “flip flopping” will now be called “learning.”

An example of nimble decision-making is an organization that offers training to help participants combine data-based decision-making with intuitive decision making to leverage the power of both. They make decisions at the appropriate point to support the process of experimentation. When experiments are run, participants learn, and prior decisions will be revisited when appropriate and updated. 

5. Build Adaptability And Resilience

Leaders and their employees must value adaptability, flexibility, and curiosity. All of these skills and aptitudes support an individual’s ability to navigate rapid change. Employees must remain flexible and focused in the face of ongoing change. They need the capacity to feel comfortable and supported by their colleagues so that they can adapt to planned and unplanned change with creativity and focus.

It is not enough to tell people to be more resilient, then expect them to answer emails for 20 hours a week. I once worked with an organization that conducted training on individual resilience, then had work groups conduct multiple discussions about what they needed to do to support individual resilience.

Does your organization make explicit agreements about topics like expected response time for email, including during non-work hours? Agreements are a great way to examine organizational factors driving and inhibiting resilience.

Evolving your organization to become more innovative and change-friendly requires a structured effort to update your culture and the systems and agreements that support its functions. By clarifying how your organization promotes these five elements, you will make great progress in becoming an innovative organization.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

Leading in Turbulent Times: What are International Leaders Saying?

As I write this article, I’m excited to reflect on the 2017 ILA global conference theme, Leadership in Turbulent Times, and share wisdom gleaned from 12 Voice America interviews I conducted in Brussels at the conference last October. This is the second year I have interviewed keynote presenters, top speakers, political leaders, board members, and organizers in the role of media partner. The interviews resulting from this collaboration began airing  January 9, 2018: Leaders Building on A Moral Purpose to Create A Just World with Jorrit Volkers, Dean Deloitte University EMEA and George Papandreou, Former Prime Minister of Greece. See full list of interviews with links at the end of this post.

With a necessary focus right now on terrorist attacks and geopolitical instability across continents, and with the increase of populism as well as the impact of the rapid pace of technological advances, the logical theme of the conference was “Leadership in Turbulent Times.” It sounds ominous, right? The word turbulence typically creates anxiety and fear because it is never associated with something promising or hopeful. It is defined as conflict, confusion, and unsteady movement. I’d like, however, to offer a new way to think about turbulence. Change is never a result of stagnation, and only by churning ideas and challenging old schemata can we evolve. Turbulence, therefore, offers new opportunities across a broad range of sectors. While the challenges are more complex, and the world feels less safe, we have greater opportunities to make positive change than at any other time in recent history.

Turbulence is an ongoing condition to be managed, not a problem to be solved. Here is a summary of my key take-aways from presentations, conversations, and twelve hours of interviews I conducted for VoiceAmerica.

  1. Leadership is an interplay between our individual purpose and values, our behaviors, organizational culture, and systems and processes. It requires continual adjustment to maintain alignment between all four elements, an adjustment that is akin to a finely choreographed dance. It is ongoing and requires continuous attention and expertise. All aspects of the dance start with leadership having a self-awareness of purpose and values. This self-awareness provides the inner compass from which the leader leads the organization.
  2. Purpose and self-awareness are the foundation of effective leadership. Self-awareness is not an activity to accomplish once. It is a practice to be done regularly and routinely. When asked, most people want to make the world better than they found it. Leaders who can translate this sense of purpose into their unique commitment to action in the world are more effective as leaders because they have a North Star to guide their actions. When they share this purpose with those they lead, they build trust and inspire commitment.
  3. Reflection takes time—and it is a requirement. Reflection and meditation provide a physiological advantage by impacting the neural network in your brain. One of the precepts of self-awareness is the “moment of awareness” when we take a deep breath, pause, and ask ourselves what outcome we want in a moment. This brief pause allows us to be fully present and clear before we take our next step. The ability to pause and reflect, for a moment or longer, allows leaders to stay centered and grounded in times of high pressure.
  4. Leaders have many roles, including chief culture officer. Culture leaders are akin to musical conductors. Through their actions and attitude, they set the tone of the organization and the underlying agreements supporting that tone. In doing so, leaders create the culture in organizations that supports the purpose and values they claim to hold. Organizations living their purpose do not show it in a poster on the wall but through the underlying rhythm and music of a strong dance performance. The conductor becomes the music that inspires, sets the tempo and tone, and informs action. If the rhythm changes, so do the movements of the dancers. A strong culture offers a competitive advantage and makes successful organizations hard or impossible to emulate. One recommendation I heard repeatedly is that leaders need to create a culture of openness and safety. Awareness of the culture provides leaders with multiple perspectives so that they can adjust quickly to changes in the environment.
  5. Leaders need to inspire followership and know when to follow. Leaders are those formally recognized for their leadership role, some of them have the title of leader and others do not. We rarely talk about leaders as followers. Most leaders report to someone including boards of directors. Leaders need to learn to both lead and follow. They also need to teach those who follow them how they would like to be followed. Back to the metaphor of the dance, each dancer is different, the interplay between different leaders and followers is unique even with the same music. Another topic generally not discussed, but highlighted at this conference, is the idea of ethical dissent — when we chose not to follow and how we courageously hold our leaders accountable.
  6. People want to perform effectively. Organizational systems need to support peoples’ positive intentions and skills. Spend less time creating systems to weed out shirkers and poor performers and more time creating a culture that enables people with purpose to do the work that fulfills them and that concurrently serves the organization’s mission and success.
  7. Teams have become far more important in the current environment. Effective teams are based on the members’ ability to communicate effectively, often across the globe. A key factor in effective team interactions is building relationships with individuals. This is best done in person and, then, can be sustained remotely. There is no substitute for strong relationships when navigating complex work.
  8. Effective communication and learning organizations have become more important with the complexity of the challenges and geographic dispersion of teams. Communication requires both strong listening skills and the ability to speak simply and concisely, including attending to conflict and complexity when necessary. It also means unflinching accountability. Leaders must be accountable for their role when problems arise, and look forward with vision of the future rather than looking back and fault finding. It is important to learn from challenges and mistakes and remain agile in the face of ongoing change. Vision forward and data analysis backward creates learning organizations.
  9. Organizations must align their purpose with that of the stakeholders within as well as with clients, and the local and global community. Making a profit is the fuel for company survival, but it is not the fuel to thrive. Companies must find the intersection between company success and social action in order to make a positive profit while, at the same time, making a positive social impact. John Heiser, the President & Chief Operating Officer of Magnetrol International, gave a beautiful example of hiring autistic adults to perform tasks for which they are best qualified. This approach allows the company to attract and retain people whose skills match their jobs as well as provide meaningful work for people in the community who often don’t find opportunities. He gave several examples of how companies could align their interests with those of the community.
  10. Global peace and security depend on recognizing our innate nature to be peaceful. When we follow our true nature, we are peaceful beings. Conference presenters and attendees I interacted with talked about the intersection of creating individual conditions in which people can express their inner goodness and, at the same time, create cultures and systems that promote peaceful work and lives.

I left the conversations feeling hopeful that compassionate, wise, and highly-successful academics, executives, politicians, and military leaders are sharing their best thinking with one another at the conference and beyond. They forge and renew relationships, and identify new opportunities to collaborate to make positive change. This forum is one in which leadership as an art and science evolves through people and their interactions.

9 Jan. 2018Leaders Building on Moral Purpose to Create a Just World

Interviewee: Jorrit Volkers, Dean, Deloitte University EMEA & George Papandreou, Former Prime Minister of Greece

16 Jan. 2018Maximizing Profit and Social Impact Concurrently – A Case Study

Interviewee: John Heiser, ILA Board Member; President & Chief Operating Officer, Magnetrol International, Incorporated

23 Jan. 2018 How Do We Work and Live with Purpose and Compassion?

Interviewee: Éliane Ubalijoro, ILA Board Member; Professor of Practice, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University, Canada; Member, Presidential Advisory Council for Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Rwanda

30 Jan. 2018Dialogical Leadership: Understanding How It Impacts Success

Interviewee: Rens van Loon, ILA Board Member; Professor & Consultant specialized in leadership and organizational change and transformation.

6 Feb. 2018 Creating Mindful Organizations

Interviewee: Subhanu Saxena, Regional Director Life Science Partnerships, Europe at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation & Michelle Harrison, Global CEO, Kantar Public, the WPP Group public policy consulting and research business.

13 Feb. 2018 How Would We Lead If We Believed Humans Were a Peaceful Species?

Interviewee: Mike Hardy, ILA Board Member; Founding and Executive Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University, UK.

20 Feb. 2018 Inner Peace Nurtures Global Impact

Interviewee: Kathryn Goldman Schuyler, Organizational Consultant, Leadership Coach, Public Speaker and Author; Editor of Creative Social Change: Leadership for a Healthy World

27 Feb. 2018 The Dance Between Leadership and Followership

Interviewee: Margaret Heffernan, Author of five books, Lead Faculty for the Forward Institute’s Responsible Leadership Program & Ira Chaleff, Founder and President of Executive Coaching and Consulting Associates

6 Mar. 2018 Values and Storytelling to Deliver Results

Interviewee: Sebastian Salicru, Director of PTS Consultants, an Associate of Melbourne Business School – Executive Education, and Fellow of the Institute of Coaching (McLean/Harvard Medical School) & Michelle Harrison, Global CEO, Kantar Public, the WPP Group public policy consulting and research business.

13 Mar. 2018 Leveraging Polarities in Complex and Turbulent Times

Interviewee: Barry Johnson, Creator of the first Polarity Map® and set of principles; author

27 Mar. 2018 The Nexis of Leadership and Practice – Royal Dutch Shell and ILA

Interviewee: Jeroen van der Veer, Former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell plc & Cynthia Cherry, President and CEO of the International Leadership Association

I hope this article inspires you to listen to select interviews or, even better, the entire interview series! Interviews from 2016 are being used in academic and professional leadership development programs around the world. I encourage you to share this information freely. This complimentary set of interviews are content rich, exposing listeners to the subtleties required to build leadership acumen, and give insight into those who have made a commitment to work and to live at the intersection between exceptional research and practice in leadership.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

The Best Advice for Leaders

This post is a companion to the interview with Skip Prichard, CEO OCLC on  VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on December 19, 2017Nine Secrets to Creating a Successful Future. The blog was written by Skip. 

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard was from Jim Rohn. He said, “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”

That struck me as particularly odd at first, but this simple wisdom stuck with me and became a part of my thinking.

“Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice.” –Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to work hard on your job. It will help you stand out, get noticed, and advance your career.

But, if you stop there, you’ll miss out. Working on yourself pays far better than a salary. When you work on your own personal development, you start an almost magical process. Your capabilities expand with each new skill and that sets you up for new opportunities that you likely can’t even imagine.

Take advantage of the magic of personal development, of working harder on yourself than on your job. You’ll be glad you did.

And, I must also mention that my upcoming book, The Book of Mistakes: 9 Secrets to Creating a Successful Future, will help you on the personal development journey. I share the nine personal development secrets that the most successful leaders employ.

About the author

Skip Prichard is an accomplished CEO, growth-oriented business leader, and keynote speaker. He is known for his track record of successful re-positioning companies and dramatically improving results while improving the corporate culture. He is a keynote speaker on topics ranging from leadership, personal development. growth strategies culture, corporate turnarounds, and the future of publishing. His views have been featured in print and broadcast media including the BBC, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, The Daily Beast, Harvard Business Review, Information Today, the Bookseller, Publishers Weekly, Christian Retailing, and the Library journal.

Click here to take advantage of pre-order bonuses, including 3 leadership e-books with every order.

How Marzetti is Raising the Bar on Products through Leadership

Two of the most compelling topics in business today are leadership and innovation. We know that leadership plays a critical role in an organization’s long-term success, and that innovation has become a strategic necessity in today’s business environment. In short, both leadership and innovation have a greater impact today than ever before. Technology and an increased access to information continue to escalate, yet organizations are often too overrun with continuous transition to handle the torrent of emerging demands. Exponentially accelerated innovation has shortened the product lifecycle and customers are consolidating—both of which creates an increased demand for leaders to change not only products at a faster rate, but also the way they approach leadership. At Marzetti, they are doing just that.

The T. Marzetti Company is committed to bringing delicious food to the table, superior service to customers, and value to its consumers through product innovation and differentiation. To do this, Marzetti is investing in innovating how it leads, and delivering innovative products, extending channels, and identifying new distribution options for existing products.

An example of a recent Marzetti’s success is its extension of an existing relationship with Darden Restaurants, the parent company of The Olive Garden. Darden Restaurants and Marzetti are now working together to package the highly acclaimed Olive Garden House salad dressing for sale in Sam’s Club stores to reach a much broader audience. The benefit to the companies is significant, and provides better service to customers by making a sought-after product readily available. It serves stockholders by increasing sales and profits in a sustainable manner.

So what does any of this have to do with innovating how we lead?

First, leaders must be willing to think beyond a conventional framework of how businesses operate by testing new approaches and solutions. This plan was launched as an experiment and is being evaluated and refined as it proceeds. One of the key concepts of innovative leadership is moving from command and control to the “mind of the scientist.” Leaders need to proceed with certainty in this rapidly changing world or they will be left behind by more nimble competition. This is where the mind of the scientist comes in. Leaders are now retooling their way of thinking and acting to work with extended groups of people to identify possible opportunities. Then, with the same rigor as a scientist would design and implement an experiment—ensuring that all key elements are addressed— leaders are designing pilots to proactively meet market opportunities. The Marzetti and Darden leadership teams did just this is their recent launch.

Now, Marzetti’s is expanding the innovative leadership focus from pockets of excellence to its entire leadership team. Marzetti’s is meeting its commitment to its customers by ensuring that its leaders have the necessary tools to deliver not only now, but looking toward the future.

Are you considering improving your ability to be an innovative and effective leader? If so, take this free online Innovative Leadership assessment to determine where you fall on the innovative leadership scale. If you are looking for tools to help develop your ability to be an innovative leader, check out the 2012 International Book Award winning Innovative Leadership Fieldbook. Metcalf & Associates, Inc., offers assessments, coaching, and workshops to help you and your leadership team become more innovative and effective leaders and improve your organizational success.

Innovative Leadership to Navigate Uncertainty

Are your leadership actions impeding innovation?  Are your change initiatives successfully implemented and delivering the benefits you expected?  How is YOUR behavior impacting their ability to delivery results?

Many traditional leaders spend more time perfecting their golf swings than they do improving their ability to lead in this current environment.  The most successful leaders continue to improve their leadership skills including the level of self-knowledge and introspection that provides a feedback loop for ongoing improvement.

Innovative leadership is the type of leadership that allows already successful leaders to raise the bar on their performance and the performance of their organizations.

An innovative leader is defined as someone who consistently delivers results using the following:

  • Strategic leadership that inspires individual goals and organizations vision and cultures;
  • Tactical leadership that influences an individual’s actions and the organizations systems and processes.
  • Holistic Leadership that aligns all key dimensions:  Individual, culture, action and systems.

While others differentiate leadership from management this definition includes both because, to fully implement innovative change, the organizational leaders need to both set the strategy and be sufficiently involved in the tactics to ensure innovation and changes happen.  This does not mean micro managing – it means an awareness and involvement in all elements of the innovation and change process. This includes continually growing and evolving leadership capacity and actions, leading and implementing culture and system changes within the organization.

Let’s look at an example of a leader who faced a change she had not previously faced in her business.  She runs Working Partners, an organization focusing on creating drug free workplaces.  She built a strong successful business and yet, external pressures changed her market.  The government provided many of these services at a lower cost.  Being a very innovative leader, she worked with her immediate team and sought external input on possible options.

As of this writing, she is launching multiple pilot projects that will enhance and/or change her company and its offerings.  They will take the results of the pilots and determine how to refine the course of the business to ensure long term organizational success and customer service. 

It is important to note that some of these pilots reflect small changes based on distribution channel and methods of delivery.  Others seem radical and include significant expansion of the organization’s mission.  Because the founder, Dee Mason, is proactive and open to exploring a broad range of changes, she will find a series of innovations that allow the organization to thrive.  Part of her success in making significant change will include looking at the entire system to make holistic changes including how she herself leads the organization.  This is one of the qualities that is unique to innovative leaders, they are continually looking at who they are in the context of the organization and they continue to change and grow as they change their organizations.

What are specific qualities that differentiate an innovative leader from a traditional leader? In our time of rapid business, social and ecological change, a successful leader is a leader who can continually:

  • Clarify and effectively articulate vision
  • Link that vision to attainable strategic initiatives
  • Develop themselves and influence the development of other leaders
  • Build effective teams by helping colleagues enact their own leadership strengths
  • Cultivate alliances and partnerships
  • Anticipate and respond to both challenges and opportunities aggressively
  • Develop robust and resilient solutions
  • Develop and test hypothesis like a scientist
  • Measure, learn, and refine on an ongoing basis

To further illustrate some of the qualities of innovative leadership, we offer this comparison between traditional leadership and innovative leadership:

We keep hearing that the world is changing and it is.  The question for you is what will you do to lead the thinking and changes in these times rather than talking about how tough it is?  Will you be an innovator or a barrier to innovation?  The Innovative Leadership Fieldbook provides easy to use tools and reflection questions that lead you through a six step process to become a more innovative leader.


At Metcalf & Associaes, we are dedicated to inspiring leadership innovation within complex business environments. Our book, Innovative Leadership Fieldbook can be purchased on Amazon.  If you want to test how innovative you are as a leader, consider taking our free on-line Innovative Leadership assessment. Metcalf & Associates offers assessments, coaching and workshops to help you and your leadership team become more innovative.

Photo credit:  nyoin flickr

James Cameron at World Business Forum 2010 – The power of Innovation, Creativity and Passion

James Cameron is a renowned film writer, producer and director whose films have blazed new trails in visual effects and set numerous performance records both domestically and abroad.  He shared his experience of creating the block buster movie Avatar at World Business Forum 2010.

His story illustrates many of the points that speakers over the past 2 days have made.  Leaders in their fields across multiple industries tell a very similar story.  To name just a couple of the common threads, AG Lafley from P&G talked about the importance of curiosity, openness and collaborating and  Jack Welsh talked about fielding the best talent and how fear was an ineffective management tool.   Following are 5 points from James Cameron’s presentation.

1. Be curious and open to learning.  “Curiosity is the most important thing we have – we pursue avenues for things we do not know what the pay off will be.”  I will thrust myself into any situation where I think I can learn.

2.  Collaboration is a dynamic process.  Each group has a role in making the movie come to life, the designers, the actors, the writers and the editors.  The film takes on a new life in each stage of the process with the expansion of the team.

3. People empower you to lead. Leadership can be learned.  Dictatorial style is not as good as an encouraging style.  Be firm and in charge but not authoritarian.  Leadership skills that were not innate could be learned.  To be a good leader you get the best out of people by respecting them.  You have to be analytical and critical of yourself as a leader, and always be open to learning.

4. Your personal passion gets you a long way.  Passion is a strong motivator for others, they can see your vision and feel that you will accomplish it.

5.  Timing is critical in innovation.  Innovation is like riding a wave,  don’t create the wave, harness the energy it’s building.  Commit to what you are trying to create.  Too much study causes opportunities to pass you by and premature launch can also lead to failure.

So as we look at Avatar and the new and innovative techniques used to create this movie and the passion that allowed the team to stay together and make it happen, we may wonder how to translate this message to our personal and professional lives.  I propose a few questions that I will be thinking about as take aways.  What am I passionate about in my work and in my community?  What am I curious about?  How can I combine curiosity and passion to spark innovation in my work?

AG Lafley at the World Business Forum – Becoming a Creative Culture

A.G. Lafley is the former Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer goods company.  He spoke at the World Business Forum about customer centric growth.

In response to the question, what would you recommend we do tomorrow when we go back to work, Mr. Lafley talked about the following components necessary as the foundation for a creative culture.  He recommended looking at how you are doing in each of the following areas:

1.  Openness.  Be open to new ideas and disruptive technologies.  There are innovations that will change many facets of our lives very quickly.  If we are not identifying them and bringing them to market, others will.  These changes may come from within our industry or others that impact us indirectly.  If the washing machine changes, detergent may change dramatically.  Is there something you should be more open to?

2.  Curiosity.   Get curious about something you would like to learn more about.  Depending on your role, you may want to learn more about items that directly impact your tasks.  As a leader, you may want to learn more about concepts like governance or social media that are changing very quickly and are changing how we lead and interact with our stakeholders.  What questions should you be asking?

3.  Connecting.  With the advent of technology, we are able to connect with colleagues and customers in ways not possible a few years ago.  Who do you want to connect to (a thought leader or mentor)?  Who would you like to connect to you (customers, employees)?  Do you want to be more accessible?

4.  Collaborating.  With companies subcontracting, outsourcing, and collaborating in ways never imagined a few years ago, what are you doing that you should shift to someone else?  When you shift the work, what have you made time to do more of?

5.  Courage.  Have the courage to make the tough decisions like introducing a disruptive technology or making a business decision that will create long term value for the company but frustrate some customers (like discontinuing a mediocre product line).  What one action can you take that you have put off because it just seems too daunting?  Is there a small experiment you can engage in that will seem less daunting?

While these qualities were not limited to leaders, these qualities are very similar to those discussed by other presenters at the forum.  Steven Levitt talked a great deal about the spirit of curiousity and acting like a scientist.  These qualities are very similar to those demonstrated by some of the worlds most successful scientists.

Where are you demonstrating these qualities in your work?