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How Hiking Supports Strategic Thinking and Reflection

This post is written by guest Damian Taylor as a companion to interview with Ken Wylie, Outdoor Adventures, A School for Leadership and Discovery his interview, on the Voice America Radio Show, “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on July 24, 2018.

As leaders, many of us struggle to find time to refresh our bodies, minds and spirits. I have been a hiker now for decades. Some of my most interesting vacations involved what were for me epic hiking trips such as climbing Kilimanjaro and hiking the Incan Trail. My next target is hiking a portion of the Camino.

As a leader, someone who is generally over committed with tasks and who values taking time to reflect, I find that waking daily and periodic hikes really support my overall success. I have engaged in walking meetings for years and on occasion actually do more hiking that walking meetings. These are with people I want to have indepth interactions with, often of a strategic nature.

This article talks about the benefit of hiking to address anxiety and depression along with building resilience. I want to point out that a significant percentage of our workforce struggles with these issues and we know that being out in the natural world can help address some of the symptoms. Whether you are attending to anxiety or taking time for reflection and strategic thinking, or doing both, hiking is a great option!

Anxiety and depression are incredibly common ailments of 21st Century humans. But while there are a number of different treatments for these illnesses (and you should always discuss your symptoms with your doctor and seek the treatment he or she recommends), too many people overlook one of the best: hiking.

Hiking is often very effective for easing anxiety and depression, and it is a treatment option that is accessible to the vast majority of people. In fact, there are a number of reasons hiking is such an excellent way to feel better, which we’ll outline below.

Exercise Promotes Brain Health

Hiking is a fantastic form of exercise that provides a variety of benefits for your body. It’ll help you lose weight while simultaneously strengthening your muscles. And if you keep at it for long enough, it’ll likely help lower your blood pressure and reduce your chances of suffering from strokes, diabetes or heart disease.

But while these benefits are all clearly valuable, exercise also helps to promote a healthy brain too. If your hikes are strenuous enough to elevate your heart rate and cause you to sweat a bit, they’ll likely help increase the size of your hippocampus – the portion of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning.

Exercise also causes the body to release growth factors – chemicals that help encourage blood vessel development in the brain and support the production of healthy brain cells. And don’t worry, you needn’t hike for very long to start enjoying improved brain health; research shows that even a 20-minute hike can improve the way your brain processes information.

Hiking Is Easy to Do and Affordable

Unlike so many other treatments for anxiety and depression, hiking is available to just about everyone, regardless of your location or tax bracket.

Most Americans probably live within a short drive of at least one hiking trail, even if it is nothing more than a 1-mile loop around the local park. You may have to do a bit of digging to find longer, more challenging or more scenic trails, but you’ll still likely find multiple options within driving distance.

Additionally, hiking rarely costs much – if anything – at all. Some trails require you to pay for parking or for entry to the park, but even these typically offer “frequent use” passes, which will allow you to enjoy the park or trails for very little money. You may also have to purchase a water bottle and pair of hiking boots, but with a bit of effort, you can likely find these things at very affordable prices.

Hiking Helps You to Disconnect from Day-to-Day Life

Chances are, you are constantly barraged by stimuli from the moment you wake up until the moment your head hits the pillow. Your phone, TV and radio constantly buzz with messages, information and entertainment, and you probably don’t have much time to quietly reflect on your thoughts.

But to get away from all of this, all you need to do is strap on your hiking boots and hit the trail. In contrast to our neighborhoods, homes and offices, wilderness areas are generally quiet and peaceful. This helps you to shed some of the stress caused by daily life. Disconnecting from your day-to-day life in this way can be very restorative and help reduce your anxiety and depression.

Obviously, you should still bring your phone along with you for safety’s sake, but maybe you should turn off the ringer for a while – at least until you get back to your car.

Hiking Provides Perspective

Often, anxiety and depression cause people to lose sight of the big picture. Instead of enjoying life, people struggling with depression or anxiety become stuck focusing on the small challenges, failures and disappointments that happen on a daily basis. But hiking in natural settings can help you bust out of this rut and gain a bit of perspective.

If, for example, you find yourself overwhelmed by a big work project coming up, you may find that a hike through your local mountains will help you remember that the project is just a tiny part of your life, and that there is a big beautiful world out there waiting for you to enjoy it.

Hiking Helps You to Build Resilience and Self-Confidence

If you hike for long enough, you’ll surely experience a tough day on the trail. Your feet may blister, you may get lost, or you may find that the trail you chose was a bit too strenuous. But chances are, you’ll find some way to tough out the hike, and overcome these challenges.

This will help build resilience and boost your self-confidence in profound ways. In truth, any challenge you face and overcome will help in both of these respects, but doing so in the natural world often provides the most profound results.

Just be sure that you don’t take this concept too far. It’s always good to challenge yourself and set increasingly difficult goals as you progress, but you must keep safety in mind. Always keep a cell phone on you so you can contact help if you need it and let someone know when you’ll be returning.

You Only Compete Against Yourself: There’s No Pressure to Perform

Many people understand the health benefits that exercise provides, but they aren’t interested in engaging in an implicitly or explicitly competitive pursuit, such as joining the local softball league or gym. This is certainly understandable – especially when you are already feeling depressed or anxious.

But hiking is a fantastic exercise, that lacks the competitive aspects that many of these other types of exercise feature. You are only competing against yourself and – to a lesser extent – Mother Nature. You get to celebrate those times you hike a bit further or complete a loop a bit faster; and yet your tough days, when you don’t perform quite as well, will remain your secret.

Additionally, it doesn’t matter if you go out and hike 1 mile a week or 50 miles a week – the only person you have to impress while you’re hiking is yourself.

Hiking Relieves Stress

Stress is often a contributing factor to anxiety and depression, so anything you can do to help relieve stress should help you feel a bit better. Hiking definitely fits this bill, as it not only provides great exercise (which helps to relieve stress too), but it takes place in gorgeous natural settings.

Scientists have even found that spending time in nature – even simply looking at nature – helps relieve stress and recharge your mind, body and soul. In fact, looking at a natural setting helps reduce pain and accelerate the healing process. And if you hike with a friend or loved one, you’ll often find this helps alleviate your stress even more thoroughly.

As you can see, hiking provides myriad benefits to those battling with anxiety or depression. So, find your closest trail and start trekking. Don’t forget to discuss your anxiety and depression with your doctor (and make sure you are healthy enough to begin hiking if you aren’t normally active), but you’ll likely find that regular hikes are exactly what the doctor ordered.

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.

BS in Business: Why Biological Blindspots Matter in Business

This blog is a companion to an interview with Rebecca Heiss on Voice America airing on November 28, 2017, What You Don’t See Can Hurt You focusing on implicit bias! This blog was written by Rebecca Heiss.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “what do biological blind spots and bias have to do with business?” In other words, “why should I care if I’m subconsciously a bit biased like everyone else?”

The short answer is that without awareness of your blind spots, you could be undermining your performance as well as the performance of your colleagues. When people first think about implicit bias, most default to a discussion around skin color, but your biological blind spots go far beyond black and white (and all of the other skin variations we leave out of the discussion).

Your brain has a pre-programmed bias for race, gender, age, class, thinking style… you name it!  Whatever the bias, your brain has categorized it and made associations that “fit,” based upon an archaic formula that still primes you to crave fats and sugars despite the insane abundance in the modern environment.

Our stone-aged brain and the biases it subconsciously creates which drive our behaviors is, to put it mildly, out of touch.

The result is that your team suffers from these micro-level inter-company level competitions ultimately hurting your ability to compete where you want to – on the bigger market. The worst part is, your team (and you personally) won’t even recognize that you are doing it.

Aside from team efficacy, productivity and collaborative efforts, one of the biggest risks to business is homogeneity. While the ability to create a homogeneous product may be beneficial, a lack of diversity on the  team doing the creating can be hugely detrimental to the health and sustainability of a business.

I like to make an analogy to the stability of an environment based on biodiversity. If you as a company are established like Ireland in 1845 and only have a single crop, you’ve made yourself extraordinarily vulnerable to any blind spot, or disease, wiping you off the face of the map. To avoid mass starvation in your company, plant some other crops. New perspectives.

Obviously, diversity can produce an influx of new ideas and approaches to problems, but more interesting to me is that the mere presence of a diverse work team creates an air of discomfort. Our brains were programmed to be happy with our ingroups – people who looked, acted, behaved and were essentially carbon copies of us. When you put people together who don’t fit that mold, our brains get….well….nervous.

Uncomfortable.

Low level discomfort like this actually promotes better problem solving as tensions are discussed openly. A recent study demonstrates that homogeneous groups, are more confident in their decisions, even though they are more often wrong in their conclusions, while a diverse group’s members will feel less confident despite being more accurate in their conclusions.

Confirmation bias and squelching of new ideas in homogeneous groups produces a false “feel-good we are all in this together” perspective that can render disastrous outcomes.

FEELING GOOD IN BUSINESS IS OVERRATED.

Just like working out the muscles in our body, having those uncomfortable discussions that hurt our brains a bit is the only way we grow and the only we can can start to uncover our own BS.

About the Author

Dr. Rebecca Heiss is an expert in human behavior and physiology and the founder/ CEO of a measurable stress reduction company, Instinctive Cognition. Working in the speaking and consulting industry Rebecca has developed a passion for helping others overcome blind spots to become their best biological selves. After earning a PhD with research designated as “transformative” by the National Science Foundation, Rebecca went on to hold multiple appointments in academia, applying her research to solve practical problems in overcoming what she refers to as “biological ghosts”—subconscious behaviors that haunt modern life. Described as a creative thought leader, she was honored to deliver a TEDx on a portion of her work and has built her career on helping others break through their evolutionary ethical “blind spots.” Having conquered the business of biology, Dr. Heiss has turned her focus to revolutionizing the biology of business.

Four Common Types of Difficult Employees And How To Deal With Them

This post is a companion to one or our top Voice America Interviews featuring Mike Morrow-Fox talking about bad bosses and the impact they have on organizations 

One of the jobs of managers is to create an environment that promotes employee engagement and produces organizational results. Difficult employees adversely impact the team members who work with them. Managers need to find productive ways to address these difficulties or they risk negatively impacting the entire working team. According to a Gallup article published in December 2016, “Compared with disengaged teams, engaged teams show 24% to 59% less turnover, 10% higher customer ratings, 21% greater profitability, 17% higher productivity, 28% less shrinkage, 70% fewer safety incidents and 41% less absenteeism.” The research clearly suggests that managers who address these difficult employees will produce better organizational results than those who do not.

The following is a guest post written by Jackie Edwards, professional writer experienced in the HR side of finance and banking,. It’s the reality of being an employer that your team might not always be filled with employees who support your vision and work hard for you. At some point you’ll have to deal with a difficult personality in the workplace. As stated in the Journal of Business & Economics, difficult employees can become of the most challenging issues you face, according. Here are four common types of difficult employee that you’ll likely have to come across and tips on how to tackle them effectively.

Dark-Side Dan

This is the employee who’s always negative. When you bring up an exciting project, he’ll tell you why it won’t work. It can be frustrating to deal with someone who’s always raining on everyone’s parade while thinking his way is the only right one. But a good tip is to see him as offering constructive criticism. He might show you the worst-case scenarios of corporate decisions that could help you make the right choice.

But dealing with such a difficult personality can actually be quite straightforward. Hold a meeting with your team and give everyone a chance to talk about their skills and struggles, see what this difficult employee says and coax them for a reply. You want your team members to be vulnerable at times, as it makes for a supportive, cooperative team.

Power-Hungry Pam

This is the employee who wants your job. She’ll take on leadership roles, such as by trying to be seen as holding a position of power with her co-workers, or trying to derail your authority, such as by ignoring your instructions. The best way to deal with highly-ambitious employees is to give them lots of work to do so that they won’t have time to try to manage other workers. Therefore keeping the workplace peace intact.

Mr. Excuse

You asked your employee to have a task completed by the end of the day, but he had something important to do across town or he had to deal with a co-worker’s problem, or he was stuck with a faulty printer. He always has excuses for not doing work or not listening to your instructions. In a global survey of 10,000 adults, 42 per cent confessed to lying about how busy they were at work. Although you might be quick to label this worker lazy, there could be another reason for his annoying behavior. Perhaps they are disastisfied with work? The best thing to do is have an open conversation with him to try to understand where he’s coming from and how you can utilize his best qualities, while minimizing his future games.

The Toddler

The minute this employee doesn’t like something, she’ll lose her cool, make sarcastic comments, or get into fights with co-workers. She also doesn’t deal with constructive criticism, which makes dealing with her a nightmare. If she’s a talented worker you don’t want to lose, remind her that her great work will take her far, but she needs to tone down her defensiveness as managers need to be likeable in order to succeed. Having a real heart-to-heart with this employee will not only show her that you’re willing to support your team members, but it also highlights that you’re after her best interests, which will help her see the error of her ways.

Difficult employees are everywhere, and they might even be part of your team. The key is to know how to tackle them effectively so that you can make use of their skills and decrease workplace drama which negatively impacts everyone’s productivity.

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.

Organizations Have Personality Types: How Do You Fit?

Belinda Gore EnneagramThis guest blog was written as a companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview with Belinda Gore on April 24, Building Leadership Self-Awareness Using Personality Type. In the interview and the blog, Belinda explores how she uses the Enneagram to help leaders build the self-awareness that enables them to perform effectively. It is also the companion to a foundational blog post Leveraging Leadership Type to Improve Leadership Effectiveness

As a reminder from a prior post, when the 65-member Advisory Council for the Stanford Graduate School of Business was polled several years ago on the topic of what is most important to include in the school’s curriculum, there was overwhelming agreement that the most important thing business school graduates needed to learn was self-awareness and the resulting ability to reduce denial in their perceptions of themselves and their actions. Pretty impressive. This speaks to the emerging recognition that we highlight in Innovative Leadership: leaders, through their own personality quirks and biases, can derail the most progressive initiatives toward an organization’s sustainable success.

In my experience using the Enneagram system as a psychologist and a leadership coach over the past twenty-three years, I find the enneagram to be more robust than any other system I have encountered. Many organizations are familiar with DISC, MBTI, Social Styles, and other systems, and training in these models has given employees at every level of the organization a foundation in models for self-awareness. I have found leaders at every level able to readily learn the rich and versatile information the Enneagram offers.

Just as leaders have “personalities,” so do organizations. This is just another way to think about the organizational culture, the mission or role the organization seeks to fulfill, the favored strategies for accomplishing goals, the behaviors that are rewarded and those that are not, and the subtle hiring filters that tend to screen out people who do not fit. The senior leaders of the organization may or may not reflect the culture. It is immensely valuable for leaders to determine their organization’s personality type to be able to harness the natural strengths of that pattern and avoid the imbedded tendencies that create problems. Leaders are likely to have a strong influence on the development of organizational culture, but without clear awareness they may not realize how the leader and the group are aligned and how they sometimes work in opposition.

As an example, a mid-size utility company instituted leadership development training based on the Enneagram. In assessing several hundred people within the company, it became clear that the organization has a Type Six culture, one of loyalty. The Type Six pattern is reflected in the company’s mission to provide reliable and affordable gas and electric energy to their customers and to promote safety for their employees in power plants and in distribution. Loyalty is highly valued within the company and many employees have worked for the company for twenty years or more. Attention is paid to identifying potential problems and working out solutions before they occur; when there is a power outage due to weather conditions, there is an expectation that the entire workforce will be available to provide support until the situation is resolved. In some Enneagram training groups of individual contributors, up to 50% of the employees determined for themselves—using an assessment tool along with classroom training and guided group discussion—to have a Type Six personality. Among mid-level managers, that percentage drops to around 35%, and in the top group of senior leaders less than 10% assess themselves as having a Type Six personality pattern.

This is not unusual. Why? Because leaders in the C-suites, those who have risen to the top leadership levels, are not equally distributed around the Enneagram circle but tend to cluster in another sub-grouping.

As a leader, there is great value for you to understand your type to build your awareness of your predispositions. It is also important to understand the organization’s type to better understand how you fit within the organization. Understanding your type will lead you to the following questions:

  1. Is your style a natural fit with that of the majority?
  2. What gifts do you bring because of your similarities?
  3. What blind spots are present if too many people share the same personality type?
  4. If you have a different type, how do your predispositions fill gaps?
  5. How do you manage your similarities and differences to both fit and fill gaps?

By answering these questions, you will have a clearer sense of how you, as a leader, may best contribute and some of the inherent struggles if you have a different type than the majority that comprises the culture. While being part of the minority allows you to fill gaps, you may also find yourself excluded or struggling to communicate effectively. It is through self-awareness and skillful interactions that you will be able to navigate any organizations predispositions.

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
Belinda Gore, PhD focuses on designing, developing and delivering leadership, assessments, workshops, and coaching. She is a key thought leader in the development of the Innovative Leadership framework. She is a psychologist, executive coach, and experienced seminar leader who is skilled in supporting her clients in high-level learning. With 30 years’ experience in leadership development and interpersonal skills training, she is known for helping teams discover strength in their diversity to achieve their mutual goals, and works with individual leaders to access their natural talents to maximize effectiveness and personal satisfaction. Her clients have included senior leadership in global companies, senior and middle management in both corporate and nonprofit organizations, and entrepreneurs. She will be leading our new service line focused on helping leaders and their organizations build resilience along with offering leadership team development, board development, coaching, and Enneagram assessment.

What is a Culture of Innovation and Continuous Learning?

Nimble CultureThis blog is a companion to the interview with Guru Vasudeva on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on April 18, 2017 Nationwide’s Journey to Create a Culture of Innovation and Continuous learning.

Carla’s company had just decided that being agile would create a strategic advantage for them as a company shifting from manufacturing technology to a company that wanted to compete in the data and analytics space. One of the key challenges they needed to address was to shift from a culture of manufacturing for the telecom industry toward a high-tech culture of agility. The first task was to define the cultural principles and agreements about behavior. This blog offers some of the key principles they used to inform their transformation.

To successfully implement an agile or innovative business model, the organizational culture and behavioral agreements need to support agility. This culture model is a product of a combination of Agile software development principles combined with other innovative culture models. Each company will refine culture to align with their specific organization. Culture can make the difference between successful implementation and failure, especially when the organization is making a major change. This is particularly true when organizations move from a more traditional culture to one associated with agility and innovation. This culture model looks at five key elements that we consider foundational to create an environment and agreements that support agility and innovation in a rapidly changing environment.

  1. Customer first. Organizations that are willing to listen to customer recommendations and have a process to evaluate those recommendations have the highest probability of retaining customers and staying ahead of the competition. We create an environment in which we encourage our customers to offer recommendations and we evaluate them systematically to see how we can use them to become more effective.
  2. Collaborative. Organizations that work cross-functionally can create prototypes much more quickly than environments that work sequentially. This means every group and person must consistently have an opportunity to contribute their expertise. It also means we create an environment in which people feel safe to express their perspective.
  3. Rigorous experimentation. We value the creative process. We encourage people to develop hypotheses about how to make changes and test their ideas. We continually learn from controlled and well-crafted experiments. We reward innovation and learning.
  4. Nimble decision making. We recognize that we don’t have perfect information and a decision today can be refined as we learn from our experiments later. In an environment of continual evolution, we will never have full information and often we won’t even have sufficient information to make a long-term decision, but we often have enough information to decide about our next step. We need to know our long-term direction, and reward making decisions and keeping an open mind to revising course when we gain additional information.
  5. Resilient. We value adaptability, flexibility, and curiosity as they are the fuel for our process. Ongoing change requires we build a foundation of well-being that supports ongoing creativity and change. Resilient people respond to situations with an attitude of curiosity and the ability to act with flexibility and adaptability.

We recommend these elements as general guiding principles and corresponding agreements about how we work together as colleagues. When organizations have explicit agreements such as these, they can drive behavior and ensure that organizational processes are aligned. This alignment is as important as having principles and agreements. An example of alignment is retrospective meetings (also called lessons learned meetings) where employees are expected to explore what worked and what did not. These meetings only work if employees are rewarded for sharing what they’ve learned and not punished for making mistakes.

If you are trying to create a culture of agility and innovation, these are some of the elements we recommend you explore.

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.

 

Women in Leadership: Why it Matters and How to Develop It

Susan Madsen Women in Leadership PositionsThis blog is a companion to the interview with Susan R. Madsen and Karen Longman on VoiceAmerica Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations on December 20, 2016, focusing on “Women in Leadership: Why it Matters and How to Develop It.” Susan and Karen, experts and advocates for women as leaders, talk about the role women leaders play in organizations, and how we help to develop and prepare girls and women to take leadership roles. 

Until relatively recently, career women generally used men as role models, emulating them because they were often mentors. Early in my career I did just this. As times have changed, however, I have been trying to understand the value that we, as women leaders, bring to organizations by acting like women rather than, as I was taught, acting like men. By acting like men, we “leave part of our value on the table” because we travel through life in different bodies, being socialized differently and ultimately having different personal and professional experiences. By denying our own experiences, we leave a gap in our ability to lead effectively and minimize what we contribute to an organization.

According to Susan Madsen, “Organizations will increasingly thrive when both men and women hold management and leadership roles.” I wanted to understand these benefits women bring to organizations in leadership and management roles so that I could make a well-researched case to our readers and listeners who may question the general statements that we should include more women in management and leadership because of their differences. Susan’s work quantifies specific value and provides extensive data to support her claims.

For the blog post, I quote Susan’s brief extensively, but not reference her sources. If you are interested in the specific sources, please reference her original work, Utah Women and Leadership Project Research and Policy Brief: “Why Do We Need More Women Leaders in Utah?” (January 12, 2015).

Susan cites five primary benefits that companies receive by building an organization that includes both men and women in leadership and management roles. The number or percentage of each gender depends on the environment.

  1. Improved financial performance: “…companies with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 percent worldwide.” In another reference, research “…showed the following benefits: higher operating results, better stock growth, better economic growth, higher market-to-book value, better corporate governance and oversight, improved corporate sustainability, and overall increased profitability.”
  2. Strengthening organizational culture: “…the Corporate Leadership Council discovered a link connecting commitment to diversity and inclusion with the level of employee engagement.” The study cites several other examples of the impact women in leadership roles have on a company’s culture. “Women leaders also tend to look more carefully at issues of fairness in policies and practices for all employees. A Chinese study found that boards with higher numbers of women were less likely to violate security regulations and to commit fraud.” And finally, “inclusive leadership styles, most commonly found in women, are also linked to reduced turnover and improved performance of diverse teams.”
  3. Increased corporate social responsibility and organizational reputation: “…the Committee for Economic Development argues that having more women on boards helps companies better engage with society.” Another study found “companies viewed as ethical or good corporate citizens were more likely to have more women board directors than companies without those reputations. Internal culture and practices can strengthen organizational reputation.” (Utah Women & Leadership Blog: “Increasing CSR and Organizational Reputation,” June 5, 2015.)
  4. Leveraging Talent: Both male and female qualities are necessary for effective organizations, although the specific situation dictates which qualities are most effective in any given setting. “Women tend to be more holistic rather than linear thinkers. They usually look for win-win instead of win-lose solutions and are often more process-oriented than men are.” In addition to being more holistic, “Women are also known to be more sensitive to nonverbal communication cues and are often more comfortable with ambiguity.” Finally, when looking at another study, “Researchers looked at data from 7,000 leaders and found that, according to subordinates, peers, and superiors, women outperformed men on 12 of 16 measures of outstanding leadership competencies and scored the same as men in the other four. Most significantly, women’s scores lead those of men in taking initiative, practicing self-development, displaying high integrity and honesty, and driving for results.”
  5. Enhancing innovation and collective intelligence: “…research findings revealed that the ‘number of women in the group significantly predicted the effective problem-solving abilities of the group overall.’ As with other studies, the researchers also found that the collective intelligence of the group exceeded the cognitive abilities and aptitudes of the individual members of the group. This collective intelligence is critical to effective decision making and problem solving, as well as high levels of innovation and creativity.”

These data make a strong case that including the right women in leadership and management roles improves organizational performance, and are held true globally and across a broad range of organizations.

For organizations looking for leverage points to improve performance, you may be missing a significant differentiator if you have not evaluated your polices on developing, recruiting, and retaining women.

If you are looking for additional information, the International Leadership Association, in concert with Information Age Publishing, launched a new book series: Women and Leadership: Research, Theory, and Practice. This series asks provocative questions about the status quo, encouragers and discouragers to women’s leadership advancement, explores what strategies are working, and if the “pipeline” is a helpful metaphor for addressing the challenges that still confront high-potential women.

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.

Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations Awarded 2013 International Book Award – ‘Best Business Reference Book’

International Book Award 2013“Leading change starts with leadership and yet, in many organizations, the process of leading change often omits the idea that transforming leaders is an integral part of the overall transformation process,” says Metcalf. This guide to transforming organizations starts with an approach to leadership called innovative leadership. It is a comprehensive model defining five key elements required to successfully transform organizations.

Divided into sections, the first part of this guide focuses on what Innovative Leadership is and how to develop, build, and apply it. It explores the model in detail and gives examples of how an innovative leader can use these elements in transformation efforts.

The second section focuses on the process of leading transformative change. This section puts innovative leadership to action by building on exercises from Section One. It provides a change model, gives an example of how an innovative leader transforms his organization, and offers practical tools and steps to lead change.

A common reason for transformation failure is that leaders focus on the systems, rather than the larger context that includes themselves as leader and the organizational culture. Because innovative leadership influences by engaging the four dimensions of belief, action, culture, and systems equally, innovative leaders are uniquely qualified—and have a much higher success rate—to transform organizations.

During this decade of increased complexity and failed change initiatives, and amid an accelerated need for change, it is critical for organizations to identify new models that address these challenges while maintaining efficient and effective operations. This Guide provides models that increase your ability to successfully implement sustained change.

“This guide offers leaders a pragmatic set of tools to concurrently transform themselves and their organizations. Alignment is particularly important when transforming complex international organizations, and this book helps leaders align themselves their organizational culture, and their systems to ensure success. The combination of theory and practice make this a must-read leadership book!” says Willim I. Brustein, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Glogal Strategies and International Affairs, Professor of Sociology, Political Science, and History, The Ohio State University.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Transforming Organizations Using Innovative Leadership

Change Leadership PerspectiveSarah was the Vice President of Marketing for a Fortune 100 company when we met several years ago. She was known throughout her division for the bright colors that she wore and for her equally bright disposition. Her ability to help people she feel almost instantly comfortable was a well-crafted skill. Sarah rose through the ranks in the company starting out as a sales assistant and then slowly earned her way to progressively more responsibility.  As an executive she was centered, focused, and highly successful. Having a conversation with Sarah in this setting felt that something of importance was about to transpire.

When we last met, she told a story of a senior director. “He was a top salesman when he came to us and was quickly moved into our high-achievers program. His numbers were always solid and his group was very productive when he was a manager.” At that, she looked down and paused.  “But even then” she remarked, “I would hear of incidents where people left meetings feeling demoralized—he has such strong people skills and is so bright—I thought these incidents must have been attempts to help his staff stretch. Now, in retrospect, I think I missed some warning signs. We are at the point where he has stepped on so many toes that nobody wants to work with him.”

Problems like those of this senior director are as complex as they are common. Though he had all of the technical skills, intelligence, and motivation to be a very effective leader, staff turnover, poor collaboration, and a reputation as being difficult to work with found him doing as much harm to his company as good. Part of the challenge in building innovative leadership is learning to leverage the clarity of your introspection. Looking inside yourself and examining the make-up of your inner being, enables you to function in a highly grounded way, rather than operating from the innate biases of more uninformed decision-making. This ability to reflect and consider how as a leader you need to change as part of the larger change initiative is critical to leading successful organizational transformation efforts.

Accelerating change continues to impact every facet of business. To thrive long term, business leaders must make implementing change a core competency that allows them to capitalize on our changing world instead of merely attempting to adapt to it.

Organizations clearly need innovation to successfully navigate the new economic landscape—and they are not getting it. It’s relatively rare for transformation programs to deliver the results that were projected in the original business case. Simply put, companies attempting to traverse the new economic landscape with incomplete tactics will not succeed. In addition to looking at tactics used to implement change, we also need to look at the impact leadership has on the organization’s ability to successfully implement change. An exclusive focus on systems’ performance and analytics can prove costly. Enhancing organizational capacity must extend beyond increasing system functionality.

If, in addition to developing better functional processes, you begin to clarify strategic vision, grow leadership capacity, and build a cohesive company culture, you will achieve much greater and more sustainable success.

Complex challenges illuminate deeply held beliefs and force a change in how work is done, and also in the leaders themselves and an organization’s values. What results is more than a process change or innovation translation. A complex solution not only creates changes in processes, but allows a natural progression and forum in which to explore and develop personal values and beliefs, behaviors, and interactions. The most effective solutions to complex challenges are those that change the leader and the organization’s relationship to processes, values, behaviors, and interactions. In other words, the change process works on the leader at the same time the leader works on the change.

The concept of leading change starts with leadership and yet in many organizations the process often omits the idea that transforming leaders is part of the overall transformation process.

Innovative leadership is based on the recognition that four dimensions (intention, behavior, culture, and systems) exist in all experiences, and already influence every interactive experience we have. To deny the interplay of any one of the four dimensions is missing the full picture. You can only build innovative leadership by simultaneously addressing all four dimensions.

Because innovative leadership influences by engaging the four dimensions equally, balanced leaders are uniquely qualified to implement complex change with a much higher success rate. A primary reason for transformation failure is that leaders focus primarily on the systems, rather than the larger context that includes themselves as leader and the organizational culture.

Combining innovative leadership with a comprehensive change model to solve complex problems leads to a higher success rate. This success rate is possible because this new model:

  • Addresses complex problems by analyzing them and developing comprehensive solutions beyond those found in traditional problem-solving approaches;
  • Addresses the four dimensions: a leader’s intention and behavior along with the organization’s culture and systems in a systematic manner that creates alignment between them;
  • Includes the innovative leader in the change process by expecting the leader to innovate how they lead to keep pace with the challenges they are solving.

During this era of increased complexity, an accelerated need for change, and failed change initiatives, it’s critical for organizations to identify new models which address these challenges while maintaining efficient and effective operations.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

photo credit: www.flickr.com suez92

Randy Wilcox – Culture of Customer Service Creates a Competitive Advantage

Randy Wilcox is a Principal in the firm of Long and Wilcox which is a central-Ohio based real estate development company, a partner in Wilcox Development which is a Chicago based real-estate development company, and the Founder and Owner of Quest Business Centers. He founded Quest Business Centers in 1998 and Quest is currently the leading provider of business conference space in central Ohio.  He founded SARCOM, Inc. in 1983. SARCOM grew to become a national provider of technology products and services and had nearly $1 billion in sales by 1999.

Randy Wilcox has served on a number of non-profit boards including the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Central Ohio (board member and Treasurer), the Technology Leadership Council and the OhioHealth Foundation which he chaired. He is also the former Columbus Chapter Chairman of the Young Presidents’ Organization, and a member of both the World Presidents’ Organization and the Chief Executives Organization.

Randy was a featured speaker of the TechColumbus 2011 Leadership Series sponsored by Vorys in December.

Randy talked about the key themes for success of his businesses over the past several decades:

  • Customer service must be a priority
  • Culture matters
  • Hire and retain great sales people
  • Implement strong financial reporting and controls

While all of these themes were critical to his success, the one that struck me as most interesting was how he differentiated a technology service business through creating a culture of exceptional customer service.  If your product is not differentiated, price is the main factor in making the buying decision.  Why Culture?  It is hard to create and copy so a company that gets it right can create a relatively sustainable advantage.

How did he use culture of customer satisfaction to create a premium product in IT Services?

Every employee at SARCOM knew that customer satisfaction was the most important thing they did.  When customers came in to meet Randy, he indicated that if they could walk around and ask any employee what their top priority was, all employees would indicate customer satisfaction.  If they did not, the person asking the question would get $100.  Evidently, universally, employees gave the same answer, customer satisfaction is most important.  So how did he create this culture?

  • Employees were given customer skills training
  • Employees were empowered to spend up to $500 to fix the customer complaint
  • He personally attended monthly meetings at 18 locations
  • They conducted surveys and USED the data as the foundation for root cause analysis and change

What did the company do to fix problems?

They tracked employee ability to solve problems and created a standard process based on the success they observed.  The process was:

  • Listen
  • Agree with the customer
  • Apologize for the inconvenience and frustration they experienced
  • Fix the problem
  • Follow up to ensure the problem was fixed
  • Offer a token to restore the balance for their inconvenience – often a note of apology with a tin of cookies.

This culture of satisfaction was very similar to the culture Cheryl Kruger created at Cheryl’s Cookies.  Her company was also known for a very high level of service as well as innovation.  The proof of success is in the level of customer retention and in the top and bottom line performance.  SARCOM was a very successful company at the time Randy Wilcox sold it.  He is using similar principles for Quest Business Centers.  I am a regular customer of Quest and select them over other providers because of their exception service.

Randy Wilcox has combined his value of customer service the following elements to create a winning formula for the success of multiple companies he has run or advised as a board member:

  • time to attend regular customer satisfaction meetings,
  • empowering employees to spend the company’s money to address issues,
  • creating consistent processes to address customer problems, and
  • surveying customers to find ways to improve

What are your company differentiators?  Are you creating a comprehensive system of leadership behaviors, culture, processes and measures to leverage those differentiators?

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.