Be Bold and Flexible In Leading Others

One of the challenges that leaders face is the need to customize their approach to individuals under their charge, at the same time as driving corporate performance. Far easier is it to try a singular approach–either one we’ve seen others before us model or one that is very comfortable. To be observant and empathetic enough to notice what others need, in what measures, and at what distinct moments delivered in ways that are point is a skill–particularly if you as a leader are able to do this consistently for many who look to you for guidance, direction, and nurture.

Nick Petrie from the Center for Creative Leadership wrote, “Hindsight does not lead to foresight since the elements and conditions of the system can be in continual flux”? Understanding what we should have done in a particular situation does not, as Petrie indicates, bode well necessarily for interacting with others going foreward. 

Jane Perdue, in a blog post last Friday, says that “it’s time to hang up on heroic leadership — the notion that a single person has all the answers — and embrace a new orientation to leading yourself and others: flexibility.” She quotes Scott Yorkovich, adjunct faculty at Capella University, in defining  flexible leadership as the “ability to receive and process diverse and potentially conflicting sources of information, the openness to implement a variety of strategic solutions, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions.”

Perdue  writes that “getting comfortable with ambiguity is a must in a turbulent business environment filled with perpetual transitions. Having a boundary-spanning mindset is crucial for successful personal and professional leadership.” She recommends the tips below to assist in developing a leadership style that is adaptive and connecting:

contrarian

  • Be the water. The past’s linear lessons have questionable applicability in today’s hyper-connected, technology-driven, multiple-generations business world. The mental scripts we’ve written based on our past experiences can limit our ability to think and respond creatively, a performance gap that can render us obsolete. Flexible leaders are fluid — managing to drive change and innovation while still preserving a core of stability.
  • Transcend ego. Agile leaders naturally think less of “me” and more of “we,” having long ago abandoned command-and-control power trips. As Ben Dattner, adjunct professor at New York University, advises us, “Twenty-first century leaders might benefit from thinking of themselves as being in the center of a web rather than on top of a pyramid.”
  • Keep the number of rules, policies and procedures to a minimum. Four-inch-thick policy binders foster rigidity and stifle innovation. Flexible leaders know when to go by the book and when to take a risk. “If you want to encourage more risk-taking in your company or your unit, you’ll need to reduce the conflicting signals and create an environment where the benefits of taking a risk outweigh the costs,” writes Ron Ashkenas, an organizational transformation consultant.
  • Embrace the contrarian. We’re rewarded for and conditioned to rely on our strengths, a default position that sometimes prompts us to marginalize ideas generated by those with whom we disagree or discount. The trouble is that over-reliance on a strength can become a weakness. Flexible leaders seek out those with alternate points of views and listen closely to what they have to say before things go wrong.
  • Think paradoxically. Managing contradictions and opposites are the power breakfast of flexible leaders. One’s leadership focus may be on task completion, yet there is still an understanding that building and maintaining relationships is equally important. Flexible leaders are both strong and vulnerable, provide both structure and managed chaos, and value hard and soft skills equally.

 

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Pieces of 8 Need to Become All of 8

Have you ever heard the phrase, “work on your business instead of in it?” Michael Gerber (he of the E-Myth book notoriety) popularized this concept if he didn’t invent the phrase. Gerber chastises business owners for trying to do everything instead of doing the strategic things that will grow the business. He points out that the “jack of all trades,” “chief cook and bottlewasher,” etc epithets are crutches and should not be celebrated. Instead, he recommends systems over personalities and methodologies in lieu of gut instinct. 

Many years after writing the E-Myth, Gerber is still speaking, writing, and training. A blog post earlier today at Inc.com addressed what he considers to be the 8 Essential Parts to a Business (And How They Work Together.) He begins by saying that one “must understand that a small business is a system in which all parts contribute to the success or failure of the whole:”Model T assembly

Like Henry Ford understood the relationship between the Ford Motor Car and the Ford Motor Company (which manufactures, sells and services the car), you must understand the connection between all the parts in your business and how your company relates to the world.

Here are the essential parts of your business:

1. Consumer

Perhaps you’ve spent your life working in an industry. You know all about that industry from the inside. But building a business requires going outside. You must consider your customer’s needs first and foremost.

2. Competitor

Every customer is being pursued by other companies in competition to yours. They are all making offers to solve the same problem your business solves. Your job is to analyze those solutions, and know how yours is better.

3. Channels of Distribution

There are numerous channels of distribution available to you, but you need to know which ones are most effective for your business. The channels you ultimately choose will determine your reach and your cost.

4. Media

How will you get the word out about your business? You could get on the news by doing something newsworthy, or by buying advertising. Get yourself out there as often as you can.

5. Financial

This involves capitalizing your new venture. Likely, your first steps will be bootstrapping–or financing through yourself and those you know. Down the road, investors may be a possibility, but all the pieces of your business must be running smoothly.

6. Strategic

The strategic part of your business is what happens inside it. They include Strategy, Marketing, Operations and Finance–the four essential functions in your business.

7. Tactical

The tactical aspect of your business overlaps into Marketing, Operations and Finance. This is the execution of the strategy that you have created.

8. Incremental

All the work done by the workers in your business falls into this category. The tactical part lays out the tactics, the incremental part performs them.

You can tell that Michael Gerber is no novice when it comes to entrepreneurial matters. He has a keen ability to cut through words and phrases that are over used, and therefore meaningless, to succinctly get a point across. His entire hypothesis is that a business is an organization of many individual parts that work together in processes not unlike the human body and its respective systems.

When one component part is malfunctioning or misguided, it affects the other parts. Collaboration, synergy, and harmony arise when we achieve coordination of effort. Such clarity masterfully improves operating performance!

 

anti-Innovation Sentiment and Intrapreneurship Collide

In order to stay current in a subject area that is constantly changing, one must be well read and, beyond that, follow the bets though leaders around. Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss intrapreneurship in person with one of my favorite innovation bloggers, Jeffrey Phillips. Tonight, I read a blog post by one of my other favorites, Gijs van Wulfen.

Gijs tackles the subject of anti-innovators in his recent post.  His writing echoes some of what Jeffrey and I discussed last week. As we  looked at different models for commercializing business ideas last week, we camped out for a while on what stultifies innovation. While many leaders acknowledge that innovation is a top priority, they would also be quick to add that implementation of innovative practices can be a challenge. The consequences, according to Phillips, include: 

 Poor execution of innovation goals
 Failure to achieve strategic goals
 Limited organizational design to sustain innovation
 The growth of disbelief or cynicism when innovation isn’t pursued.

Stubborn personvan Wulfen describes personnel as a main hindrance. He writes of employees who “are stuck in their habits.. ignorant the world is changing fast and (thinking) they have nothing to fear.” He goes on to describe the anti-innovator as a (negative) contributor to team culture:

There are often quite a few anti-innovators. Everybody knows this extravert guy or woman who is anti-everything. They have “the biggest mouth” at the lunch table in the company restaurant. Their influence on the company’s culture is often quite substantial. Don’t underestimate their impact. The herd goes as fast as the slowest animals. If the anti-innovators lean back nothing moves. So how do you get them up and running. That’s the question.

You can try to convince them. Unfortunately that often fails because they are experts in coming up with idea killers like: “We are too small for that… There is no budget… We need to do more research… We don’t have time… It’s too risky… That’s for the future. Everything is OK now.”

You can try to do it without them. But that won’t work either. You need an awful lot of colleagues and bosses to share your vision before a big change can truly take place. You need R&D engineers, production managers, IT staff, financial controllers, marketers, service people and salesmen to develop the product, produce it, get it on the market and service it. You can’t do it without them: you can’t innovate alone.

The way to get anti-innovators up and running is to respect them, to understand them, to connect with them and to let them experience change is necessary. They will only change their attitude if they get new insights themselves. So, you have to give them a chance to discover what’s happening out there. Invite them to join your innovation team and take them out on an expedition to discover how markets, customers, competitors and technology are changing.

If they, as the slowest animals of the herd, find out there’s a group of hungry lions following the herd they stop leaning backwards. They start running too as necessity is the mother of invention. They will spread the urgency to innovate among their colleagues. And that’s good news because If the slowest animals start running, your organization’s innovation power really gets up to speed.

Think about the anti-innovators in your organization. What motivates them? Do they travel in herds? How can innovators infiltrate their ranks yet respect them and build bridges for collaboration? As a mentor in an upcoming venture challenge competition, I will be working with teams that must have creatives and analysts. Often, including an anti-innovator on your launch team can bring helpful perspective. Stew on it!

 

Run Your Business Better With Games For the Mind

Owning a business is not a game. Seemingly, playing games is also irrelevant to running a business. Yet, there are skills requisite to entrepreneurship that may require development through practice. Whether one struggles with memory, focus, recall, or eliminating distractions, there may be a game to help you strengthen your mental capacity.

PositscienceThere is a growing number of “brain games” that help with decision making and memory improvement. Lumosity.com, which makes games for these needs, reached 35 million users earlier this year. Joe Hardy, PhD and Vice President of Research and Development for Lumosity, believes brain games are ideal for business owners. “Owning a business is one of the most cognitively challenging jobs,” Hardy says.

Lindsay LaVine, writing for Entrepreneur.com, says that, “Business owners have to process information accurately, balance projects, switch between tasks quickly and efficiently, divide their attention among tasks, and remember customers’ names. We took a look at three popular brain game providers to find out what the buzz is about:”

Lumosity.com

LumosityThe largest provider of brain games, the site works to train your brain in five categories: speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving. “Each exercise is designed to train a different cognitive function of the brain,” Hardy explains. The games are based on neurological research performed by researchers from various institutions, including Columbia University and the University of California-Berkeley.

Lumosity’s in-house team of developers creates games based on what research shows exercises various parts of the brain. For example, Memory Matrix requires players to remember which tiles appear in a matrix and recall the pattern from memory, which helps improve spatial recall and working memory. “Think of it as a personal trainer for your brain,” Hardy says. He recommends that users spend 10-20 minutes every day playing brain games, as opposed to spending two hours one day and skipping out on the rest. “It’s like going to the gym,” Hardy says. “The more training you do, the better. The goal is to create a habit that’s sustainable and keeps you engaged.”

Lumosity offers a free limited membership that allows users to participate in some games, while the paid membership provides full access to the site and tracks your BPI (Brain Performance Index, a measure of cognitive performance) progress over time. Paid memberships range from monthly to lifetime options ranging from $15 a month to $80 a year.

Positscience.com

Positscience logoPositscience offers brain training in five categories: attention, brain speed, memory, people skills and intelligence. (A new category, navigation, will be available on the site soon.) Posit Science games include enhancing a user’s ability to read facial expressions, from easy (happy or sad) to the more difficult (puzzled or embarrassed). Its games also help users improve facial recognition as well as matching names with faces and remembering facts about people you meet, an important skill in networking and business.

Posit Science has developed games in collaboration with researchers from nearly a dozen universities, including Yale and Stanford. You can try some of the games out for free without having to sign up. Posit Science offers memberships at $14 a month or $96 a year.

Cogmed.com

CogmedCogmed is designed to improve working memory to allow users to learn new skills in academic or professional endeavors. Users are encouraged to spend up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week on training exercises over a five week period. Training is only available through programs offered by accredited coaches who monitor user results and provide motivation. Many programs are supervised by doctors or psychologists who specialize in attention problems.

Prices vary according to the program selected and the professional coach’s fees. The program is best for people who have working memory issues caused by ADHD, anxiety in social settings, or adjusting quickly to new tasks. 

 

Entrepreneurs With Too Much Passion Are Challenged

Diana Ransom is a contributing editor to Entrepreneur.com and queried in an article today whether lack of focus is an issue in startup failure. She cites the usual suspects (inadequate capitalization, poor market timing, and “founder fatigue”), but then notes that there’s no plausible explanation in other situations. Ransom’s case in point is the decision by founder Campbell McKellar to close the doors of New York City based Loosecubes in November after what seemed to be an incredible run. While McKellar was praised as articulate and poised, Ransom went on to postulate that maybe she had too many passions and it became her undoing.

LoosecubesThe 2.5 year journey attracted 25,000 subscribers in 60+ countries in an office-sharing play that has been copied by Desktime in Chicago. Ransom said she felt the idea was taking off, as evidenced by $9 million in venture capital funding and a staff of 16, all run by a phenomenal young entrepreneur. The sudden decision to close up shop with no media interviews by the founder gives rise to Ransom’s observation that there must be an underlying cause such as too many competing interests:

Like novelists who write several books, entrepreneurs often harbor multiple business ideas, and they love all of them. This is where problems arise; rather than building and running one business for decades, they’re itching to give the next idea a try. In fact, selling or shutting down a business can serve as a form of catharsis.

Naturally, there’s a financial loss associated with failure, but there’s also a sense of closure that people in the career world don’t really ever get to feel. That business (aka your baby) is gone. And while employees who get laid off often look for a new job in the same field, entrepreneurs can consider something entirely different. They can break new ground, explore undiscovered territories. While fraught with uncertainty, it’s also exciting. It’s the thrill of the launch. I suspect this is what happened to McKellar.

Ransom has interviewed many entrepreneurs and has experience identifying with their motivations. She writes that, “If you can identify with these flights of fancy–and you’re aware that they’ve become an impediment to your business trajectory–let me offer a suggestion: Instead of seeking your bliss by creating specific products or services, fall for something that can work across any business. Tony Hsieh (the serial entrepreneur and CEO of Zappos) has a (well-known) major crush on customer service. That’s his thing no matter what business he’s in. His long-held belief that quality customer service will make or break consumer companies helped him create a beloved online retailer, which Amazon.com acquired in 2009 for an estimated $1.2 billion. Now, customer service may be Hsieh’s cup of tea, but yours may differ. And that’s OK. Just make sure there’s something in your entrepreneurial passion that will hold your focus well after your initial idea has matured. Your eventual success depends on it.”

While identifying a strong suit and core value like customer service that can transcend products and services ideas is a good idea. I would argue that there is nothing wrong with being the other kind of entrepreneur. One key proviso: find a way to build a superstar team around yourself sooner than later so that you can effectively delegate responsibilities that draw you into the doldrums of running a business instead of the excitement of launching an idea. 

Those who are able to build teams that function without their requisite involvement are freed to do more of what they wish–even becoming a serial entrepreneur like Tony Hsieh!