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Leadership from the ground up

August 29, 2016
Borderless Leadership

People have been trying to improve leadership a bit at a time. What if we followed the model of the Tesla designers who didn’t want to just tweak a car already designed but start over?

Their designers wanted a totally electric car that had all the details and needs of customers today and a way to update the car seamlessly with new features as they arrived. They started from the ground up and build a car that constantly pleases their customers with innovations they didn’t even know they needed or wanted.

What if we look at leadership in this same way, from the ground up? What are the essentials that would make great leaders? Let’s take a look.

Holding the Vision

It seems so many people working in a company don’t know what their vision is and yet leaders say they have said it many, many times. Your vision is the “what” and the “why” your company is in business – it effects everyone’s daily decisions in the entire organization.

Listen to what problems your teams are solving. Are they in-line with the vision, the “what” and the “why”? If not, ask them, “How does that fit with our vision?” and if it can’t be explained, ask, “Should we modify our vision to include the problem you are working on?”

Customer Value Driven

From the time you step into the Tesla, it feels like every need and want has been designed into the car. Everything seems to be perfect for the driver and the rider. As the door closes, the window goes up an inch to complete the seal. The back seat has its own sun roof. It all seems there except you still have to buckle your own seat belt!

The car runs by computer (yes, it can self-drive but still in the beta stage) and can be updated instantly through the internet. And car problems are identified through the computer and either fixed through the internet or service is provided at your home or work.

Leaders must truly listen to their customers and discover what they really need. It has to be a direct communication with a direct feedback look that is maintained with integrity. Stop listening to what Product Managers “think” their customer want and the same with sales. Find out through site visits and don’t let the feedback get diluted between the customer and the problem solvers.

The feedback loop must be frequent and with real or potential customers. Let your customers prioritize the next features they want – as a group. Create a customer forum consisting of all the different types of customers you might have, large and small. Let these people decide what features they want to see and try.

You can’t find any customers? This lament is heard too often and means you aren’t looking for them. One company wanted to make a website where people could create a postcard, submit an address list and the company would print and mail the card. The product and development team complained they could not find any customers but it was an election year. I don’t know about you but in an election year my snail mail box gets filled with political postcards. They were plenty of customers at the local political offices who would be happy to test and give feedback on such a service.

Create a Culture Where Innovation Thrives

As a recent company came under new leadership due to a buyout, innovation started to grind to a halt. A trial and error, or learning event, would previously take one week and had been stretched out to six weeks! At a closer look, the leadership had no clear vision and the new owners were stressing improved productivity which often means a layoff. Fear of losing one’s job or position was foremost in everyone’s mind.

In environments of change, where we all live today, learning from mistakes and rewards for risk taking must be paramount. Create a culture where mistakes are learned from and people do not live in fear. Talk about how to recover from a mistake, not how you got there. Ask, “What have we all learned from this event?” And create a safe place for people to fail, a place where customer feedback is trusted and discussed openly and with honesty. Make sure there is plenty of challenges that involve finding an innovative solution.

Get Out of the Way

Finally, stay out of the way of the people solving the problem, those figuring out the “how”. Challenge them with questions but never give them the answers. When one leader of a $125 million project was asked how they define project leadership, she answered, “You tell me what you want to do and I help you make it happen.”

Constantly walk the floor and watch for people that are struggling which usually means they are blocked somehow. Focus your time on unblocking and enabling people to solve the problem their way. You will learn in the process if they are in-line with the vision.


“But it has worked so far. What should I change?” Is it really working? Do you feel your organization is working at its full potential? That the cycle of innovation is fast enough to compete and most importantly, meet your customer needs? Are you staying out of the “how” business and focusing on the “what’ and “why”? And have you figured out the language needed so everyone in your organization can understand the vision?

Maybe it is time to build leadership from the ground up.

By Pollyanna Pixton

Source: Forbes

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