Putting people first: Cass Business School
How can leaders in the region foster a culture of innovation?
Uncertainty makes life difficult for everyone, from the individual to the organisation. Both need some stability to think, plan and deliver. The more uncertainty the faster that cycle has to be and the more likely things are to go wrong. So above all leaders and organisations need to be outward looking – to have assessed what customers and the market need accurately – and also flexible and agile – so they can respond swiftly to changes. That requires the ability to innovate as a result.
The problem is that innovation demands that the organisation and its leaders are open to new information and ideas. For some that is a major change in thinking – not only giving people the freedom to pass on and discuss what they see happening but also to question legacy systems and processes. This must also be done proactively, but simply. It’s about having regular and open discussions on “how could we be more focused on the customer/market?” or “how could we be better at what we do?” where the leader genuinely listens to their people and then takes action.
That action could be to implement within the team or pass on the information to strategic level so that it improves decision making there. Innovation only comes with frequent, open and challenging discussions focused on delivering success. But any leader could do that tomorrow if they wanted.
What are your expectations for the coming year regarding organisations leadership capabilities?
Leadership capability has to improved everywhere. From all the surveys across the region, and indeed the world, we know that a significant number of leaders lack the most basic capabilities to be effective. Organisations assume that if they put someone in a leadership role they can lead. That’s like putting someone in a car and assuming they can drive well, not always correct! Despite this organisations then set out their strategy and ask these leaders to make it happen.
Obviously some will do a good job but a significant lack of base capability in the majority means that the chances of delivering the success possible is low. That’s effectively because the base capability to plan and deliver top quality outcomes though inspiring people just isn’t there. However it’s something that can be put in place very quickly and low cost.
That’s exactly why I developed the simple concept of Mach 2 leadership : just 2 steps to delivering success, inspiring people to focus their best onto what delivers that success. If that is done over the coming year across the region that would transform the performance of individuals, teams, organisations and economies.
What advice would you give to leaders to gain respect, innovate and navigate through turbulent times?
I spoke a few years ago to an audience of CEOs and HRDs in Athens. I was asked a question I have never had before: “What does a leader do when people have given up hope as their world is in pieces?” So we often think times are turbulent, but often there are others who are having an even more turbulent time. The advice is the same, the leader’s role is to provide as much stability and support as possible. It’s about building an environment where people think “we” and not “me”. That creates a mutually supportive team where everyone can be focused on a common goal.
That’s what Mach 2 leadership is really all about – if we genuinely work together we will succeed and navigate these turbulent times. But not only that; where people are feeling supported by their leader and colleagues they will support the leader in return and they will be happy to innovate as they will see innovation as a way to get even better.
At its most simple level leaders should as themselves the question “Why should my people care about me, the organisation or its customers if I and the organisation haven’t shown we care about them?” The steps to take are so simple – show you care, show you can be trusted, then show you can lead.
How can leaders encourage a ‘growth mindset’ among the people they are leading?
A growth mindset requires people to know what needs to be done, to want to do it and to have the ability to deliver. So leaders have to make sure that this is possible. Its therefore about awareness of the bigger picture, motivation to give your best and an organisation that lets you do it.
People naturally want to grow and get better, they want their teams and organisations to be the best. It is not about injecting anything new into them it just about unleashing the potential that already exists. That’s the leaders responsibility. To create an environment where that can happen. It’s not complicated it’s just about giving permission for people to develop, think and innovate, then proactively encouraging a “growth mindset via regular brainstorming and then implementing the best ideas.
That will create an inspirational example of success to encourage others and inspiration breeds more inspiration. But as Mach 2 leadership shows people will only have an innovative growth mindset if the leader is at Mach 2 level – where people feel passionate and safe to grow and develop themselves, the team and the organisation. Again, like innovation, this can be done quickly and simply by any leader taking the initiative to get the team together to work out an inspiring vision of the future and planning together how to make it happen.
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