We’re a risk-averse culture. We may want want to change that, to promote innovation, but we need to do it in a risk-averse safe way. How can you help us with that?”
That’s what we heard from a Talent Management Director a few weeks ago – in a large American company that’s been under fire, that replaced its CEO and that’s waiting for new marching orders about what comes next to salvage a damaged reputation and create value.
In sharp contrast, here’s an article about the courage of CEOs who’ve created value by setting bold new growth agendas for their major corporations. We don’t often think about powerful Fortune 100 CEOs living with fear when they think about their boards, their analysts and the hundreds of naysayers who would prefer to keep things on an even keel. But they do live with that fear. And the way they manage fear – and do what creates value, rather than what avoids controversy – ultimately is what makes the difference.
Our answer to our friend in Talent Management: Start small. Find the pioneers who want to make a difference, who have an intrapreneurial fire in their belly to step up as Level 4 leaders, and give them the skills they need to promote themselves to Level 5 as well. Show them how to shape a more entrepreneurial culture, one task force meeting, teleconference, email exchange, bizdev proposal, tense C-suite presentation and business case at a time. And make it fun to splash around in the pool – so they aren’t afraid of the water – starting in the shallow end with simulations like FreshBiz and Haida Gwaii Adventure, before venturing into the deep end and high-tide waves of real business initiatives with real value-creation potential.
Every CEO cited in this Forbes news article didn’t do it alone. They all had a team of pioneers and innovators in their matrix – offering new ideas, in-licensing new possibilities, running forward-looking analytics, using diverse perspectives, conflict and creative tension to sharpen thinking. The CEOs got credit and were the public face to the world. But the real work happened from the middle-out, not the top-down, before they got permission and before their ideas were solicited. The best ideas didn’t just bubble up – they were championed up, artfully and convincingly.
The CEO of one of our largest clients – a global $6 billion corporation – said it best. “We may say, ‘No,’ when the value isn’t immediately clear and when we’ve got other priorities in mind. But the best ideas come from leaders who hear ‘No’ and come back with something better, presented in a way that we can hear it better, with a risk-mitigation plan that mobilizes the support you’ll need to execute and create value. That’s what innovation leadership training should prepare you to do – if you’ve got the desire to step up and make a difference.”
Do you want to know if a leader has the desire to be a trailblazer or pioneer? Or if you’ve got what it takes to make a difference? Take this assessment to see.Then – have fun learning to swim!
Dr Merom Klein and Dr Louise Yochee Klein are Principals with Courage Growth Partners, the innovation leadership consultancy that equips pioneers and trailblazers to lead from the middle with courage, shaping a Level 5 innovation culture one meeting, telecon, email exchange and board presentation at a time.