As a kid, my parents would start to strategically plant the words “naughty” and “nice” beginning in late November. The Santa card was powerful, and they played it early and often. By December 25, I was seriously contemplating whether Santa was carrying coal or candy in his sack while always remaining optimistic that a surprise of a lifetime would be waiting for me under the tree.
Ah, to be young again.
Today, the time between Christmas and the new year has me thinking about my own families; the one I have at home and the ones that depend on me at work. I suspect that I am not alone in my desire to make as many holiday wishes come true as possible.
So with this in mind, I offer you a short list of wishes that I often hear from the most impressive CEOs I know. More important, I’ve added some of the ways these CEOs make these wishes come true.
I wish for…
1) A Team That Embraces Change
For years, your best employees came to work and were experts. They got better and better doing specific jobs really well. They were more efficient, squeezed more margin, created ways to work “the system” better than your competitors. Then one day they showed up and everything was different. The world was shifting. They needed to sell different things, in different ways, to different customers.
In the past, you asked them to be more competent. Now you are asking them to embrace incompetence; to fail forward; to experiment; to try new things to help your organization stay ahead.
Welcome to the future, where the old rules no longer apply and the average employee is scared to death. It’s no wonder that so many (failing) companies are facing cultures that double down on the practices that worked in the past while their competitors are busy reinventing the future.
To deal with this new reality, the best leaders have become absolutely obsessive about customer focus. They understand that the company that knows and can learn to anticipate the needs of the customer better and faster wins every single time.
If you are paying attention, you’re hearing phrases like “Voice of the Customer” and “Voice of the Employee” uttered within impressive organizations. For the most innovative companies, these phrases point to rigorous and disciplined practices designed to create an unfair competitive advantage.
I wish for…
2) A Really Big Idea: To Be Innovative
Most of us were brought up on the notion that it only takes one big idea to change the world. CEOs are no different. But the best CEOs understand the difference between invention and innovation. This is important because the not-so-subtle difference can cost your company billions.
Invention is a having an idea and looking for someone who needs it. Innovation is starting with a significant insight (one worthy of your company’s attention) and then and only then creating a unique way to solve it—the more protectable and in line with your company’s capabilities and brand, the better.
Related Article: Innovation Nation?
The company of the future knows how to discover, construct, force rank and actualize great insights.
I wish for…
My friend Colonel Bernie Banks is the director of West Point’s Leadership Development Program. His job is to teach our nation’s greatest warriors how to think under extreme pressure. So when Bernie talks about leadership, people listen, lest they get their heads blown off.
Bernie introduced me to the concept of VUCA; or how to lead in a world that is becoming more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. We use this construct to help leaders empower their teams through storytelling, embracing collective IQs, attaching clear meaning to work, embracing agility, and granting permission to embrace the harshest realities threatening a company.
The Dalai Lama once said, “the greatest gift you can give a child is to prepare him for great change.” Great leaders and West Point all agree with the Dalai Lama. Is your team ready to take the hill?
I wish for…
4) Millennial Magic
Millennials are one of the most misunderstood generations ever—just ask them. And behind every millennial (people born during the early 1980s and 1990s) is a company or leader trying to win their hearts, minds and pocketbooks.
Related Article: Surviving the Imminent Millennial Takeover
Another friend Simon Sinek likes to say, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” The growing and powerful “conscious capitalism” movement is grounded in the premise that companies can do well by doing good; that social impact should be as important as financial impact.
Two years ago we restated our Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) as 100x. We literally strive to create a 100x return on the time and money our customers and teammates invest in our company. Early next year, I’ll send a letter to our customers and team members outlining how we contributed more than 10 percent of our profits to nonprofit organizations outside our company in an effort to create 100x return. While we were focusing on helping our clients reinvent their futures, most all of our nonprofit contributions this year had something to do with helping children. Given the proper support, kids have this uncanny ability to create exponential returns.
I never would have had the courage to be so public about these efforts if it were not for the insistent voice of millennials to make a difference—OR ELSE.
The old political correctness allowed celebrities to rally behind charities that supported puppies and kittens because everybody loves soft, furry things. Meanwhile, we were asked to keep our charities to ourselves. Because of millennials, there is a growing and important consciousness around making a difference, whatever the cause.
Great leaders are starting to understand this.
I wish for…
5) A Happy Team
Which brings me to the ultimate wish of every great leader: a legacy of challenged, fulfilled teammates. Here we must all deal with the never-ending tension between profits, people and pride; how much is enough; who matters most; and what drives ours.
For the most successful leaders, the answers to these challenges seem to boil down to two tenets: no margin, no meaning; and the toughest decisions must be made for the good of the whole.
Happy New Year.
This article was originally published by Free the Idea Monkey
Published: January 9, 2015