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Tom's Insights

Leadership

Leadership Keynote Speaker

As a leadership keynote speaker, when I speak, I aim for the heart. Because it is there that every single one of us truly wants to live life to the fullest. In our hearts, we all want to deliver our best for our coworkers, ourselves, our customers. Our best efforts emerge when our “heart is in it.”  An effective message inspires the heart when it is focused, direct and jargon-free. When successfully delivered, real power is unleashed. People find new-found belief in themselves. An urgent behavior to succeed in a turbulent world not only through a set of thoughts, but a set of feelings. Feelings that create fast-moving actions that are focused on important issues. A deep-felt determination to move, make things happen and win now. This is an exercise of the head and heart.

I invite you to read the rest of my blogs below or click here to view all of them.

Leadership

'Dangerous' Ideas Are The Key To Innovation

You must be willing to look at things from a different perspective in order to find new ideas for approaching challenges and moving things forward in an organization. As a change leadership speaker, it’s my goal to help people do just this. My colleague, PJ Chan from Kotter International has written a great blog post that shows you how you can foster the creation of new ideas within your team.

(This content was previously published by Kotter International Engagement on Forbes.com.)

Leadership Lesson: ‘Dangerous’ Ideas Are

The Key To Innovation

My colleague PJ Chan has worked with many of Kotter International’s most successful clients. Here she shares a perspective that helps the leaders she works with to challenge their ways of thinking, and reveal new possibilities to which they’d previously been unable to see.

Today there was a fresh new Hemispheres Magazine on my early morning United Airlines flight. Let me preface: I am not an employee, paid representative, or linked in any other way with the airline magazine. However, reading this magazine is my guilty pleasure. I look forward to a fresh new copy (with an empty crossword puzzle) on my first flight of each month. The headline “The Upside of Unspeakable Ideas – Courting Controversy at the Sydney Opera House” recently caught my eye.

Apparently there is an annual festival of “Dangerous Ideas.” Without repeating all three paragraphs, I’ll summarize – they do mean dangerous! One of the talks will cover, “A Killer Can Be A Good Neighbor.” The goal of the event is to discuss ideas outside the mainstream, getting people out of their comfort zones and challenged with new ways of thinking. You may respond with “Wow, how cool!” or you could react with a “That’s the craziest idea I’ve ever heard in my life!” Your reaction reveals where your thinking lies on the spectrum of open-ness to new ideas.

While I am a great proponent of safety, I believe that in both life and business we need to think, share, and discuss more dangerous ideas. Talk about a way to encourage innovation! We all know innovation is still a huge buzzword in business, yet we dance around taking the time, effort, energy, and risks in order to achieve it in our organizations.

We are afraid to bring together people from all areas of the business and give them the freedom and flexibility to share and discuss the “dangerous” ideas in a safe environment. What are we afraid will happen? Is it about loss of control? Fear of the unknown? Concern we won’t look like we have all the answers? Where does this fear of risk come from and – more importantly – how can we overcome it?

Part of our inherent fear, as we all know, is from the fight or flight syndrome used to help protect ourselves from harm. It is tied to a deeply hard-coded survival instinct. This desire for status quo and stability has its place. However, it can also be the enemy of innovation and, on some levels, even to survival.

Recently, my husband and I went to the Austin Freedom Fest where we attended the sneak preview of the new movie “The Book Thief,” based on the book by Markus Zusak. It’s an amazing book and a tremendously well-done movie about a young girl in Germany during Hitler’s reign. It embodies the two extremes of what an idea can become: ideas can cause real damage and destruction or they can spur growth and inspire humanity. In many ways this book and movie show why we are afraid to allow ourselves and others to think about “dangerous” ideas.

In all reality, it is more about the implied danger and less about the actual danger of the idea. Just ask yourself what kind of reaction the word “dangerous” elicited in you. Ideas really have no inherent danger or safety in and of themselves. The only tangible impact comes from what we do with the ideas. Perhaps removing such loaded labels is one way to court innovation and promote idea exchange.

On the contrary, what amazing, wondrous ideas could come if we were to begin an idea session with the most extreme idea – the business equivalent of “A killer can be a good neighbor.” Consider a simple idea like “What if we moved all retail sales to the Internet?” You can see how an idea like this could inspire fear, anger, and frustration in a company with hundreds of stores and thousands of salespeople. But failure to explore or even consider ideas like this has taken a big toll on many businesses – consider JCPenney, Best Buy, and OfficeMax/Office Depot.

As leaders who want to foster innovation in your organizations ask yourself one question: What will I do today to encourage the sharing of “dangerous” ideas, “unspeakable” ideas … or any ideas at all?

Leadership

Jedi Leadership Lessons

Sometimes it’s best to let people learn on their own rather than handing them the answers on a plate. Of course, in crisis moments this may not be feasible. However, when the opportunity presents itself to allow members of your company to go through the problem solving process, you’ve now given them the ability to affect change on their own! This post by Kotter International Engagement Leader, Ken Perlman, reminds us how valuable it can be for management to step back and allow team members to discover their own way when trying to take on change management in their business.

(This content was previously published by Kotter International Engagement on Forbes.com.)

Jedi Leadership: The Value of Lessons Learned vs. Lessons TaughtJedi Leadership

Luke, I am your father.

With those few words, I instantly became the worst…father…ever.

My wife gave me that look. The I-cannot-believe-you-just-did-that look. I’ve been married long enough to know there is a top echelon of ‘stupid things my husband just did’ that earns that look. And this one made the cut.

My then 6-year-old daughter and I were pretend sword-fighting with a couple of those over-priced plastic theme-park lightsabers when she accidentally hit my hand with her sword. I screamed, “No!!! Luke, I am your father!” Then came: “Daddy, who is Luke and are you his father?” My oblivious response? “Oh, that’s a reference to a movie called Star Wars that I can’t wait to watch with you someday. Luke Skywalker’s father is Anakin Skywalker who eventually turns evil and becomes Darth Vader.

I didn’t realize what I had done until I saw my wife’s face. In one sentence, I had deprived my daughter one of my generation’s greatest cinematic reveals. Fourteen hours of movies (some better than others) are now and forever far less interesting. I had stolen this incredible experience from my daughter with just a few words.

So where’s the leadership lesson in that, Master Yoda? Cue up the Yoda voice, “Ask yourself you must: More important – apprentice’s learning or your teaching? Let apprentices learn, you must.

I see this same thing happen with many of my clients. Teams of staff, managers, and even some executives bring their problems to the senior-most executive looking for answers. Then the senior-most executive actually gives them direct, specific instructions.

This is a great approach in a crisis or in situations where seconds matter. But in most business situations, the executive has just deprived the staff of a huge opportunity – the opportunity to create alternate solutions, test, debate, and decide. It’s the chance to own the solution and benefit from the struggle of having to figure it out. That means these teams never have that OMG moment; they never learn to learn together as a team. Instead, the dependence on the senior executive is reinforced.

This type of help rewards the senior executive by making her or him feel valued, smart, knowledgeable, and needed. But it simultaneously deprives each member of his or her team of something far more valuable. Having not been given the permission, space, responsibility, and ownership to solve their own problems, it ensures that those reporting to the senior executive will never be as capable as their leader. This is one reason why 20 of the Fortune 500 are without a CEO right now.

We are taking away learning opportunities from those who follow us in the name of managing speed (Anakin) or stroking our ego (Vader). And it is ultimately slowing us down, shooting ourselves in the foot (or lightsaber-ing our right hand off).

My advice?

  1. Don’t tell your kid who Luke’s father is. Let them experience it for themselves.
  2. Don’t give your teams the answers to their challenges. Respond to their requests for help with really good questions and support for whatever they decide. This will let them grow and develop. Even more importantly, you increase the capabilities of those who work for you, which ultimately makes your job easier and more rewarding.

Armed with that knowledge, you can play Yoda and help your apprentices become masters in their own right.