Trusting leadership in contrast to strong leadership
There is an insightful article written by Steve Denning on the topic of having an outside-in perspective on customer satisfaction and making the customer delighted through listening to their needs instead of pushing products to the customer (inside-out).
A discussion in a group at LinkedIn on innovation management asked if it is possible to create an outside-in creativeness in innovation without a “confident top-down leadership”. It is argued that there is a need of “STRONG” leadership in opposite to inside-out.
I would say that there is a totally different style of leadership needed than “STRONG” leadership to allow for outside-in innovation to prosper in an organisation. With no doubt there is a need of confident leadership. I have met several “bosses” using management-by-control, having no or very little confidence in his management team or employees. It mostly ends with the creative employees leaving the company one by one and the manager being left with the scared and uncreative staff.
Instead I suggest a more “TRUSTING leadership”, managed through setting expectations through clear and open communication. “Why and how do we want to achieve something and how may you as a creative employee contribute to the success for all of us”. This in contrast to “STRONG leadership”. When having set and communicated the circumstances you may unleash the dog and let it go hunt for new innovations that will lead to outside-in focused product development. It is said that Steve Jobs that ought that it is useless to ask what the customer wants in the future, since they simply don’t have a clue. I believe this is sometimes true, but there are for sure customers that also have got a great picture of the future as well.
I may missunderstand the meaning of “Confident Top-Down Leadership” in the article. My feeling is though negative when reading the article. Creativeness will never happen “Top-Down”. It may be supported “Top-Down” but should never be driven that way. As a leader you should provide the platform to let your employees be creative and support them in their creativeness. It is never a good sign in a company if the top management are the ones being the “creative team”. The best creative team you can get is the one built by the different competences of your company, ranging over several departments/functions. Build your complementary team and give them the boundaries to be creative, and you will most often be surprised by the result. Make the teams loose and summon them for different tasks, and when done resolve the team and let them do what they did before “the innovation task force” was put together.
Some say that employees must earn trust to get trust. My view is that everyone is trustworthy until they show the opposite. If they show the opposite they are up a known creek without a paddle. You should make sure that they know that you trust them from the beginning and they are the one to continue to earn the given trust. If you set these circumstances in your creative team or company you will definitely get extraordinary results, most probably financial as well as product excellence and employee and customer satisfaction.
I also suggest that the word “strong leadership” is erased from the face of the earth. We need leadership that is clear and communicating and open to outside world impressions. The “strong” leadership is representing the kind that never listens and is stubborn in its views upon the world and expects him or her self to always be the one entitled to have or to set the correct answer. That kind of strong leadership is unwanted and contra productive in most environments and contra productive in a creative environment.
So, dear top manager in an innovative business unit or company; stop being a strong leader, be a trusting leader instead. Trust in your fellow colleagues competence and drive to find solutions to customers problems. The only thing you need to do is to put logs to the creative fire and tell the people where the fire place is and what the boundaries are. Then the fire will be lit almost by itself.