What does it look like to be leading in awe and wonder?
Leaders are often encouraged to lead with innovation, use out-of-the-box thinking, and set big, hairy, audacious goals. It’s not uncommon to use these practices designing new technology, setting strategies, or redefining processes. But how often do we hire and develop our staff with that same level of creative energy?
I recently finished reading John O’Leary’s latest book “In Awe – Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy.” It’s a great book and it certainly challenged me to revisit my thinking patterns and get back to my innovative roots. As I read through John’s book I became inspired to dream big again and not let obstacles stand in my way. What I didn’t expect is it would challenge me to revisit how I would develop those I lead. That challenge didn’t just come from the pages of John’s book. The challenge came when John’s wisdom collided with a transformational story from a conference I recently attended.
Filling the Bus
Early in my leadership journey, I built high-performing teams through a laser focus on “doing the right things”. We defined a clear vision and we built a team with people that would perfectly align with those goals. For the most part, these teams were successful and incredibly innovative. Working together as a team we were often able to accomplish amazing feats.
Bringing people together to accomplish the impossible was incredibly rewarding, but over time I began to see a flaw in my approach. Good leaders will rally a diverse group of individuals around accomplishing a common goal. However, the best leaders don’t simply focus on the immediate goals but also look to the future. They don’t just focus on what their employees are currently contributing, they focus on developing each employee into all they can become.
Over time, I realized my focus on short-term results was limiting our team’s long-term effectiveness. Instead of viewing each member of my team as what they could become, I focused on their immediate results. When a technical challenge would arise we would quickly overcome the obstacle with an innovative solution. However, when a team member began struggling uncharacteristically, we rarely took the time to understand their personal obstacles. We rarely used the same level of creative energy to overcome personal obstacles that we used to overcome technical challenges.
Eventually, those struggling with personal obstacles would become frustrated and I would begin to view those employees as “bad apples”. We all know what “bad apples” do to the bunch. Often I would throw up my hands, move them off the team, and replace them with someone aligned to our vision.
Innovative Hiring, Innovative Leadership
Several years ago I had a discussion with a friend who was considering hiring a recent drug rehabilitation graduate. I don’t recall the exact advice I gave my friend, but alarm bells were blaring in my mind. Hiring principles like “past behavior is the best predictor of future performance” told me this would be a risky hire.
Last weekend I witnessed the results of my friend’s hiring decision. The individual my friend hired was now thriving under her leadership. Not only did this person grow into the requirements of her job title, but she has now become an inspiration for anyone she interacts with. Last weekend she presented an incredibly impactful workshop on overcoming adversity. It wasn’t simply a story of a determined person pulling herself up out of a pit. True transformation came when a leader took the time to show this person her potential and took the time to walk with her on a development journey.
Leading In Awe and Wonder
What does leading with awe and wonder look like? Many innovative leaders working in technology fields thrive working on the bleeding edge. We push the envelope with the latest hardware, software, and systems. When we encounter obstacles we take calculated risks and persevere through seemingly impossible challenges.
Sadly, when we encounter the same scale of obstacles in developing our people, we fall back to the status quo. When we hire we may play it safe and don’t stray too far from the norm. Today’s ever-changing workforce demands leaders that don’t just see employees as cookie-cutter tools necessary to accomplish a mission. We must use that same innovative spirit in the way we develop our people.
Reading John O’Leary’s latest book combined with observing the wisdom of my friend’s innovative hire was incredibly convicting. When was the last time I saw potential in my team the way I view my childhood superheroes? When was the last time I walked the development journey with the same level of innovation used with other challenges?
Take a moment to dream big dreams with those you lead and purposefully walk beside them as they develop into the heroes of those dreams.