“People, ideas, hardware, in that order.” This is a quote by the late Col John Boyd. Boyd may be the most famous strategist you’ve never heard of. Or perhaps you have. John Boyd was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot whose career was marked by exceptional tactics development in the fighter aircraft community, but many might argue his greatest achievements went beyond aircraft into strategy, decision-making and leadership. With this quote, Boyd was explaining that we need to rely on people before technology.
In today’s age of technological advances and connected business applications it may be tempting to begin to solve problems by immediately seeking a technology solution. However, before technology, it is the power of people that solves problems and paves the way for future success. This isn’t to say that technology cannot support or enable a business or team transformation, but in my opinion, it must start with people, because it is the fundamental ability of people to adapt to changing conditions, develop creative solutions, and drive your organization forward as you accomplish your goals along the way towards making your vision a reality. This may sound great, but how do we do this, and what strategies can we employ to unlock the potential in our teams? Here are some ideas:
1. Start by acknowledging people are your key resources for solving problems and not themselves problems to be solved. Oftentimes when we experience error or failure it may be tempting to seek out someone to blame, but this does little to help solve the problem. When it comes to creating workable solutions, people are at the core of these solutions.
2. Create useable guidelines that allow adaptability and flexibility for people to make the best decisions for the given situation. Overly rigid rules may constrain the creative process and stifle innovation. In some cases rigid rules may be necessary, but when all rules are binary, allowing only yes/no decisions they may bind employees and prevent them from making the most effective decisions for the situation. Rules that are bounded by upper, lower or lateral limits, but that also allow a space for adaptation, flexibility and action may be useful for allowing employees to come up with creative solutions to challenging problems.
3. Provide a working environment that fosters free-thinking and the expression of ideas. This may help to create psychological safety, where people feel empowered to try new approaches for improving workplace performance. This requires leaders and managers to tolerate a degree of error and they must avoid punishing employees for making mistakes related to problem solving and innovation. This also requires an open mind and the willingness to hear employees’ ideas. Even if you don’t agree with their ideas or if they cannot be implemented for various reasons, creating a work environment that allows for this creativity and expression may help you come up with some innovative solutions to difficult challenges.
4. Allow creative risk-taking to solve problems. In my leadership training I like to say, “Fail early, fail small, and learn.” This isn’t a free license to fail at work, but if our teams don’t use some level of trial and error they may not know what works and what doesn’t. If they are afraid to take some level of risk in the workplace you may never develop the solutions to your deep level problems. At best you may just mask or temporarily fix the symptoms of the underlying conditions. You may also be able to help them with this risk-taking approach by putting limits on what level of risk is acceptable for certain situations, and by educating them on the risk-benefit analysis process. This may help them understand how to identify failures early when they are small enough to recover from, and this information should be incorporated into a lessons-learned process.
5. Know your people and keep them informed (*adapted from the US Marine Corps Leadership Principle, which I originally learned as “Know your troops and keep them informed”). If leaders want to help keep the team motivated they must understand something about their team members, particularly when it comes to what motivates and challenges them at work. Additionally, keeping team members informed about the things that may impact them can go a long way in building a trusting relationship. Have you ever found out about a major change in your workplace or in your specific role, but instead of that message coming from your boss it came from someone else? That can be very frustrating for workers and a great leader will work to inform their team of changes rather than that information coming from other sources. This may help your team feel valued, and communication is critical to a high-functioning/high-performing team.
6. Set the example. The importance of this point cannot be overstated. Leaders’ actions and words must be in alignment. When there is a mismatch between what leaders say and what they actually do, it can be detrimental to teamwork and may cause resentment among the team. Additionally, when team members see leaders set the standard for performance and meeting that standard themselves, this may help to create the motivation and enthusiasm for the high performance work you desire. Setting the example starts with you as the leader.
I hope you find these 6 points useful for your leadership journey. If so, would you mind sharing this blog pst with others? I would greatly appreciate it.
I wish you much success in your leadership journey. Until next time, keep leading!
With Much Appreciation,