30/09/10

By Jeremy Thorn

Of course, all Owner Managers and business leaders need to be ‘Thought Leaders’. But don’t forget, others in your team will have their own ideas too?

In setting up and establishing your own business at the start, you probably had to do everything yourself — from establishing a corporate vision and determining your business model, through to dealing with all the daily tactical problems and challenges every business faces.

But as your business has grown, you will no doubt have employed others to deal with many of the more routine matters. And as Brian Chernett has recently written in a separate article, you need to let them take some of the decisions too. That is ‘empowered leadership’.

‘Thought leadership’ is no different. Great entrepreneurs and managers aren’t the only people to have great ideas. The secret is to find a way of encouraging others to offer them.

One of the quickest ways to stop other people offering their thoughts to you is to rubbish them, rather than explore them. Yet it is often your colleagues closest to the coal-face, however junior, who may know far better the operational issues they face than their more senior colleagues might.

For example, I think of a call-centre operator I met who knew exactly why her prepared ‘script’ didn’t work (it presumed a level of intimacy that many of her callers instantly took offence at). But she didn’t think her suggestions for improvement would be welcome.

I also recall a warehouse operator who observed his colleagues wasting a lot of time picking random orders because exactly similar orders weren’t being sequenced at the same time on the picking schedule. But he was told that organising this wasn’t his job.

I even came across a shop-floor colleague once who had a brilliant idea for saving what turned out to be £500,000 a year, but he had been told by his factory manager that he didn’t have a budget to spend the £50,000 necessary to make it possible.

Oh dear! How often the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Even in your own business perhaps?

Needless to say, not all ideas you receive from others are going to be helpful — many may not be. But once you dismiss one idea out of hand and peremptorily, without at least some exploration or discussion, you run the risk of curtailing all others.

So here are some thoughts I have found helpful. I hope you too?

‘Make sure your colleagues bring their brains to work as well as themselves.’

I have actually heard some people say ‘I am not paid to think at work’. And when I first used to lead regular, formal half-yearly business briefings as Managing Director of a publicly-quoted company for all my colleagues across many different sites, I even heard some say ‘It’s your job to worry about the results, not ours’!
How awful is that? — and such a waste!

Accordingly, ‘Let your managers manage the work, but let your workers manage their job’.

Does this sound like ‘revolution’? I hope not! Of course managers have to be responsible for getting work done. But experienced workers may well know best how their particular contribution can be made much more effective. So let them!

‘Seek out your ‘opinion leaders’ at all levels, and foster them.’

I have often found my most vociferous ‘anti-management’ colleagues to be amongst the brightest — but hugely frustrated. Some may just want to ‘smash the system’, but many do genuinely want the best for their organisation and just feel unable to contribute to it.

You will know them well — they often talk about ‘being lions led by donkeys’, if only behind your back…

Accordingly, you may well find, ‘The most prolific poachers make the best gamekeepers.’

The ‘poachers’ are those who know exactly how to make the system work to their own advantage, often at the expense of their wider organisation’s. What a waste of talent! It most often happens because of a feeling of alienation, boredom and meaninglessness.

If you can get them to share your vision, values and objectives, you may find they become your most loyal lieutenants and even captains.

Finally, ‘Give your troops the tools to come up with good ideas’.

Very few great ideas are spawned in a vacuum. They need context and understanding, and often some knowledge. But they also need tools for objective observation, measurement and analysis. So why not provide them?

That way, many can be ‘thought leaders’ for you, and not just the boss!

Jeremy Thorn is a Non-Executive Director/Board Advisor of several successful high-growth companies. Having first been the Managing Director of a large international engineering company, he set up and developed his own successful nationwide consultancy which he then sold to its management. An experienced executive coach and author of several prize-winning management books, he is a frequent workshop facilitator, speaker and writer for the Academy for Chief Executives and others. His passion is for developing successful organisations and their senior managers to achieve their full potential.

You can contact him at Jeremy@JeremyThorn.co.uk — or see his website www.JeremyThorn.co.uk

Watch a video of Brian Chernett, Founder of The Academy For Chief Excecutives, explaining how The Academy For Chief Executives inspires business leaders.

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