If you desire to be a great leader, then you need to learn to recognize and promote the best ideas no matter where or from whom they’re coming—man or woman, young or old, black, white, upside down or inside out.
Ideas are the lifeblood of an organization. Harvey Firestone, who founded the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, said, “Capital isn’t so important to business. Experience isn’t so important. You can get both of those. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life.”
The progress and innovations of great organizations don’t come down from on high. Their creative sessions are not dominated by top-down leaders, nor does every meeting become a wrestling match to see who can dominate everyone else in a struggle to take credit. People come together as teams, peers work together, and they make progress because they want the best idea to win.
How does a great leader help create and surface the best ideas from his or her team?
I believe there are a few common ways.
1. Listen to all ideas.
Finding good ideas begins with an open-minded willingness to listen to all ideas. Mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.”
During the brainstorming process, shutting down any ideas might prevent you from discovering the good ones. Group thinking (not to be confused with groupthink) can be such a positive: When we share our thinking among a group, we think faster, more innovatively and our thinking has greater value. Great thinking comes when good thoughts are shaped in a collaborative environment.
2. Never settle for just one idea.
Leaders can be so action oriented. They want to go. They want to make something happen. They want to take the hill! The problem comes when they fight their way to the top of the hill, only to find that it was the wrong hill.
One idea is never enough. Many ideas make us stronger. I once heard an analyst say he believed the reason the communist bloc fell at the end of the 20th century is because communism is built on only one idea. If anyone tried to do things a different way, they were knocked down or shipped out. In contrast, democracy is a system based on a multitude of ideas. Because of that freedom, in democratic countries creativity is high, opportunities are unlimited and the potential for growth is astounding.
3. Look in unusual places for ideas.
Good leaders are always searching for the next big thing. They cultivate their attentiveness and practice it as a regular discipline. As they read magazines, watch movies, enjoy leisure activities or engage with their colleagues, they are always on the lookout for ideas or practices they can use to improve their work and their leadership.
4. Don’t let personality overshadow purpose.
When someone you don’t like or respect suggests something, what is your first reaction? I bet it’s to dismiss it. You’ve heard the phrase, “Consider the source.” That’s not a bad thing to do, but if you’re not careful, you may very likely throw out the good with the bad.
Don’t let the personality of someone you work with cause you to lose sight of the greater purpose, which is to add value to the team and advance the organization. Set aside your pride and listen.
5. Protect creative people and their ideas.
Ideas are such fragile things when they first come to light. Advertising executive Charlie Brower says a new idea “can be killed by a sneer or a yawn… stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown.”
If you desire the best idea to win, then become a champion of creative people and their contributions to your organization. When you discover peers who are creative, promote them, encourage them, and protect them. Pragmatic people often shoot down the ideas of creative people—the very people who need to thrive and keep generating ideas for the benefit of the team.
6. Don’t take rejection of your own idea personally.
When your ideas are not received well by others, stop competing and focus your energy on creating. You will open the way for people around you to take their creativity to the next level.
I know that my ideas aren’t always the best ideas. I often think they are, but when everyone in the room has a different opinion, it pays to listen. The company owner doesn’t need to win—the best idea does.
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Never forget that having a collaborative spirit helps the entire organization. When you think it terms of our idea instead of my idea or her idea, you’re probably on track to helping the team win.
That should be your motivation. Let the best idea win, and you will reap the rewards together.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
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