Make it OK for employees to challenge your ideas — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Harvard Business Review

Kodak. Sears. Borders. The mere mention of any of these companies brings to mind the struggle to stay relevant amid today’s technology and boundless alternatives. But behind each of them lies a deeper story of at least one leader who is or was “sheltered” from the reality of their business.

This dangerous “white space” where leaders don’t know what they don’t know is a critical one. But often, leaders — especially senior ones — fail to seek information that makes them uncomfortable or fail to engage with individuals who challenge them. As a result, they miss the opportunity to transform insights at the edge of a company into valuable actions at the core.

Nandan Nilekani, an Indian entrepreneur, bureaucrat, and politician who co-founded Infosys and was appointed by the Indian prime minister to serve as Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), believes it’s vital to keep this channel of communication open in any leadership position.

“If you’re a leader, you can put yourself in a cocoon … a good news cocoon” said Nilekani during our recent discussion. “Everyone says, ‘It’s alright, there’s no problem,’ and the next day everything’s wrong.”

So how do leaders keep themselves from being isolated at the top? For Nilekani, it comes down to one vital factor: asking and being asked uncomfortable questions.

The question “Why are we the way we are?” inspired him to write his book, Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation, which discusses the education, demographics, and infrastructure of his native country. Following his work with the UIDAI to help create a government database of the entire population of India (named “the biggest social project on the planet”) and his recent campaign for Indian National Congress, the question “How do you get kids to read and how do you get kids to learn arithmetic?” drove Nilekani to create a scaleable solution to bridge the education gap for younger generations in India and other parts of the world. And the umbrella question that defines Nilekani’s leadership journey is, perhaps not surprisingly, “What is it that I can do to have the best possible impact on the most possible people?”

Read the full post at the Harvard Business Review.

Hal Gregersen is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management

 

How Richard Branson turned his passion into a tangible business — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Fortune

Organizations are dealing with higher levels of uncertainty and deeper complexity than we’ve ever seen before. Not surprisingly, this changeable landscape is causing employees to act cautiously in order to keep their jobs. (After all, who wants to “rock the boat” or be blamed for a failed project?) While this reactive behavior makes logical sense, it’s also creating a major roadblock on the journey to innovation.

Innovation begins with either a passion or a problem. Passion means you’re motivated to innovate because you care deeply about something. For example, thanks to watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon as a child, Richard Branson became very interested in space and realized that he wanted to go there like Armstrong did. For decades, he asked questions, kept notebooks of ideas, talked to different people and worked hard to figure out a way for his passion to become a reality. With a long-term commitment borne by the head and heart, it’s no wonder that the stars lined up for Branson to start Virgin Galactic, transforming his passionate idea into a tangible business.

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