These times demand creative, brave leaders.

Leader’s have a tendency to batten down the hatches in challenging times.  Executive instinct drives greater control–more careful review of expenses, micro managing approval criteria, redirecting key decision to the highest levels, narrowing the business scope–you get the picture.

What leaders frequently forget in their zeal to be prudent and careful is that “the wisdom of crowds” applies within their own organization.  Instead of narrowing the circle they rely on, they should be widening it.  James Surowiecki in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, explains that a diverse collection of independently-deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts!

How to Draw on the Wisdom of Crowds

It is important to resist the temptation to centralize authority.  Share obligations broadly and inspire others to become more spontaneous and creative.  Get everyone involved.  You want to create an environment that is flexible and nimble–not ossified and reactive.

Easier said than done?  Here are some tips:

Ask Great Questions

You can’t keep doing what you have always done before.  That is why leaders tend to tighten their control.  But greater control will only inhibit the creativity of others. One way to do that is to ask great questions.  Don’t ask yourself a question about what went wrong, such as, “How can I avoid this in the future?”  The answer to a question like that is always:  I will have to be… more careful… follow up more … double check more, etc.   Instead, ask your team:  “What could we do to get… your hoped for outcome?”  You want to stimulate new ideas and figure out how to do things differently.  Challenge your team to come up with intriguing and complex goals.  Don’t narrow the focus of your questions to the mundane or over specify how they should complete tasks.

Build Trust Across the Organization

You may be tempted to create a lean, efficient organization, but in the process don’t cut out meetings and reduce investments in learning.  Now is the time to create a highly collaborative team.  Meetings and training opportunities build relationships amongst team members, develop strong collaborative abilities and encourage the development of knowledge across the organization.  But most important of all, they create opportunities for dialogue and meaningful interaction that builds trust across the organization.  A byproduct of having more trust is that the organization operates more efficiently.  The Great Places to Work Institute has found that the number one thing that great companies do is create organizational cultures where trust flourishes.

Challenge the Status Quo

Don’t fall into the trap of cocooning during times like these.  Ensure that your team is exposed to diverse points of view and experiences.  Encourage brainstorming and scenario analysis.  Don’t abandon training and experimentation.  Invest in your people.  It will pay off!

Slow Down

In challenging times we have a tendency to believe that the only way to survive is by working harder and faster.  In the process, we don’t take time to focus on the successes along the way.  In order for people in an organization to have the motivation to work hard, they have to feel that their work is making a meaningful contribution.  Take time to make sure that they know how and why their work is important for the organization.

Author:   Dr. Lynn K. Jones

Certified Personal and Executive Coach