5 of the Most Innovative Leaders of 2014

innovation1Being a great leader takes many skills; innovation being one of them. To be an innovative leader takes vision. To be a successful innovative leader takes vision AND  execution.

Innovation – finding a better way of doing something or creating something new and executing the vision to make it a reality.

Innovation doesn’t just happen!

To build and lead an innovative business in today’s environment requires creating a responsive and agile organization. Building a learning organization where setbacks are used as opportunities for how to continually improve and innovate.

Vision and execution are not exactly synonymous – however, combined they often lead to innovation. The skills to turn vision into reality are what separates the good leaders from the rest of pack. Innovation requires great leadership.

And that’s why these 5 leaders deserve to be credited for the innovative work they’ve accomplished in 2014.

#5: Denise Morrison – Campbell Soup

One may initially wonder why a CEO for soup company would make the most innovative list of 2014 – however, changing the culture of an organization is never easy, especially at a 145-year old company.  And Denise Morrison is doing just that.  Earlier this year, Morrison outlined the four basic principles that she believes are vital to helping companies become innovators while focusing on a creating a high performance culture; these principles of a laser focus on consumers, leadership courage to enable cultural transformation, structuring teams and people to unshackle creativity and foster bold decision making, and a company wide sense of urgency are the foundation of her strategic plan to create cultural change at Campbell Soup.  Morrison has proven you can teach an old company new tricks.

“I think leadership is service and there is power in that giving: to help people, to inspire and motivate them to reach their fullest potential.” – Denise Morrison 

#4: Richard Branson – Virgin

As Branson himself said “Although it might be hard to believe now, the story of the Virgin Group is a small business that succeeded because of our team’s innovative spirit. When my friends and I started up our first business, Student magazine, we were a bunch of young hippies barely managing to scratch a living, yet we knew we had an idea for a product that people would want: A publication geared toward young people like us. I lived in a friend’s basement, and our office was based in a church crypt that a vicar let us use. We eventually turned our camaraderie and enthusiasm into a global business.” This enthusiasm and innovation keeps Branson’s companies thriving. Which is why Star Trek fans should rejoice. In 2014 Richard Branson continued his plans to take you and your friends into outer space with Virgin Galactic. But it’s not just his vision that makes him one of the most innovative leaders of 2014 – it’s his ability to execute on that vision – to try new things, push boundaries, and learn from his experiences.   Music, mobile phone plans, travel…even wine! And now space travel? What’s next?

Unless you dream, you’re not going to achieve anything.” – Richard Branson

#3: Evan Spiegel – Snapchat

Anyone who turns down $3-$4 BILLION dollars from Facebook has some serious vision. That’s because Snapchat is estimated to be worth $10 billion. Evan makes the list because he leads an organization that has acquired over 100 million in capital – without even turning a profit to warrant such a valuation. He saw a need (particularly amongst Millennials) and he had the vision to create a product to fill that need. Rather than text what you’re doing – why not take a picture and send it? Snapchat allows users to take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as “Snaps”. Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps after which they will be hidden from the recipient’s device and deleted from Snapchat’s servers – technology that didn’t exist before Snapchat. Evan has found a way to effectively monetize Snapchat without its user data. He achieved this in part by operating the service — and in particular the infrastructure — way cheaper than any competitors. The end result? Over 700 million pictures have been sent via Snapchat. In case you’re wondering – that’s over 700 million impressions for advertisers. You do the math.

I’d like to create a space for people who have a lot of talent but not a lot of reach.” – Evan Spiegel

#2: Howard Schultz – Starbucks

One either loves or hates Starbucks. But it’s hard not to love the evolution of the Starbucks brand. Starbucks recently unveiled a roadmap of innovations – the company shared several customer initiatives to further transform and elevate the Starbucks experience in holiday season of 2014 and beyond. Starbucks engaged with customers to collect data on consumer behavior and then acted on that data to further enhance the customer experience. A personalized loyalty program, tasting rooms, mobile ordering and payment… Starbucks processes over 3 million mobile payments…every week! That’s harnessing the power of customer feedback to continually enhance the customer experience.

“I think if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got to dream big and then dream bigger.” – Howard Schultz

#1: Tim Cook – Apple

It’s hard to ignore the strides Cook has made over the years – trying to fill the shoes of Steve Jobs is no easy task. iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Pay, Apple Wear…shall I go on? Rather than just push out a new suite of products in 2014 – Cook focused on good product management – how do you solve a problem for the consumer and deliver them what they need? Cook has also increased the culture of innovation at Apple. Since he has taken the helm Apple has become a much more collaborative culture, a necessary change for ongoing innovation and growth.

You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user. – Tim Cook

Each of these innovative leaders has a proven track record of creating an agile and responsive organization with a culture that fosters innovation and produces brand loyalty.

Want to make the 2015 list? Here are some ways you can execute your vision in the most productive way.

  • Do you have clearly defined and flexible processes? Having an agile and innovative organization requires adaptable and flexible processes. Rigidity and complexity can kill innovation. Processes should support the organization in developing the ability to change and adapt. Are your processes flexible and easy to execute? How can your employees innovate new ways of doing things if they aren’t even sure how to do what currently needs to be done in the first place?
  • Do you have culture of engagement? People make the difference in every business. To foster ongoing innovation you must recruit, engage, and retain the right people for your culture. A high performance culture helps people reach higher levels of productivity and innovation. Is your culture toxic or do you people enjoy coming to work every day and contributing to ongoing business success? How can your business be innovative and agile if your employees aren’t engaged and committed?
  • Have you clearly defined your mission, vision, and strategy? Have you defined who you are as a company? What’s your identity? What do you want to achieve and how? And communicated this to employees? How can your business be innovative and agile if you haven’t determined and communicated who you are and where you could possibly go.

Innovation doesn’t just happen. Innovation requires key areas of your business running like a well-oiled machine. To learn more – or to receive a complimentary consultation on how to increase your agility and  innovation – send our Lead Consultant, Scott Span, an email. He’ll be happy to talk to you about how to resolve this issue.

So – who do you think are some of the most innovative leaders of 2014 and why? Who makes your list? 

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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Setting the Stage for Success – How Responsive is Your Organization? 

darwinWhat Darwin said about species – also applies to business. In today’s overly competitive and ever-changing business environment – only the strong survive.  It’s true.  Anyone and everyone is online selling stuff – to be successful, you’ve got to be innovative, adaptable, and responsive.

So what happens when things don’t go as planned?  (Because they always go as planned, right?)

Actually, a better question is…how do you know things aren’t going as planned?

Well one way to tell, if they are going as planned, you shouldn’t have these issues:

  • Low innovation and lack of agility to respond to changing conditions
  • Poor organizational and customer communication
  • Unclear mission and vision and stale strategy
  • Lack of repeat business and brand loyalty
  • Negative culture and lack of clear identity
  • Process redundancies and inefficiencies

WHY should you care to act to address these issues? 

Ignoring these problems will not make them go away (no matter how hard you try.) It will only negatively impact your productivity and profitability – making you less competitive and impacting your long term success.

If these issues are not addressed your business may experience:

  • Decline in profits and decreased shareholder or investor value
  • Increased competitor market share
  • Continued productivity declines
  • Ongoing loss of customers

To be most productive and successful you need to be responsive – your organization must be agile – easily adaptable to internal and external changes. You can’t achieve ongoing productivity and high performance without being agile and responsive.  And you can’t achieve ongoing sustainability and profitability until you achieve ongoing productivity and high performance.  So – being a responsive organization is an imperative step to long term success.

So first things first – Some questions to ask yourself to help you tackle some of the frequent problems impacting your ability to be more responsive:  

Strategy & Process – Review your strategy– is it up to date, actionable, and flexible to changing conditions? Is the strategy tied to your mission and vision? Are your people actually held accountable for execution of the strategy? In simple terms – does it make sense and support your direction?  And your processes – do they support your strategy, enhance product and service delivery, increase customer satisfaction? Are they easy to understand and easy to follow?

Organization Design – Take a look at how your organization is structured. Do you have the right people in the right place? Does your structure support strategy execution?  Is your organization designed to best service your customers? Does your structure allow for flexibility? Have you looked at other ways to design your organization to help adapt to changing conditions?   Is your organization structured in a way that is conducive to supporting your business objectives?

Leadership Development & Coaching – Increased leadership awareness and organizational communication builds trusted relationships. Trusted relationships help employees feel safe to share ideas, concerns and innovations – all increasing productivity and profit.  Not all leaders excel at this – sometimes it takes a bit of coaching and development. Is your organization open to leadership development and coaching? Do you have a learning culture? Does your organization provide a safe environment for your people to speak up? Are your leaders approachable, honest and transparent? Do you allow for feedback and idea exchange in all directions?

If you’re struggling to solve the profitability and growth equation – stop thinking sales, sales, sales.  You need to look inside. You need to set the stage for true profitability and long term growth by focusing on your customers and your employees – being more responsive and productive can help lead you to be more profitable.

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of  any and all of this content is prohibited without authorized consent of Tolero Solutions and the author.


Are You The Miscommunicating Manager?

September 29, 2014 / Communication, Leadership / 0 Comments /

unclear commsCommunication. It’s the key to any successful relationship – whether personal or professional. Our communication style – how we communicate – has an impact on our success.

The ability to clearly communicate expectations and flex your communication style so that you are understood by others is a skill – and one which many don’t (or choose not to) possess. It’s important to understand your own style and the impact that style may have on others in receiving your message. When this lacks, often miscommunication can occur and that can negatively impact relationships and performance.

Have you ever worked for someone where you feel as though you’re speaking one language and they’re speaking another?

 “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”  – Lee Iacocca

Working for a miscommunicating manager can be challenging and downright frustrating. When someone doesn’t communicate properly – their expectations and the goals and tasks at hand for any given project are not clear – this tends to have negative impacts such as wasted productivity, reduced performance, and low morale.

So, are you a miscommunicating manager? Here are the 3 biggest types of miscommunicating managers I’ve seen:

The mind reader: You’re just supposed to know what they’re thinking. They don’t want to delve into the details – you should know it already because you’re an experienced professional. These people usually have a very specific idea in their head of exactly how they want something to look – but they don’t want to be bothered taking the time to provide that detailed information. You should just know. You should be able to read their mind and give them exactly what they want. Sure, we’re all psychic, right? Often these people then get upset when a deliverable or task is not completed precisely how they envisioned it to look. Good managers and leaders take the time to explain their ideas and expectations. They make themselves approachable and offer opportunities to ask questions and clarifications – they don’t just say “go do this…”

The small picture thinker:  It’s not just about churning out a “work product.” Tasks and deliverables often tie into a larger project, other work streams, strategic priorities, or organizational initiatives. This type of miscommunicating manager has no idea how the task they’ve assigned fits into the bigger picture. Sometimes completing work is about just tactical execution – but not everything should be completed in a silo – or just completed for the sake of getting it done. If the project gets handed down from leadership – without explanation – that goes back the point about being a “mind reader.” If management was handed something and doesn’t see how it fits into the bigger picture, then they should’ve clarified prior to handing it off. Most people like to understand how the work they’re performing helps to support overall organizational success – they want to know they are adding value and not just being used as mindless drones. For a business to truly be successful, those executing must understand the value of their work and how it ties to overall strategy – and they must be able to communicate that to those they lead.

The unclear communicator:  They in their mind see the end result yet leave way too much for interpretation. It’s all in the details – but they can’t seem to – or don’t want to be bothered taking the time to explain the details, the expectations, the logic, and reasoning for why something needs to be done a certain way. These types of miscommunicating managers often then get annoyed when you interpret something in a different way than them. (That thing!  You know – THAT thing!  Yeah – so we need to work on that and I want it done the usual way I like it…you know that usual way.)

“Communicate unto the other person that which you would want him to communicate unto you if your positions were reversed.” – Aaron Goldman

Well – if you work for a miscommunicating manager you likely aren’t hitting the mark on the project you’re working on. Sure – sometimes it’s lack of experience and training or other reasons that may contribute to not hitting peak performance. But all too often it’s the unclear communication – part poor interpersonal skills and part poor project management skills – that are a huge contributing factor to derailing projects and negatively impacting performance.

Stuck working with a miscommunicating manager (or two…)? Don’t fret. Here are 3-ways to improve your behaviors and interactions to prevent lost productivity.

Ask questions:  And lots of them.  It’s your job to get the project done or instruct team members on how to complete the task. What things do you need to know?  When do you need to know them?  And who is involved? If something doesn’t make sense to you it’s likely not to be clear to others working on the project as well.

Create processes:  For every type of project – determine the right process for completion. Project management 101 – know not just the who but also the when and how for successful execution. Make sure you take the time to train other’s you work with on these processes so everyone is on the same page.

Communicate: This is kind-of ironic (and the whole point of the article really) but clear communication is imperative to success. Communicate where you are, what you’re doing, and what progress has been made. Make sure all team members who need to be involved in the delivery of a project are involved – no silos – this prevents wasted work by making sure everyone is on the same page. Checking-in frequently to ensure you have the end result heading in the right direction is a key to success.

When all the above are complete – execute the project – and execute it well.

Guilty of being a miscommunicating manager? Here are a few other tips to help increase the effectiveness of your communication. Ask yourself…

What is it I’m really asking?  Map out the reasons for this project, the goals, and the steps you’d like to see completed. This sets the tone and allows for a more productive work environment by making sure everyone is on the same page.

Why am I asking?  To truly hit the mark – your people need to know why you’re asking them to do this project.  They need to know what role the work they’re completing plays in the big picture in order to put forth their best work possible – so inform them. If you don’t know see point one above.

What am I really expecting?  You need to detail out the specifics you want to see.  If you don’t – you leave it up to interpretation. You’re the manager for a reason, after all.  Spell out how your team should implement the project and set expectations.

Want to read more about how to operate  and communicate in a productive manner?  Check out our last blog – Are You the Workplace Bully?

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” – James Humes

Even if you aren’t a miscommunicating manager – you’re bound to encounter one. These are several key-ways to improve your style, make your work life a bit better, and help to improve how responsive, productive, and profitable your organization can become – not to mention just make your day to day life at work that much more pleasant!

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

Email | Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog | Facebook

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*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of  any and all of this content is prohibited without authorized consent of Tolero Solutions and the author.