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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are You Playing Offense or Defense?

Interview - Bill George of "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis"


Bill GeorgeI had the opportunity to meet Bill George at the World business Forum and later interview him. He is the author of "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis", and a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. Bill George is the author of three other best-selling books, and the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Medtronic. I interviewed him about social media, the recession, offense vs. defense, leadership, and needs of the innovation workforce.

Here is the text from the interview:


1. Do you think that CEO's and other corporate leaders should be participating in the social media conversation on Twitter?

I actually wrote a blog on this very subject last month (Extra, Extra, Tweet All About It). Just as it's important for CEOs to read the newspaper and watch TV to remain current with customers and trends, it is equally important for CEOs to participate in social media, particularly Twitter. In no other forum can you be the spokes of a potentially very large, real-time communication wheel - this can be very useful in assessing one's standing in the marketplace. On Twitter, CEOs can have unfiltered access to customer opinion, engage with customers and other CEOs, respond to questions, and further build their personal brand and promote their company.

However, there is one caveat every CEO should keep in mind: You cannot join Twitter just to say that you are "on Twitter." From my limited experience (I've been on since August), I've learned that engagement is crucial to getting the true informational and relational benefit of the service. If you don't devote sufficient time and energy, others will see right through you and the entire operation will be a waste of time. The long and short of it is: The world of social media is the new marketing and communication standard. CEOs would be wise to keep pace.


2. Any tips for people having trouble facing their reality?

Be open to criticism. In fact, go looking for it. If you are truly having difficulty facing your reality, ask your support network - your internal management team, your family, your friends - to help face it with you. "Facing reality, starting with yourself" is the first step in my latest book "7 lessons for Leading in Crisis", and I find that this step is the most difficult, particularly for veteran leaders with well-defined egos and track records of success.

A good rule of thumb for any leader: Whenever your company falls into the depths of crisis, automatically acknowledge partial fault or involvement. This is because under every conceivable circumstance, as the leader you had a hand in a creating the crisis. This does not mean accepting all the blame and putting the weight of the world on your shoulders, it's just a good starting point. Concede the need for improvement, and that mindset will aid in your finding exactly where you fell short, and what your reality looks like.


3. How do you help your organization see that it is time to switch from defense to offense?

When you notice that your competitors are going on defense! One of the worst things you can do in a crisis is hunker down and ride out the storm. And that is the tendency for many companies - they sit idly by, and wait for the "norm" to come return. Meanwhile, the market landscape is adapting to new consumer wants and industry needs. When you see your competitors sidle off and play defense, that's when your organization needs to go on offense. But don’t be a bull in a china shop - be measured and precise in your moves.


4. Any tips for people who feel their company is wasting a good crisis?

Yes - don't let it continue! Crises present rare opportunities for companies to reinvent as there is typically less internal resistance to change if employees believe it will have positive impact. For those leaders who fear their company is in fact wasting the crisis, I would recommend they pull an about face, communicate their concerns, and work the problem from scratch with their management teams. Leaders need to dig deep and prepare for the long haul if they want to be effective in crisis-time, and that begins with open communication internally and an on-the-offensive approach to solutions.


5. What traits do you believe managers need to acquire to succeed in an innovation-led organization?

Open-mindedness, trust, vigilance, and determination. You must be open to outside-the-box thinkers. Plenty of people claim to have that mindset, but many are unnerved by truly original innovation as it may seem foreign to the point of being impractical. However, a handheld phone-mp3-computer seemed impractical (and impossible) 10 years ago, but now we have the iPhone. Trust is also key. You have to trust your teams to work effectively and create good ideas. There is a requisite need to delegate some control. It's the only way truly creative people create. At the same time, however, leaders are in charge - they must be vigilant and active in the innovation process. Leaders cannot be timid in voicing skepticism or input. Finally, one must be determined. Seldom does an idea work the first time around. Leaders have to be determined to see a great idea through to the end. In fact, what makes it a great idea is that it has been put through the wringer and improved.


In the future, I hope to bring you a review of "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis" and right now you can enter to win one of three signed copies of this book in our October Innovation Contest.



Braden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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