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A leader will face limitations that seem mutually exclusive: David Dye & Karin Hurt

Interview with Authors, Winning Well

Sangeeta Tanwar 

David Dye & Karin Hurt, Authors, Winning Well
David Dye & Karin Hurt, Authors, Winning Well

Great creativity happens when the leader combines two seemingly different ideas, David Dye and Karin Hurt tell Sangeeta Tanwar

In your book, Winning Well, you claim that to succeed, managers cannot choose between results and relationships. What values should a leader possess to be able to choose both?


Managers who choose to focus on both results and relationships value confidence and humility. It takes confidence to state a bold vision, call your team to a better future, and practise accountability. It takes humility to recognise that everyone on your team has strengths, to apologise when you make a mistake or hurt someone, and to invite people to challenge your thinking. These combined values create strong leaders.

Tomorrow's top leaders will not only set vision and corporate strategy, but also make sure strategies are executed properly. They will also be expected to develop talent and foster innovation. How can leaders continue to innovate and do everything else?

One of the most important leadership words to foster innovation is the word "and". As a leader, you will be faced with limitations that seem mutually exclusive. For instance: We need to increase the number of people we serve. We need to reduce overhead by 15 per cent.

At first, these two ideas may not make sense together, but when you combine them, "How can we increase the number of people we serve while reducing overhead expenses by 15 per cent?", you give yourself and your team the opportunity to get creative. Imagine a conversation at AirBnB: "How can we help people find a place to stay AND not have any room inventory ourselves?" Great creativity can happen when you combine two seemingly different ideas.

How best can a leader deal with challenges created by external factors beyond her control?

As a leader, you will always have to confront changes created by factors outside your control. These may be environmental changes, changes in your competition, or even changes made by your board or executives. Regardless of the circumstances, you can help your team navigate these changes.

First, acknowledge the circumstances. Don't pretend they do not exist, as that will only reduce your credibility. Acknowledge what has happened and how people might be feeling. For instance, you could say, "The floods in that district have created a big challenge for us and it's normal to be worried about our families and about how we will transport and sell our product for the next six months."

Next, help your team remember its identity and values. For instance, you might say, "We've overcome big challenges in the past, and we always support each other. Our mission is to provide the best customer service. We have a fantastic opportunity to do that now."

Third, establish clear success criteria. For example, "Our goal is to get our product to our customer with no more than 48 hours' delay and with no added cost to the customer." Or, in the case of executives, setting different goals than ones your team preferred: "The decision we have in front of us now is how we can achieve this goal with excellence and in a way that is true to our values."

Finally, include your team in the conversation about solutions. Once you've explained the changes, you are clear about what success looks like, and then ask for their ideas. This has two advantages: You get a wider range of solutions and the team now has a personal involvement.

A good leader is ideally one who gives her managers ample space to run the show and yet keeps a keen eye on details. How can leaders remain deeply involved and yet not micro-manage?

There is a useful expression to describe this balance, "nose in, fingers out". The image is of someone leaning in, watching with interest - keeping an eye on results and on the measurements that matter. However, their hands stay off the table. Look, but don't touch. So how do you get there?

To avoid micro-managing, delegate the outcome, not the process. Be clear about when a project needs to be completed and what a successful outcome looks like, but leave the process to the person and their team. When you delegate the task, schedule a follow up meeting with the person where you will receive the finished project.

Let's say you give a manager three weeks to create a demonstration product and supply them with the specifications. Create an appointment on both of your calendars where the manager will show you the completed project and demonstrate how the product meets the specifications. For longer projects, schedule periodic check-ins where they can update you on their progress and you can help coach them through problems.

This mutual appointment to receive the project creates accountability. You don't need to micro-manage the project because you know there is a time where the person will sit across from you and bring you the completed process. You'll be able to keep track of the measurements and results without getting your fingers into their process.

Some of the greatest leaders failed at one time or another, a list that includes Edison, Bill Gates and Walt Disney. What can leaders learn from their failures?

Failure can be an excellent leadership teacher, but only when you choose to learn from it. Many people fail repeatedly - often because they tried something once and it worked. Then they return to that same method over and over again, stuck in the belief that if it worked once it will work again.

This is unrealistic thinking. People who learn from failure do two things: First, they take responsibility to confront the truth. They say, "This did not work." The second thing they do is to ask, "What can I learn from this for the next time?"

They don't waste time blaming themselves or others for the failure. That's not productive. Instead, they look forward. "What can we do next time" is a powerful question that unites the team and focuses on solutions.

First Published: Mon, May 23 2016. 00:09 IST
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