The scene was set.
I saw the running. I heard the honks. I felt the energy. But I still wasn’t sure what was happening.
The action was about a block and a half down the road along my daily walking route. With my less-than-stellar vision, I could see two girls, one running and one zipping along on a scooter.
As I got closer I could see that each time a car passed, the girls stood next to each other with their chins held high, their right arms outstretched confidently, and their right thumbs posed upward.
If the car honked its horn (or in my case, if a walker across the street waved and said, “Hi there!”), the girls responded in a victory squeal and scurried to the far end of the sidewalk where they recorded their success in chalk on the sidewalk. Then they huddled together, not unlike football players, and I can only guess they strategized on how to maintain and up-level their results.
I was witnessing leadership in action.
I looked over my shoulder to watch them in their element a couple of times after walking past. They’re leaders, I thought. They’re innovating, problem solving (because they were quite a few cars that didn’t sound their horns), and evaluating their current results.
And then I thought about the honor workplace leaders have of doing the exact same thing with their teams.
In their book Courageous Cultures, authors Karin Hurt and David Dye share how leaders can build teams of micro-innovators, problem solvers, and customer advocates. A quick definition of each type of team member:
Micro-Innovators consistently seek out small but powerful strategies to improve the business. They solve challenges by asking questions like, How can I make this easier, better, or faster?
Problem Solvers care about what’s not working so they can make it better. They tend to the business, treat it as their own, and focus on solutions. They’re not afraid to uncover and speak openly about what’s not working.
Customer Advocates see through the customers’ eyes and speak up on their behalf. They’re interested in looking for ways to improve the customer experience and minimize their frustrations.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? With team members like those, businesses would experience success after success.
Something else is needed, though.
There’s just one problem. Each of the team members described needs courage to speak up, communicate about what’s not working, and promote new (sometimes unproven) strategies. And courage isn’t always easy to come by.
So what can you do to promote increased courage on your team?
- Crank up the curiosity.
You might hear a team member’s idea and think, Tried it before. Didn’t work. Not going there again. But rather than shut down the idea, why not respond with curiosity? Ask questions. And then ask some more. The deeper you’re willing to investigate, the more your team members will bravely speak up with ideas.
- Normalize failure.
Innovation and problem solving don’t guarantee successful outcomes every time. In fact, there may be more losses than wins. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Your team members’ courage in trying and possibly failing is dependent on how you, the leader, respond to failure. It’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. It’s how success eventually happens.
- Go first.
You’re the leader. The team is following your lead. When you show up transparently and vulnerably and openly share that courage can be difficult for you, too, you’ll gain a whole lot more than you’ll lose. And if all goes as planned, you’ll begin hearing team members’ ideas far more frequently than you currently are.
Your future results rely on that courage.
I’m not sure what the long-term plan is for the scooter crew I observed on that recent walk, but I doubt that they’re stopping with their current plan. As they focus their efforts on their honking ‘customers’, I have a vision of promotional posters being displayed or cheery songs being sung in the future in their effort to improve their customers’ experience.
Now it’s your turn. How will you inspire courage for more micro-innovations, problem solving, and customer advocacy on your team?