Be a true leader: engage the very voices

Artist Angela Baconkidwell
Artist Angela Baconkidwell

This post I found on Great way to gain insight from one of the leading business schools. And I’m very grateful to share the insights with you


Every morning we wake up to scrolls of depressing news: massive layoffs, budget shortfalls, and companies (even industries) collapsing. Once we get to the office, we’re part of conversations about this economy’s impact on our own organizations. As leaders, we move from feelings of numbness, to questioning reality, to determination. And we wonder how we can still achieve growth while enacting stringent budget cuts.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Recently, I was a panelist at an MIT conference in Boston and was asked to talk about cutting costs while growing the business. One might expect I’d focus on the need for senior leaders to “batten down the hatches” in these perilous times, but that is not what I believe. Instead, I spent time convincing them that now is the time to stop and take a fresh look at your assets, and engage the people — right in front of you — who have the most relevant point of view for reinventing and innovating a better future. It only takes one simple act of leadership: ask for their help, their perspectives, and their voices at the table. Invite them into the discussion.

I saw plenty of skeptical and curious looks around the room, so I asked how they felt when either ignored when they presented new ideas or, conversely, when they were actually heard and acknowledged. Regardless of their age, background, gender, they agreed that having their voice heard was the ultimate sign of respect — and a powerful call to engagement. Then the questions began to pour in on how to actually implement this strategy.

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I believe the “how” is actually quite simple:

  1. As a leader, lay out a vision of where you want to be (not the how, just the what)
  2. Stay true to the essence of your organization
  3. Lay out on a white board all the assets you have in the organization especially those you may have taken for granted or utilized in a defensive way vs. offensive
  4. Map out your capabilities
  5. Identify trends in the communities where you do business and be realistic about the new populations, previously ignored, that exist in your business
  6. Ask for help from employees and customers using your insights from the previous steps and let them unleash the magic they have in them

I’ve seen this work over, and over again. The trick? You must have a genuine and authentic belief in the people…not just a select few, but all people.

You will identify big ideas that reinvent the future, and you’ll come out of today’s environment stronger than ever — with employees and customers cheering at home and in the parking lots.
I know…cheering, you say? Yes, cheering. For one simple reason. You heard their voices, listened, and learned. The ultimate display of respect. Those who had voices also now have their fingerprints are all over the organization — and their hearts are in it. They are engaged. As a result, you will experience a strength that is immeasurable in terms of loyalty to your brand from customers and employees.

But it requires that, as a leader, you also stay engaged, and ask the right questions through the exploratory process. For example, what if they come back with a plan that, initially, you think is too costly to get the ROIC? Do you say, “We can’t make money that way, go back to the drawing board”? Well, some leaders would. However, it’s a sure-fire way to shut down engagement. So, instead, why not ask, “How would we differentiate in the market against competitors and come out financially strong?” By asking questions like this, you sharpen their skills, focus their ideation, and deepen their commitment to the solutions.

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You are showing them respect and trust, and that you truly value their input. Before you even know what’s happening, you’ll have about a multitude of perspectives working for you, instead of relying on your single — and necessarily, limited — frame of reference. By engaging the network of current employees, former employees, customers, and partners in the business or outside the business in local communities, you will make giant leaps in your business that, quite frankly, you wouldn’t have achieved if not for the mudslide in the economy, and all because we are working together to reach a new future.

The irony is that these very voices were in front of you the entire time! They represent the market share you have ignored all these years. The difference now is your ability to be a true leader and engage them.

A visionary business entrepreneur and motivator, Julie Gilbert has spent her career building businesses from ideation to scale. She is best known for her progressive company transformation strategy called WOLF, an innovative approach directly engaging employees and consumers that made Best Buy the place for women to work and shop. For more, please visit her profile page at Monitor Talent


Artist Angela Baconkidwell
Artist Angela Baconkidwell