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innovate-01-1Cy Wakeman, is a dynamic international keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times bestselling author, and global thought leader with over 25 years experience cultivating a revolutionary new approach to leadership.


Grounded in reality, Wakeman’s philosophy has helped organizations and individuals all over the world learn to ditch the drama and turn excuses into results. Cy is the keynote speaker at our upcoming Vision 2018 conferences in Philadelphia, and Chicago. This is her fourth blog post in our reality-based leadership series.

Many people don't realize that traditional leadership philosophies—the ones you've been taught and practicing— are not helping generate innovation and results. In fact, they’re fueling drama at work, killing our chances for innovation and creating entitlement. I won't regale you with the details of my research, but I am calling on everyone to modernize their leadership philosophies and update their practices to open up more opportunities for innovation. 

Here are three tips to help you modernize your leadership:

  1. Start empowering, not fixing. If you're like most leaders, when your team brings you a problem, you want to jump in and fix it. But, when you go immediately to fix-it mode, you leave your team believing they don’t need the skills or permission to first try and fix the issue themselves. As a leader, your job isn't to overmanage and fix things, your job is to lead. Overmanaging kills the creative process and robs teams of their own development since they don’t learn to think for themselves. 

So, what’s the alternative? Instead of giving in to your need to fix, try coaching instead. When someone is having difficulty with a goal or issues with a difficult project, try refocusing their energy, not on “why not” but on “how can we?" Other times, people are going to want to bend your ear about adverse circumstances, or tattle on other teams. Instead of offering fix-it solutions, I want you to refocus them on themselves and where they can create impact. You can start with a great coaching question like, “How can you help?” or “What would great look like right now?”

  1. Start managing energy, not people. Great leaders focus on managing the energy of the situation rather than the people in the room. In my research, I took a look at where energy is being spent in meetings. What I found was, in almost 90 percent of the meetings I observed, the energy was focused on why we couldn't, why we shouldn't have to, and why the idea won't work. Leaders, in your meetings and in your interactions with employees, it’s your role to move the energy away from “why we can’t” into “how we could.”

One technique is to use empathy, not sympathy in your interactions. What’s the difference? Sympathy is when I'm hearing that you're in pain and I validate your victim mindset that the reason for your pain is the circumstances, people or things around you. Empathy is acknowledging the fact that you're struggling, but it's followed by a call to greatness. Instead of colluding with others about their suffering, talk about what they would need to do in order to mitigate the risks that concern them.


Here's what empathy sounds like when leading a change that generates positive energy. “We need to start updating our business processes. I'm going to tell you what I know about what we need to change, and then we're going to go around the table and focus on what we need to do to make this update least disruptive to our customers.” Great leaders go on to explain their knowledge and solicit individual expertise.  This technique takes the energy away from, “why we shouldn't have to” into “how we’re going to make it work.”  

  1. Work with the willing. I can't tell you the number of emails and calls I get soliciting my advice on how to get a resistant employee onboard. My advice to you is simply focus on working with the willing. Buy-in isn’t optional. Too many times we're putting the responsibility on the leader to work with employees who aren’t willing or who haven’t bought into the organization's goals. Great leaders know that to fuel innovation and keep teams ready for what’s next they must shift focus toward the willing. We only have two options when it comes to aligning with our organization—to stay in joy or leave in peace. There is no third option of, stay and sabotage or stay and resist.

When leaders work with the willing, instead of spending time on resistance, they can enable and reward the visionaries to do the innovative and groundbreaking work that comes so easily to them. And the resistors have two choices: 1) to join up with the visionaries or 2) to find something outside the organization that is a better fit for their personal goals.  

These are just three things you can do each day to enable the innovation you are striving for. I hope I have inspired you to take another look at your leadership philosophies. After all, innovation isn’t anything we need to add to our workplace, it’s our natural state once the drama and entitlement are gone.  If you're looking for more tips and tools for you and your team to ditch the drama, I hope you join us for the next Vision 2018 Conference in Philadelphia on May 10-11.

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