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Friday, September 17, 2021
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Leading with Character: Initiative and Innovation

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we heard and read about innovation and initiative as organizations and their employees searched for ways to address the sudden changes imposed by government-mandated lockdowns and restrictions on doing business. Many businesses adapted almost in stride, while others struggled. What set the successful businesses apart? I believe it was workplace culture.

Changing Workplace Culture

Businesses that empowered their employees to seize the initiative when opportunities arose, and rewarded innovation, were almost certainly better positioned to succeed when COVID struck. But not all businesses were ready. Why? Because initiative and innovation can lead to risk and failure, and what leader wants to deal with that?

People talk up the benefits of initiative and innovation in public, but back in the office they fall short of taking action to reward that behavior. They want to sound like they support new ideas and new ways of doing business, but they don’t want to take the risk that accompanies reaching high and stretching to achieve better outcomes.

Most people and organizations are risk averse. We’re trained, from a young age, not to fail. We’re taught to be safe. We’re taught to avoid risks. We’re taught not to waste time, effort, or money. As adults, we’re more frequently rewarded for our accomplishments than for our imagination. Employees who put their heads down and get the job done are likely to receive a good performance evaluation. Those who imagine new ways of doing things – who initiate and innovate – are likely to experience failures along the way before they achieve success. They risk receiving a lower performance evaluation.

Seizing the Opportunity

The COVID pandemic was an opportunity for businesses to examine their workplace culture. COVID will not be the last challenge we’ll have to face, so now is not the time for leaders to breathe a sigh of relief and tell their employees to return to business as normal. Instead, now is the time to build on the resilience instilled during the pandemic and search for ways to lock in those new habits. Resilience is like high-quality steel: it bends and molds itself to meet resistance, and is flexible enough to bear the burden of the force without breaking. We need workplace cultures that reward the initiative and innovation that will help their organization flex and bend, not break, under the next big challenge we’re sure to face.

Leaders of character foster workplace environments that encourage imagination, and reward initiative and innovation.

Look in the mirror. Do you settle for the status quo from your employees, or do you reward those with the courage to initiate a new way of doing business or innovate a new solution?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.

Sandra L. Stosz
Vice Admiral Sandra L. Stosz retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in May of 2018. Stosz previously assumed the duties of Deputy Commandant for Mission Support Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, Vice Admiral Stosz lead the 17,000-person organization that delivers the systems and people that enable the U.S. Coast Guard to efficiently and effectively perform its operational missions. Vice Admiral Stosz graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Government. She was awarded a Master of Business Administration degree from Northwestern University’s J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management in 1994. In 2000, she completed an executive fellowship in national security through the MIT Seminar XXI program, and she earned a Master of National Security Strategy from the National War College in 2004. In 2009, she attended the Navy’s Executive Business Course at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler business school. Vice Admiral Stosz’s personal awards include the Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal, three Legion of Merit Medals, four Meritorious Service Medals, two Coast Guard Commendation Medals, and two Coast Guard Achievement Medals.

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