On last week’s Chamber LIVE show, a series we host on our Facebook Page live every Thursday at noon, I mentioned that growth and development in Bennington would take Catalytic Leadership. This was in reference to the development announced around the Putnam Block.
In 2014, the Association for Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) launched “The Horizon Initiative. “ This group was tasked with discovering the crucial factors that will influence chambers, communities and economies in the next decade. Initially, the project tried to quantify how “chambers” would and could survive but the researchers found that chambers all over the U.S. are different: some small, some large, some urban, and some rural. There was just no way to provide a silver bullet that would apply universally to all chambers. Instead, the initiative began to focus on the change factors that should influence a chamber no matter its location or type.
At the Bennington Chamber’s strategic retreat earlier this year, we took a look at all eight factors the initiative looked at, with the eighth being Catalytic Leadership.
Of all the factors, the Horizon Initiative put the greatest emphasis on this last one because it is the catalyst that drives the rest of the factors. The combined effect of forces within a community, great universities and powerful local leaders are the most predicable solution to America’s biggest current problem: winning the global war for good jobs and great communities. Unfortunately, the struggle for willing and able volunteer leadership is likely to only intensify over the next decade.
Successful organizations, projects, and initiatives of the future will require at least a handful of leaders who exhibit these traits: staggering levels of focus, commitment to excellence, fiery passion, persistence and humble understanding that only the power of a team can yield success. You can start to see a trend emerging as we talked Level 5 Leadership in last week’s column and Catalytic Leadership in this week’s.
How do leaders become catalytic? It starts when those involved begin to define their vision in terms of what the organization (or initiative, project, dream) will be, rather than what it will do. The business side of these initiatives will require leaders who cause change to happen in communications, development, design and direct support.
Additionally, community-imposed limitations on leaders who seek to be catalytic could drive some of the best leaders from our area. This goes beyond the Putnam Block. When I look around we have some great potential Catalytic Leaders who are testing the flexibility and adaptability of our town and their organizations at the moment. Challenged with too many limitations and roadblocks, these leaders might decide to leave!
Aligned community leadership is, in many ways, the holy grail of community advancement. When elected officials, bureaucrats, corporate leaders, chambers, economic developers, media, non-profits, clergy, and other influencers of a community can come together with one common goal and approach, truly remarkable things can happen.
It will take the full community to make projects like the Putnam Block (and others) to really ignite and be successful. It starts with Catalytic Leaders, and as you can see already, Bennington has a treasure chest of them!
Let’s Go For It!
There are many factors that come into play when starting a business, managing a business and creating a product or service that people love. But in my experience what separates mediocre business and business leaders from great ones is the ability to get ideas to go, to move, “to ship.” The most creative and effective people (the doers, hustlers, movers, shakers, and innovators) are people that have had plenty of opportunity to say “no” to that nagging voice in the back of their heads telling them to drop the idea and yet, against the odds, they say, “Yes, let’s go for it!”
We all have ideas, talent, creativity, and thoughts (and if you don’t think you do just remember what you did with a box of crayons and some paper when you were a kid); unfortunately for most people they don’t always share those great ideas or thoughts with the world. Why not?
In Seth Godin’s book, Poke the Box, he addresses this initial fear in all of us (a fear built from many years of conformity and mediocrity) and speaks to the notion of getting your ideas to a starting point. He suggests that our biggest problem isn’t financing, resources or even a lack of good ideas. Our biggest problem is that we stink at telling ourselves to go for it and then hustling to make it happen. He talks about the seven imperatives of initiative building which include: being aware (of the market, of opportunities, of who we are), being educated, being connected, being consistent, building an asset, and being productive. Those are six and we’re usually pretty good at those (or at least we can get better at them). The seventh imperative is the one we struggle with the most. The seventh imperative is “to have the guts and the heart and the passion to ship.” By ship, Godin means the ability to say, “Yes, let’s go for it!”
Whether launching my own business, helping the family with a legacy business, talking to entrepreneurs, consulting with business leaders, or listening to people and their ideas, here are some of my current thoughts on moving ideas to “yes, let’s go for it!” mode. I think it is one of the most important talents to have in this day and age and I don’t see it often enough.
1) Doubling – most people think the idea or the new product has to be right or correct (without flaw) straight out of the gate. Doubling is the idea that you innovate on your way to innovation; you should always be tinkering with the idea to make it better, but this shouldn’t prohibit you from pushing it out. Apple famously does this with each new generation of their products. They don’t wait to ship; they know they’ll get it better in the next generation.
2) You have to conquer risk – one foundational reason we don’t ship our ideas is because of the risk involved. The lack of taking risks is caused by fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking ignorant/dumb/stupid/incompetent/etc. We avoid risk because we’ve been trained to avoid failure. “Failure is not an option!” Well, maybe it is and maybe it’s okay? You have to have the audacity to try it again. Fail and fail fast; learn from your mistakes and move onward.
3) Show up, on time, ready to go - A recent survey found 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population is "consistently late," especially when it comes to work costing over $90 billion in lost productivity in the U.S. Much of the success of innovative organizations is their ability to show up, on time, with the proper tools (people, skills, technology, etc.) to be successful and ready to go. I am still amazed at the number of meetings that don’t start or stop on time. That would be a good start for most of us.
4) Have an insatiable desire to understand how something works and how it might work better – in Poke the Box, Godin writes, “Curiosity can start us down a path to shipping, to bringing things to the world, to examining them, refining them, and repeating the process again.” We have to constantly have our receptors out there for new ideas and continuous learning opportunities. The automobile came about because we found out how to do it better than with horses, the TV came about because we wanted more than to just listen to the radio, and the iPod came out, and replaced the CD player, because Jobs proclaimed, “I want to put a 1,000 songs in your pocket.”
5) Institute “think sessions.” Josh Linkner wrote in Fast Company magazine about instilling creativity throughout one’s week. He suggests that we should take 5% of our 40-hour work week and unplug from the tactical chores of business, letting our minds wander creatively. I always think that reading creative magazines, journaling, sketching ideas, waking up early, having “you-time,” running, or going to the beach all count as part of my think sessions – those times when it’s just you and your thoughts.
6) Being a good steward of your ideas. Your idea, creativity and talent are only on loan. In a great TED talk about creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, educates us about the origins of creativity or what the ancient Romans called “a Genius.” “A Genius” used to be thought of as a spirit that came over someone and assisted the artist with his/her work. This artist was only a vessel that the “Genius” worked through. Frank Sinatra once said of talent, “Talent must not be wasted. Those who have it must hug it, embrace it, nurture it and share it lest it be taken away from you as fast as it was loaned to you.” So remember, it may be your great idea, but inspiration is only on loan to you. You may only get this one time to ship it. Don’t miss your chance to go for it.
So why write this article this week? I want to encourage all you thinkers, dreamers, doers and go-getters in Bennington to go for it! Additionally, even if you have a 9-5 job, are a stay-at-home mom, a retired member looking to reboot your next chapter in life, or a student with a crazy idea in your dorm room -- go for it!