Pioneers go where people have not gone before, they do things others think are not possible, and they blaze a trail for others to follow. Pioneers in the American West founded new cities, businesses, and traditions. Pioneers of the Industrial Revolution founded new manufacturing processes, technology, and work. Pioneers of space exploration took us to the moon and expanded our view of the universe. Silicon Valley pioneers Steve Jobs and Bill Gates founded a new industry and changed the way we exchange and use information and technology, paving the way for today’s pioneers like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.
In business, pioneers shape business models, upset ecosystems, and introduce new technology that results in high growth. Unfortunately, as companies grow, some of these pioneering tendencies die. In some areas, this is positive. Companies put in processes to control risks and scale growth. At its worst, losing the pioneering spirit kills risk taking and slows growth.
Even in these environments, research and practice shows that great leaders can inspire a growth culture. Here are three ways to help you get in touch with your inner pioneer and spark more growth for your team!
Go Where Others Have Not Gone
Stop resisting change! Some managers are great at raising objections or outright rejecting change initiatives. They do this when new technologies, new processes, and new work spaces are introduced. Their teams then follow their lead, damaging or killing potential positive benefits for the company. 30–50% of change initiatives fail, and much of this is due to leadership.
Great leaders do raise objections, but they also outwardly support the change and identify solutions to address identified obstacles. They lead through the change instead of resisting the change.
More importantly, great leaders take time to identify and introduce new business models, product or service innovations, technologies, or other changes within the organisation. This can upset the organisation, but these changes are often the genesis of new growth opportunities that will take the company to the next level of performance.
When the automobile was introduced by George Selden in the late 1800s, people did not accept it. Funding was scarce and many did not believe it would catch on. People would popularly cry out, “Get a horse!” when the first autos went down the street. Make sure you are the leader driving the auto. Don’t be caught feeding your horse while the world changes.
Do Impossible Things
Organisations sometimes reward caution. Managers sandbag their targets to ensure their teams receive a year-end bonus, they carry over sales to the next quarter that can be closed earlier, or they put long timelines in place. Remember, pioneers do things that others think are impossible, and that requires taking some risks.
Great leaders do this by constantly challenging their teams to achieve higher targets. Whether the company sets a target of revenue, cost reduction, or cycle time, growth leaders set higher stretch targets for their teams. As they near the targets, they will raise their forecasts and targets even higher. After setting these high targets, leaders work with their teams to identify how to achieve them.
Many leaders in emerging markets have developed this growth mind-set because their corporate or region headquarters have high expectations for growth in their markets. To manage this, these leaders often set even higher targets for their teams and work to identify how to expand their customer base, introduce new products and services, or automate processes to achieve target. They don’t waste time complaining.
Ford Motor Company had only been in business 10 years when it invented the moving assembly line. It had to compete with hundreds of other auto manufacturers, resulting in a goal to constantly improve manufacturing time to remain competitive. One method of doing this was the moving assembly line, which drove production time from 12 hours per auto to 90 minutes per auto. Prices for Model Ts dropped from $850 to $300. This decimated competition and put many of them out of business within three years.
Doing impossible things start with setting targets that are incredibly difficult to achieve. This focuses effort and resources and encourages experimentation and innovation to succeed. Be a leader that changes the game rather than one that is trying to catch up and stay in business.
Blaze a Trail for Others
Some managers try to go where others have not gone and try to do impossible things only to fail in how they approach the challenge. These internal entrepreneurs often fail because they don’t align others to their vision. Senior leaders may consider them rogues who won’t collaborate and align with global. Employees may consider them eccentric and wait for them to move to another department or get fired.
Great growth leaders do blaze a trail and are out in front of others, but they make sure they bring everyone along with them. They may irritate the organisation with their drive, but also inspire it to move forward. They do this with their teams by taking a bottom-up approach in identifying the strategies and resources needed to achieve their targets. Involving their teams early creates ownership for the vision and roadmap to achieve the vision. At the same time, they map out more senior stakeholders in the organisation and actively engage them to gain support.
Elon Musk is a serial entrepreneur with an overall vision of changing the world and humanity while addressing climate change and increasing reliance on sustainable energy. He’s blazed trails for others, notably with Tesla, which is bringing electric cars to the mass market. His Hyperloop venture aims to “Reinvent transportation to eliminate the barriers of distance and time” by transporting people and goods in pressurised capsules in a low-pressure tube that can cross continents.
Perhaps most importantly, he has agreed to share technology with other companies, making it open source, to encourage production of electric autos and other solutions. By doing this, he is blazing a trail for others to improve an industry, even at the risk of increasing competition for his own products.
Pioneers help us dream and help us take actions to achieve these dreams. By following the actions of pioneers, you can cultivate a successful growth culture.