One of the traits that distinguish a great leader from an average one is intellectual curiosity. You have to keep up with the times to be a great leader – and that means being interested in the world around you. Great leaders seek an edge; they’re constantly looking for ways to beat the competition or make the organization more efficient. That’s why one of your challenges as a leader is to be constantly looking for new ideas. It should be a near obsession – how can we do things cheaper, better, faster?
How are you exercising your curiosity and thirst for new ideas? You can read or research what other companies are doing, of course – there is a lot of information out there about best practices. But do you have the time? And do you have a broad enough lens? A lot of leaders get obsessed with what their direct competitors are doing, or other players in their broader industry. That’s a good strategy, but the fact is, a lot of good ideas will come from looking at industries or markets that have nothing to do with yours. You need to look high and low for best practices and new ideas – from a variety of organizations, and that requires focus and resources. If only you had an easy way to see inside these other companies.
In reality, you do. And the source is already knocking on your door – all you have to do is let them in and put them to work. Most of you probably interact with vendors or business partners in one form or another. Well guess what? They work with a lot of other companies, too. Ask them if they’d be willing to come in and talk with you and your team about the best practices they’re seeing in other companies. Most vendors will jump at the chance to strengthen their relationship with you and will be open to spending some time answering your questions. Buy the vendor lunch, and have them brief you and the team on what they’re seeing out there – that’s more than a fair trade for some cutting edge information.
To maximize the potential impact, set up a panel discussion on a variety of topics and invite your whole team (or a group of peers) to join you. Make it a department wide invitation, and you’ve got an employee development session (a seminar on best practices in the XYZ field). The point is, you have valued business partners that would be happy to sit down with you and brainstorm how to make your business better. After all, they have a vested interest in seeing you innovate and evolve. Don’t be shy about using this source to help you develop new ideas.