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Embrace Conflicts, Work with Opposites, and Let Go of Control: 8 Leadership Strategies from Top Performers

Why staff turnover isn't necessarily bad, and how Amazon manages to patent over 1,000 inventions annually.

What sets successful leaders apart? How can mistakes be the foundation for success? Why should team members not face criticism for their failures? How can employee turnover breathe new life into a business? And why should conflicts in the workplace not be feared?

Let's delve into leadership lessons from some of the world's most successful CEOs and their teams – lessons you can apply to your business for sustained team success.

#1. Align Your Team Around a Shared Mission

Every business has a vision, mission, and objectives. For example, IKEA aims "To create a better everyday life for the many people," while Google's mission is "To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

However, often not all team members are aware of their company's mission and vision. Only 40% of employees know their organisation's mission, strategy, and goals, which is problematic since a unified focus on the mission is essential for successfully entering new markets, launching products, and increasing earnings.

A shared mission provides clarity and direction for everyone in your company, ensuring they understand their role in achieving the organisation's goals.

Consider using anonymous employee feedback sessions to gauge understanding of the company's mission, vision, and values. Ask specific questions about what these elements mean to them and how they align with organisational goals. Encourage employees to create visual representations of the company's vision and values using images, words, and symbols.

#2. Use a Bottom-Up Strategy and Learn from Your Employees

Your company – especially your employees – can be a treasure trove of business advice. Thus, it's beneficial to embrace a bottom-up strategy and encourage employees to offer suggestions for company-wide improvement.

Many successful CEOs value learning from their employees. For instance, upon becoming CEO of Microsoft in 2014, Satya Nadella faced challenges in adapting to the rapidly evolving technology landscape. He understood the need for a robust, scalable cloud platform to compete with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform.

During this transition, he sought input from employees across different departments, encouraging open communication and creating channels for sharing ideas, concerns, and feedback about the company's direction.

Additionally, Nadella listened to engineers, developers, and product managers regarding Azure's usability, performance, and features, incorporating their feedback into the platform's development roadmap.

As a result, Azure has become one of the top three cloud service providers globally, with significant adoption among enterprise customers, including Fortune 500 companies and various industries.

#3. Regularly Provide Your Employees with Feedback

80% of employees say they're more productive when recognition and rewards motivate them. In decision-making processes, it's crucial for people to feel their opinions are heard, even if not always implemented. Responsibility and productivity increase when individuals are confident they understand expectations and will be evaluated promptly.

Research indicates that feedback reduces stress, builds trust, and enhances project quality. Meanwhile, praise stimulates dopamine production, fostering calm and confidence.

Examples of how CEOs provide feedback to employees include:

  • Open-door policy. CEOs like Alan Mulally of Ford Motor Company maintained an open-door policy, welcoming employees at all levels to share feedback, questions, and concerns.
  • 360-degree feedback. Microsoft, under Satya Nadella's leadership, introduced "Perspectives," a 360-degree feedback system promoting continuous feedback and growth, enabling employees to seek feedback from colleagues for personal and professional development.
  • Real-time feedback tools. Companies like Airbnb use real-time feedback tools, such as Ratings & Reviews, to facilitate ongoing communication between managers and employees, allowing them to share feedback on projects, teamwork, and individual contributions.
  • Recognition programs. CEOs often implement programs to acknowledge employee achievements. HubSpot, led by Brian Halligan, introduced "Hero Awards" to celebrate employees exemplifying the company's core values.

#4. Consider Hiring New People – Employee Turnover Can Be Beneficial

Conventional wisdom suggests high staff turnover is undesirable. However, viewing it from a different perspective can be enlightening. Turnover is inevitable, and new employees can infuse the organisation with fresh knowledge, innovative ideas, and new skills.

Even if it seems all processes are finely tuned and everyone knows their role, letting people leave can be beneficial. This includes highly skilled experts, even during critical projects or when clients prefer specific specialists.

Proper hiring, onboarding, and training can ensure that new employees can effectively take over. Challenges associated with integrating new team members are worth facing. For instance, Zappos offers exit payments to team members who realise they aren't a good fit, and Amazon has a "Pay to Quit" strategy, offering employees a financial incentive to leave voluntarily, starting at $2,000 and increasing to $5,000, to encourage reflection on their genuine needs. Staying in a company where one does not want to be is not beneficial for the individual or the organisation.

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#5. Cultivate a Culture of Risk-Taking and Embrace Failure

Mistakes and critical incidents are bound to occur: websites crash, products malfunction, and customers may become upset. The way leaders respond to these incidents can significantly impact an organisation's culture, either positively or negatively.

Assigning blame leads to resentment, distrust, and unproductive behaviours, which can cause organisational stagnation. When employees feel undervalued and are afraid to take risks, progress stalls. On the other hand, a response that avoids blame fosters a learning environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth, and team members feel appreciated for their contributions.

Amazon invests annually in patenting inventions, ranging from underground tunnels and delivery drones to airship warehouses, spending $20 billion USD on R&D. Currently, Amazon holds a total of 30,473 patents globally.

Some of Amazon's most ambitious delivery patents include:

  • Air Warehouses: In December 2016, Amazon patented a concept for a warehouse attached to an airship. Planned to operate at an altitude of approximately 14 km, drones will retrieve packages and deliver them directly to customers. Amazon also intends to refuel the airship mid-air.

  • Underground Tunnel System: Among Amazon's most innovative projects is an underground tunnel system designed for goods delivery via conveyor belts, rails, or pneumatic tubes. These tunnels could link airports with distribution centres or even individual homes, offering a solution to avoid ground traffic congestion. Amazon secured a patent for this tunnel system in November 2016.

#6. Foster a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

It might seem ideal to work with someone who instantly gets you: enjoying the same movies, sharing Spotify playlists, participating in office yoga, or exchanging jokes after work. However, such a homogenous environment can quickly lead to stagnation in an ever-evolving and innovative landscape.

The reality is that working with people who are different from you is essential. Collaborating with individuals of various ages, genders, and backgrounds, with diverse experiences, fosters a rich environment for idea exchange and innovative solutions, even when you're out of ideas.

A 2018 McKinsey study found that diversity is not just morally right but also economically beneficial, as gender and ethnic diversity are correlated with increased profits. Diverse teams are better at understanding client needs and requests.

Starbucks, under the leadership of Howard Schultz, is renowned for its commitment to promoting a diverse workforce. The company supports the creation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are employee-led groups offering networking, support, and advocacy for employees with shared interests. Starbucks' ERGs cater to various communities, including LGBTQ+ partners, veterans, and racial/ethnic minorities, and the company has made strides in pay equity and transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits.

When a position opens, seek out candidates who, while similarly skilled, are the most different from your current team members.

#7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

The Institute of Corporate Productivity reports that 46% of companies struggle with task delegation, hindering business growth and leading to excessive work hours. Many business owners work over 50 hours a week, risking burnout.

The adage "if you want something done right, do it yourself" can be a leadership trap. Effective managers know how to build a strong team, delegate tasks wisely, and distribute responsibilities appropriately.

Delegation has been shown to increase team engagement, with leaders proficient in delegation generating 33% more revenue for their companies.

To avoid delegating tasks that require your personal attention, list everything you do during the week. Use The Eisenhower Matrix, divided into four sections – urgent, not urgent, important, not important – to categorise tasks. Handle important tasks yourself, delegate urgent but not crucial tasks, and consider eliminating or delegating tasks that are neither urgent nor important.

#8. Stop Avoiding Conflicts

Avoiding conflicts is common, regardless of one's position within an organisation. While yelling and blaming may harm team spirit, conflicts that are resolved productively and peacefully can be beneficial.

Johan Galtung, a pioneer in peace and conflict studies, defines conflict as a situation where people's goals clash. Conflicts are inevitable, consuming, on average, 2.1 hours per week. Learning to identify, analyse, and manage conflicts calmly is crucial.

To become more adept at handling conflicts:

  • Focus on the issue rather than the person, which helps control negative emotions and find mutually beneficial solutions.
  • Respond thoughtfully and not impulsively, preparing possible responses in advance without scripting them.
  • Express emotions professionally. If you feel anger or frustration, request time to cool down before continuing the conversation.
  • Listen actively, ensuring you understand the challenges faced by both parties.
  • Collaborate on brainstorming and problem-solving, committing to listen without judgment until all options are considered.