My Two Most Important Jobs as a Leader

old way and new way of innovation

On Wednesday at 2:00 this week I have to do my job as the leader of the Innovation Engineering movement.    As I prepare for the meeting I found myself this week reflecting on my two most important jobs as a leader: 1) Make true strategic decisions on where I want the organization to go and 2) Give power to my people to help them achieve my strategic mission.  

The best method of accomplishing each of these has changed dramatically in the past 10 years.  It has changed for CEO’s as well as team or project leaders.   The new world way of leading makes a meaningful difference…


1.  Make true strategic decisions on where I want the organization to go. 

In the OLD world a CEO did this by reviewing what the “strategic planning” team developed.  The leader’s role was primarily to “react” to the plan not to author it.  The strategic plan itself was high on numbers (metrics to hit) and low on narrative.   The assumption is that if people are given a numeric goal then it will magically happen.

In the NEW world a CEO authors the strategic plan based on personal understanding of the bigger picture challenges and opportunities the organization faces internally and externally.   Just as in the Canadian, USA and NATO military the new business leader personally writes the strategy in her or his own words..  It is high on narrative and light on numbers.  It explains in a motivating way the reason why we are making this change in direction or why we are doubling down on the existing plan. In either case it defines clearly what we are going to focus, focus, focus our limited resources on and sets clear boundaries on what is and is not aligned with the mission.   In the military this is called the Commanders Intent.  Within Innovation Engineering this is called a BLUE CARD™.  


2. Give power to my people to help them achieve my strategic mission.   

In the OLD world this was done using a modern version of the Henry Ford assembly line.   A team of middle managers create a detailed plan for who is going to do what.  Then, the tasks are assigned to each department, sub group, work team and individual.  Each is to do their task as defined - just as the immigrant worker in a Ford plant did the 1 to 4 tasks he was assigned to do on each Model T. 

This works if the plan is brilliant - detailed - and there are no interactions between the tasks. Given that this is rarely the case - failure is more common than success.

In the NEW world of business and the military the organization is challenged to identify the best methods of accomplish the mission.  Within Innovation Engineering these are called YELLOW CARDS.   With complex organizations - the middle management work together to create a set of Cascading Blue Cards that translate how the CEO’s mission impacts each department.   However, given how VERY IMPORTANT the mission is to the company

In the NEW world of business “giving power” starts with setting a clear direction - however it also means that the leader takes responsibility for enabling the organization to accomplish the mission.  This means never ending, continuous education and upgrading of tools.   The new economy offers tremendous opportunities.  Sadly, most companies don’t invest in their people.  They expect employees with old methods, mindset and work tools - to compete against start ups and international competitions who are working with a different mindset and toolset. 


This week we are kicking off the development of a new education program that is a major change for us.   The project could be defined in many ways. 

 It could be a simple “repackaging” of existing materials. 

My vision is different.  I see this as a strategic initiative with the potential to 1,000X the number of people who we educate in the Innovation Engineering mindset.  Doing it at this level will be difficult.  It makes it a complex system project that requires optimizing the interactions between our education team, software team and external partners.    

As the leader of the organization - my job this Wednesday is to Lead the Change, Share the Vision, Inspire People and Empower them to do great things.