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Leadership

Can You Innovate AND Manage Like Steve?

Lead, But Allow Others to Flourish

I don't think I'm alone in saying that Steve Jobs is a world renowned icon. A man who reinvented Apple, and perhaps technology, to the delight of customers, employees, shareholders and vendors. I remember working in Silicon Valley during the not-so-glory days when many business and tech executives said they would never consider bringing Apple into their businesses or homes. They'd say: "Who knows if they'll still exist outside of the educational market in 10 years." Now many of those executives are anxiously sending messages with the sign off, "Sent from my iPad."

Today, most agree that Steve is really behind all the genius and diversification. But you have to believe that a man as brilliant as Steve Jobs has taken the time to develop a well planned succession strategy with new CEO Tim Cook.

Allowing others to succeed around you is a key ingredient of a true leader. The latest move will be the most visible test of this, as well as whether Tim Cook will be given the latitude to become his own brand within Apple. But let's look deeper into how a leader views his team.

Can YOU Create and Lead?

Some believe you're either a business leader (great motivator or figurehead, for example) or a creative-type who quietly sits in the corner like the gifted (or "mad" scientist) - and bingo, another killer product is born! Well perhaps we now have highly visible evidence that you can do both, although the leadership side is much easier to dissect.

For example, the most innovative work environment you can create is one where it's safe for success - one that allows your team to take risks and offer suggestions for improvements, even if small mistakes occur. Some of the best advancements in a company come from people who are in customer-facing positions, on the front lines.

In one national independent study we commissioned among 586 workers, 91 percent felt that it's positive for morale when managers even change course after getting employee feedback. Too often, there's a logjam of ideas emanating from your people up the chain of command - due to territorialism. So things stay status quo.

Steve Jobs and Apple kept to the vision, but also kept the pulse on the ever-changing customers needs, 24/7, as the best marketers do.

Certainly Apple has its challenges ahead. But do you - in trying to create a fertile environment for creativity while managing a team? Do you seek to make your workplace safe for success? I would venture that some of these approaches came naturally to Steve and will be part of the continuing management culture. Consider the following:

• Make No Idea a Bad One

Very few successful products and services on the market today resemble their initial description. They were built upon an idea that morphed over time, were researched, tested and changed again. By saying "No" to your team, you halt all future possibilities; period. But by finding the seed of a potential in each idea, you open a world of options, and streams of revenue to your firm - which obviously helps your career.

• Embrace Talents Around You

Steve Jobs undoubtedly also knew that creating a better, more humanized workplace for everyone increases productivity, morale, and profitability. He was able to lead with great vision and ideas, but likely knew that were teams of people who could execute them better than he could. So rather than become threatened by such people (commonplace even at senior levels), he embraced the talents of those around him, adding fuel to the creative engines.

• Adopt a "No TOT" Tolerance Policy

Our studies show that most employees who work for "Terrible Office Tyrants" or TOTs, go quietly about their business, producing what they can, but will not speak up for fear of reprisal. Gauge this behavior and be ready to take immediate remedial steps if you see it.

• Look Beyond Charm

There are some employees who behave one way around you and another way when you turn your head. Be certain you aren't inadvertently playing favorites or accidentally overlooking brilliant ideas from people who don't happen to present well. In addition, creative people need to have peace of mind to do their best work. Fairness and getting recognition based on talent and merit means a lot. Isn't this the case with most human beings?

• Be a Role Model

Honestly evaluate yourself and embrace transparency with your team. It will be emulated and foster a more fertile ground for more fun and innovation - and less down time spent on stress; a creativity killer.

• Keep Your Ear to the Ground

The most accurate information about your managers comes directly from your employees. Build trust. Ask them for their thoughts on a specific project, and read in between the lines. Maintain your vision, but combine that with a collaborative approach. Catch your staff "doing something right." A little genuine praise goes a long way in keeping your team loyal and productive.

• Make it a People Place

Maintain an open door policy. Be more sensitive to the verbal and nonverbal cues of staff using emotional smarts. Use humor, the "great diffuser" of tension when the going gets tough. Finally, keep in mind the ongoing need for communication, and respect.

A humanized, creative workplace attracts and retains the best people, resulting in more customers and a strong bottom line. It's an ongoing commitment, but one that will yield soaring profits.

Just look at Steve's legacy.

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