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Unleash the Innovator Within

Hitting a roadblock when it comes to reaching the next level of business growth? Here are five ways to unlock your hidden potential.

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Whether you're leading a Fortune 500 company or a four-employee startup, all business owners have one thing in common: You confront roadblocks to innovation on a daily basis. One of the greatest challenges facing today's entrepreneurs is finding and growing the type of innovative thinking your companies need to survive. But with the right approach, you can uncover hidden leadership and strategic capabilities in both you and your employees. Skeptical? You shouldn't be. Here are five key ways to unleash the hidden potential in your business and achieve high levels of success:

1. Think two generations ahead. Envision your company 50 or even 100 years from now, even if you don't foresee your product or service lasting that long. Such forward-looking reflection creates an umbrella for long-term innovation to occur.

Action Task

  • Working back from your 50- or 100-year vision plan in 10-year increments, ask and answer the critical "who, what, where, when, why and how" questions about your business. For instance, who will your target demographic be; what will your core products and business focus be; where will your office(s) and facilities be located (nationally or globally); when will key business milestones be achieved, why will your business matter 10, 15 or 50 years from now and how are you going to achieve your business goals.

2. Confront and partner with the unconscious. Experts suggest that of all the experiences, knowledge and data stored in our minds, we are only "conscious" of and actively use just 10 percent of it. The other 90 percent resides in our "unconscious"--it's this part of our mind we can tap into for valuable insights.

Action Task

  • Daily, for the next 21 days, write one paragraph about some aspect of your leadership process that you want to improve. For example, let's say you find it difficult to take negative feedback from your customers. The more you write about the situation, the more you'll tap your unconscious for innovative ideas about solving the problem.

3. Aim to increase energy, not just efficiency. Do a quick energy audit of your employees to understand what energizes the staff and fuels their personal growth. If you understand what energizes them, you'll be able to implement actions that motivate your employees and increase productivity.

Action Tasks

  • Ask every employee to identify the three things that energize him or her the most about their jobs. Also ask them to identify the things they're not currently doing that would energize them. Then match your employees to the energizing activities that best fit their talents and skills and needs.
  • Also ask your staff to identify the three things that steal their energy, such as meetings or preparing reports. Help your management team reduce the activities that de-energize the workplace.

4. Establish the freedom to innovate. Creativity drives change. So tap into your employees' intuitive side by ritualizing "ingenuity time" on the job. Utilizing creative techniques can often help people see issues more clearly and open doors to potential solutions.

Action Tasks

  • Set aside enough money in your budget for your team to compete for an industry-related contest. It will keep your top people on their toes.
  • Encourage people to draw a diagram or depiction of their business problem or challenge in the form of a character or situation (such as a person headed into a storm or an animal confronting a group of hostile animals). Then ask that they sketch the conclusion they envision that would resolve the matter. Seeing their problem put to life often helps people envision the best solution.
  • Enable and encourage your employees to volunteer for community projects and social events to round out their work-life balance in meaningful ways.

5. Start all problem-solving by taking responsibility. Any problem you're directly involved with that you wish to solve requires reflection on your role and responsibility related to that problem. While you may not be the primary cause of the problem, reflecting on your role will help you better understand and acknowledge how you may have contributed to it.

Action Tasks

  • When you have a problem employee, start the fix by asking yourself: "What changes do I have to make in myself to help this person perform better?" You may not always identify something that needs changing, but the mere matter of asking and spending some time on reflecting will make you a better leader.
  • When you have to deliver bad news, like a layoff, be sure you tell the survivors what you're doing to retain and reward the employees remaining and keep the lines of communications open so that people are aware of key company developments.

Charlie Fleetham is the founder and president of Project Innovations, a company that delivers innovative organizational and leadership development solutions to businesses and government. Fleetham has more than 20 years of experience as a management consultant and is the author ofThe Search for Unrational Leadership: Using Rational & Irrational Methods to Change Your Life.