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The Leader's Role in Building Independent Thinkers: How to Equip Your Team for Success As a leader, it is crucial to equip your team with the right skills and mindset to become independent thinkers. Developing a team of autonomous and creative thinkers enables them to bring fresh ideas and perspectives that benefit the company's growth.

By Sandeep Goel

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Imagine having a team of highly talented individuals who consistently deliver quality work. These are true assets to any organization; no second thoughts about that. However, also imagine that these same individuals are hesitant to voice their opinions, are scared to think out of the box, and rely on their superiors for every decision. They are like a horse but with blinders.

This is a common scenario in many businesses today. As a leader, it is crucial to equip your team with the right skills and mindset to become independent thinkers. Developing a team of autonomous and creative thinkers enables them to bring fresh ideas and perspectives that benefit the company's growth. Here we delve deeper into what steps leaders in an organization can take to foster the development of future strong leaders in their team and equip them to achieve unprecedented success.

Encourage Ownership: Empower your Employees

Empowering your employees to take ownership of their work helps them think and act independently. This sense of ownership enhances their dedication to their tasks, increasing motivation, engagement, and productivity. One famous instance of this approach was Google's initiation of the '20% time' policy, which allowed employees to invest one day per week working on their projects. This innovative policy led to an uptick in company innovation and employee satisfaction.

Key takeaway: Create an environment where your team members feel a sense of ownership and responsibility, ultimately leading to increased motivation and innovation.

Prioritize Action Over Perfection: Embrace Experimentation and Iteration

Striving for perfection can often lead to "analysis paralysis," hindering progress and preventing team members from taking action. To encourage independent thinking, leaders must prioritize action over perfection. By creating a culture of experimentation and iteration, employees learn from their mistakes, build confidence, and become less afraid of failure.

Visualize being encouraged to fail rather than being reprimanded for it. That's exactly what happened to Arun Nanda, a senior executive at the Mahindra Group. When he faced a setback in the water transport business he had set up, then Chairman Keshub Mahindra told him, "I am glad you failed in one place. If you had not failed, I would worry whether Arun is taking adequate risks?" Nanda went on to hold several senior positions in the Group, and this experience became a game-changer for him.

Key takeaway: Foster a workplace where taking action is valued more than achieving perfection. Encourage your team members to experiment, iterate, and learn from their experiences to drive progress.

Take a Stand and Back it Up: Demonstrate Unwavering Values and Vision

Standing firmly behind your values and vision is a powerful way for leaders to generate independent thinking in their teams. When team members see their leader living by strong values and embodying a clear vision, they feel empowered to follow their example. This approach cultivates an environment of trust and confidence, enabling your employees to think critically and independently.

When Mary Barra took over as CEO of General Motors in 2014, she was hit with a crisis involving fatal malfunctions in older vehicles. She did not shy away from acknowledging the issue, articulating a clear plan, and holding herself accountable. Leaders inspire their teams to do the same and think independently by taking a stand and demonstrating commitment.

Key takeaway: As a leader, stand your ground with your values and vision to foster a workplace culture that encourages critical thinking and independence among your employees.

Be Assertive and Part of the Journey: Foster Collaboration and Support

It is essential for leaders to avoid merely delegating tasks and stepping back. Instead, actively participate in the work alongside your team, providing guidance and offering support when needed. This approach instills a sense of collaboration and helps your team feel part of something bigger. Becoming part of the journey with your team members reinforces the idea that everyone has a role in achieving success.

Key takeaway: Be actively involved in the tasks and projects, foster collaboration, and support your team members, creating an environment that nurtures independent thinking and decision-making.

Conclusion

Hence, creating an environment promoting ownership, action-taking, values, vision, and collaboration is crucial. As the saying goes, "A leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." This means a leader must be knowledgeable, confident, and inspiring. To groom independent thinkers, a leader should lead by example, demonstrating the values and behaviour they expect from their team members. Albert Schweitzer once said, "Example is leadership." And we couldn't agree more!

Sandeep Goel

Managing Director, Moglix

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