Leadership that accelerates innovation

Good leadership is about facilitating others to ask the best questions. This is just one of the main insights delivered by Michael Jordaan at the CLC’s Leadership that Accelerates Innovation Roundtable

Michael famously skyrocketed FNB to new heights and the award of ‘World’s Most Innovative Bank’ in 2012, is the founder and CEO of Montegray Capital and is a pioneer of Bank Zero, the disruptive digital-only bank currently making headlines.

His extensive experience in the innovation ecosystem and his globally recognised, award-winning leadership style made Michael the perfect lead for our roundtable.

CLC Founding Friends and their invited colleagues had the opportunity to engage with him and pose their questions in a more intimate set-up after he presented a talk to a packed Nasdak at Media24.

The talk and the roundtable were the core event for the Lean Innovation Safari that was held from 22–24 April. [5 Big Ideas from the Innovation Safari]

Representing our Founding Friends at the packed roundtable were Valerie Naidoo from the Water Research Commission, Niki Neumann from Afrgi, Sean Doherty from Standard Bank, Bruce Adrain of Liberty, Anthony Selley from the Allan Grey Entrepreneurship Challenge and Hein Weyers from PMI, along with their respective invited colleagues.

Good leadership, lessons from Michael Jordaan

Below are some of the highlights on good leadership, garnered over his years of experience, that Michael generously shared at the talk and at the Leadership that Accelerates Innovation Roundtable, the CLC’s second this year.

(And, while we don’t want to overstate some of the insights Michael dropped that night, it should just be noted that the rain came down in buckets on drought-stricken Cape Town the minute he started talking…)

[Challenge the status quo.] ‘So much of what we conventionally think about leadership is actually wrong. People look for the perfect role model, a person who is perfect in every part of their life. But most of the leadership we need today is in innovation, which is about challenging the status quo.’

[Facilitate others to ask the best questions.] ‘Innovation can only happen when you empower people to come up with solutions. In the modern business you have to be empowering. What you have to do as a leader is to get the best decision to be made. In other words, the role of leadership is not to make good decisions, it’s to facilitate good decision-making. Let the best ideas win.’

[Get wisdom from the crowd.] ‘No one is smarter than everyone. If you can get the wisdom out of the best people in the room that’s amazing. This turns the conventional model on its head that leaders need to know everything, that they’re meant to have the answer. But this isn’t how it works. In most problems, if you can get the wisdom out of the crowds, it’s better.’

[Allow mistakes and celebrate people who fail smartly.] ‘I think start-ups get this better than big businesses, but you have to have the ability to make smart mistakes, to take risks and make mistakes. Most people will say “oh we allow people to make mistakes”, but it actually isn’t this way. When someone ends up making a mistake, everybody looks for someone to fire or to blame. This is one of the biggest things holding back innovation. People want to do things that won’t get them into trouble.’

[Recognise minivations and reward your innovators.] ‘The thing that really worked for us at FNB was recognition and this is my basic tip to anyone who is a leader: people thrive on recognition. We made heroes of people who innovate because it was tough to innovate. And don’t deride incremental change or “minivations”. If you can consistently make something 10% better over time, it can be magnificent.’

[Corporate leaders need to think like a start-up.] ‘Start-up culture is one of the most powerful things you could have. I don’t think you should do innovation in a step-by-step approach. I think you have to think like a start-up, because start-up culture will eat corporate strategy for breakfast.’

[Read widely, read often.] ‘Test your assumptions by reading stuff that challenges you or that you disagree with.’

Special mention goes to…

The CLC Founding Friends who were able to join us and a special thanks to the d-school for sponsoring and co-hosting this roundtable, along with Media24.

Thanks also to an anonymous sponsor, who contributed towards Michael’s fee and a reminder that Michael’s full fee was donated to CodeX, and will help a deserving underprivileged young adult train as a coder for a year, and then be placed in a coding job.

Coming up…

CLC’s next event is Organisational Design that Fosters Innovation on 26 July 2018, from 8 am to 11 am. We’re being kindly hosted by the Sifiso Learning Group (pioneers of the inspiring Future Nation Schools) in Johannesburg.

At this roundtable, our Founding Friends (including their respective invited colleagues/stakeholders) will explore innovation team structures, including roles and responsibilities, as well as broader organisational structures that help foster innovation.

We’ll be sending the exact venue and agenda details to members soon, but please feel free to contact Paul Steenkamp if you have any questions.