If you’re a leader, by definition your job is to innovate. Leaders take us into a future that is different than the one we’re in today. We innovate the present to create a desired future.
Often when we think of innovation, we think of coming up with new ways of doing things—a new product or system, service opportunity or invention of technology. In fact, oftentimes the hardest question for a leader isn’t whether to innovate, but where to innovate. Do we focus on marketing or product? Do we focus on technology or branding? Do we innovate our service, or do we experiment with pricing?
Let me cut through the noise and say it plainly:
If you’re going to innovate something, innovate you.
Oftentimes self-innovation is the last thing we think about when we’re trying to lead. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to CEO’s of companies who think their services, programs, technology or teams need to innovate but they don’t.
Many of my current clients are leaders of multi-billion-dollar companies and they all have one thing in common: they understand that if they want their teams or culture or bottom line to change, they need to change. The most vital focus of innovation is on themselves so they can lead the change they want to see in others.
So, I want to explore three powerful areas of self-innovation. These are the areas of self-innovation where leaders need to focus. We avoid them at our own peril.
1. INNOVATE YOUR LISTENING
Every person has what our firm calls “Listenings.“ These are ways of filtering and interpreting the world around you.
When you hop on a meeting, your Listening might be:
- “This is a waste of time.”
- “People have to prove themselves to me before I’ll respect them.”
- “I make the most of every meeting.”
- “I find things to respect in others and draw that out of them.”
Teams and companies and cultures also have Listenings.
- “We have nothing to learn from outsiders.”
- “If you want to get something done, do it yourself.”
- “You can’t be honest, or you’ll be punished.”
Your life is the mirror expression of your Listenings. Your Listenings create your perception of yourself, your market and your team.
We think we see the world as it is, but we actually see the world as we listen.
What I am calling Listenings, you’d probably call Facts. You treat “this meeting is a waste of time” like it’s true. But it’s not. It’s a Listening.
The reason why Listenings are powerful is twofold.
- First, Listenings are usually invisible to us. We’re not aware of the way we’re listening to others.
- Second, our minds are predisposed to assuming we’re right about things.
So, if I have a Listening of, “My team doesn’t want to hear what I have to say,” then I’m more likely to not speak up, more likely to speak quietly and less likely to be heard, which perpetuates the Listening.
Put another way: Listenings want to survive. They are self-perpetuating. And we tend to create how we listen. Which is why my coach, Steve Hardison, told me years ago that “Listening shapes the future you live into.”
If this is true, then if you want to innovate the future, you have to innovate your Listenings. You have to create new Listenings that will get you and your team new results.
2,000 years ago, a leader put it this way: “He who has ears, let him hear.”
What he was saying was, “Tend to your Listening.” If you don’t have the right Listening—the right ears to hear—then you won’t be able to see the possibilities right in front of you to move your leadership and teams forward.
Innovate your Listening, and it changes everything.
2. INNOVATE YOUR IDENTITY
Oftentimes the biggest belief that keeps us from innovating is believing that things can’t or shouldn’t change, or that the change won’t be worth it.
This is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th Century: seeing people as fixed and static. Your personality is fixed. Your traits are fixed. In the words of Popeye, we tell ourselves, “I yam what I yam.”
But this is mostly false. We are dynamic, fluid and ever changing. Full of possibility. Of course, not everything about us is fluid, but we’re more fluid than we think.
It is possible to innovate your Identity.
Several times a year, I go into prisons in partnership with Defy Ventures to offer support and coaching to men and women with criminal histories. When they go through Defy’s program, the recidivism rates drop from over 50% down to 7%. This is because, in part, they choose a new identity for themselves. They shift from seeing themselves as Criminal or Helpless and choose an identity that says, Valuable and Powerful. This shift in identity, this spiritual innovation, transforms people from having harmed society to becoming incredible contributors to society.
If transformation can happen with them, why not us? Why not you?
In the ancient texts of the Christian faith, we find a God who is constantly renaming people. I always thought that was weird, until I realized how powerful it is to innovate ourselves.
Currently some of us coaches at Novus Global are doing a book club on coaching with several people who have recently gotten out of prison. When we sign onto Zoom, we change our names to an alliterative fun first name and our first name becomes our last name (for example: Jolly Jason). This past week, I asked everyone on the call to call each of us by our new first name. So, if someone had a question for me, they said, “Jolly, what do you think about…?”
I can’t tell you how powerful it was to be called by a different name.
Suddenly I didn’t have to be “Jason” with all the baggage and history and beliefs and meanings that came with that. For one hour last Monday, I was “Jolly.” I was free. I felt the freshness of new possibilities. It was only for an hour, but it felt good.
One of the indicators of success with our clients at Novus Global is when friends and family and coworkers of our clients say, “Who are you and what have you done with my boss?” Or “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?” They say this because our clients are behaving in ways that those around them would never expect. They behave in new ways because they are learning to see themselves in new ways.
That’s the power of upgrading your Identity.
3. INNOVATE YOUR HABITS
So, how do you innovate your Identity and Listenings? Change your habits.
Research suggests that 40% of your day is created by habits.
And not all habits are created equal.
When you want to innovate yourself, the most important habits to develop in your life are the ones that shape your Listenings and your Identity. Leaders who take self-innovation seriously develop ever-adapting rituals, iconography, relationships and reward systems that reinforce the new Listenings and Identity that they’re striving to create.
The first step into innovating Identity and Listenings is to discover all the habits you already have that keep things as they are.
Our habits unintentionally reinforce our Listenings and Identity. For example, if the first thing I do every morning is grab my phone and anxiously check emails, texts or see what’s going on with social media or the news, I may be reinforcing the Listening of,
“I don’t have time to take care of myself” or
“Anxiety is necessary to be productive” or
“I have to stay connected to the world in order to be happy” or
“The world is horrible and it’s getting worse.”
These Listenings will shape our entire day. Which in turn shape our lives.
The goal of creating new habits is for them to be tailor made for cultivating new Listenings and rooting and establishing ourselves in a more resourceful Identity.
So, let me ask you: as a leader, what are your habits? Are they grounding you in the most resourceful Identity? Are they shaping new Listenings or perpetuating old ones? How would you know?
BECOMING A SELF-INNOVATION PRACTITIONER
When it comes to innovation, you want to be a practitioner not a thought-leader. The reality is it doesn’t matter what we think about innovation, what matters is what we’re innovating.
Eight years ago, I was broke, broken and essentially homeless. I had just gone through a heartbreaking divorce. I couldn’t afford to pay rent. I was sleeping on the couches of friends.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Identity had become:
- Being poor and heartbroken.
- Jason, the divorced guy.
My Listenings had become:
- People can’t be trusted
- I don’t have anything to offer anyone.
I would have told you those were the facts. (i.e. I was poor. Fact. I was helpless. Fact. Etc.).
It took a coach to allow me to see that they were choices. And doing the work to innovate my Listenings and Identity has—among other things—allowed me to become the founder of multiple companies with coaches all over the world serving hundreds of clients, including elected officials, professional athletes and leaders of multi-billion-dollar companies. We get to work alongside leaders and companies and help them make the same changes we’ve made—changes that have transformed so many lives and communities.
But it starts with self-innovation. When we as leaders create time and space in our calendars to develop new habits that innovate our Listenings and Identity, we will begin to see patterns and strategies and ideas that were currently hidden from us in our old ways of being.
Our teams will begin to see and behave in new ways, and we will begin to create and innovate into a future that is currently beyond our imaginations.
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