4 Keys to Successful Business Leadership

All businesses need quality leadership. Someone or a group of people with a vision and the work ethic to make it reality. Without a presence at the helm, the ship could crash and sink into the sea of commerce as quickly as it set sail.

One of our favorite business books we have ever read at MIG isn’t even a book about business. The book is called Creativity, Inc. – Overcoming The Unforeseen Forces That Stand In The Way Of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull.

Ed Catmull is the President and Co-Founder (along with Steve Jobs) of Pixar and also President of Disney Animation Studios. He led the teams that produced and directed the first 3 Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Up and more.

It sounds like it might be more like a self-help book, but it’s a business book through and through. It’s true messaging is about how to lead through inspiration, manage with candor, win through creativity, and how to empower teams with trust.

We here at MIG are long-time believers in the power of candor. Think about it- if life is too short, then our business lives (our careers), are even shorter.

And while you never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or make yourself look stupid, you should always be as candid as possible and share an opinion that might help someone or your business, to move forward.

Here’s a great video of Ed talking about the value of failure:

Quick Takeaways:

  • Failure is often the first step to growth and learning
  • Being honest and learning from past mistakes is how you drive your business forward
  • Creating an honest environment for your council and your employees creates a better culture designed to improve your business.

Candid people provide a refreshing feel in the often-cold business world. The trait is admirable and attractive in a business leader. It takes courage. It makes you vulnerable. But truthfully, the impact can be profound. Especially when candor and trust are evident in the dynamics of a team.

So here are some of the main ideas presented in the book, with the help of some great cliff note overviews from Fast Company and Business Insider four keys to building successful business leadership.

Build a “Brain Trust”

What is a brain trust? It is a team of passionate, focused and driven people in your organization who come together to help solve a problem.

What does the brain trust do? They challenge the owner of the problem, whether it’s company strategy, product decisions, a new marketing campaign.

How does the brain trust work? According to Catmull, the key ingredient to the power of the brain trust is complete candor.

The team is invited to share their opinions with pure honesty. Catmull says that one of the tricks is to make sure it never gets personal. As long as the whole brain trust is aligned on moving the company forward, disagreements and criticism are beneficial to the development and growth of the leader and the business.

Another important element to the success of a brain trust that Catmull describes is authority. The brain trust should have no authority. They are only advising the owner of the problem. This helps avoid defensiveness that comes naturally when someone feels they could be undermined by their peers.

Focus on Team Dynamics to Create a Culture of Ideas

Catmull talks about working hard on the dynamics of your management team structure. “There are good reasons why people hold back and don’t say what they think.

Source: Pareto Labs

He advises leaders to focus on the structure of the team and the environment to make sure that ideas can flow easily from anywhere inside your organization. “As a manager, you want to focus on the dynamics of your team, not the ideas they are producing,” Catmull says. Creating a healthy dynamic will inevitably lead to more and better ideas from them.

You are Wrong More Than You Think

Catmull believes that the 80/20 rule is wrong. He believes it makes you think you are right more often than you are and that this is in fact – a delusion. While you may be at the center of thought leadership in your business, you aren’t infallible.

He said it’s important to realize that you are wrong more often than you think. Leaders need to open up to this realization and allow other people’s ideas and creative processes to inform your decisions. Getting and taking advice is tough. It requires you to admit that you might now know everything.

This also sets up the right conditions for creativity, the free flow of new ideas, empowered teams and individuals. It erodes the classic power dynamics of personal politics so pervasive inside businesses.

And it allows teams to begin to figure out how to trust each other. According to Catmull, candor and trust are the most important dynamics of effective teams.

Let Your Ideas Suck

Pixar created record-breaking blockbuster animation films, one after the other, for many years. And yet, Ed argues that the process wasn’t easy. “All that anyone sees is the final product and there’s almost a romantic illusion about how you got there. When we first put up something–these stories suck.

By accepting that your first round of ideas are probably wrong, opening to the advice of others, and creating a candid operating environment based on trust, Pixar was able to produce all these amazing successes.

So he advises us to allow our first ideas to suck. Iterate and pivot. Then open up to the creative ideas of others.

Are you building a culture of candor and trust? – Wrap up

Truthfully, none of this gets done without looking inward at your strategies and faults. Self-awareness will drive your decision making for your business and your life in general. If you’re ready to take your company and your leadership to the next level then it’s time to get aware and get crackin’ on ideas for the future.

Do you want to use some of the marketing strategies seen here on MIG’s site but need some help or advice? Marketing Insider Group has a team of 35+ experienced writers ready to produce content for YOUR business. Check out our weekly blog content service or schedule a free consultation.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

5 thoughts on “4 Keys to Successful Business Leadership

  1. The interesting thing about creativity is that people try to put too many rules on it Creativity isn’t a moment in time, it’s a process. The idea that comes in the shower is rarely the one that actually makes it out the door in the end.

    It’s fear that holds back our creativity but I don’t think it’s fear of being wrong. I think it’s fear of not being the one who has the “right” answer. Creating collaborative cultures, as the book describes, is key because until we can put our egos aside and stop focusing on being the person who comes up with “the” answer, we’ll always struggle to make progress toward true creativity.

    Great post, thanks Michael!

    1. Thanks so much Carla. I think you are absolutely right. In the book Ed talks about thinking it would take them 10 years to get this “right.” And then admits it took him 20 just to stop losing sleep over the process! And then he had to learn to apply the principles to a whole new acquisition at Disney with all their tradition of success despite recent challenges.

  2. Great book, I just started reading it on your recommendation, really a must read for the modern entrepenour.

  3. Great insight, Michael, and this sounds like a great book. I like the point made that the brain has no authority; it simply serves as an advisor. All of this point to the importance of a great team that works together with a realistic perspective and problem solving readiness.

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