Host a Dinner Party at Pearl Harbor?
One of the most effective ways open-door leaders get people to think differently is by using symbolism. For instance, the CEO of a large fashion design company who decided to inspire more courageous behavior among his retail stores' general managers. Thanks to blowing past their yearly sales goals, the general managers had earned a five-day trip to Hawaii for the annual GM conference. Concerned that the company's very success could plant the seeds of complacency, the CEO decided to host a dinner in a very unexpected location—on the deck of USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor.
The “Mighty Mo” is one of the most famous battleships of all time. It joined the Pacific fleet during World War II after being christened by Harry Truman's daughter; fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa; and suffered, but withstood, a kamikaze attack. Later, it fought in both the Korean and Gulf wars. Perhaps most famously, the deck of the Mighty Mo was where, in front of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Chester Nimitz, the Japanese signed the Instrument of Surrender.
That evening, under Mo's gigantic guns, the CEO thanked everyone for their hard work and reminded them about the importance of courage, persistence, and preventing complacency. Although they were very, very successful thus far, the headwinds of competition were strong and unrelenting. Just as the Mighty Mo never surrendered in the
face of hardship, neither should they. He showed them that they weren't just working for a fashion company, they were fi in a fi cely competitive marketplace, and nothing short of their best would keep sales in tip-top shape and preserve the company's rich tradition of success. The out-ofthe-ordinary location was perfectly aligned, symbolically, with the message the CEO wanted to send about the dangers of getting caught off guard by complacency and that now was not the time to let up.
Symbols: You Weave the Meaning
Using symbols is a powerful way to help shift people's thinking. Open-door leaders have to speak about more than just the mechanics of the business, they have to show people how their jobs fit into a larger context. They need be weavers of meaning and significance to help their employees draw the connections between their seemingly small jobs and the more extraordinary purpose they're helping to advance. By providing symbolic reference points, open-door leaders can inspire their employees to view their world differently. Here are some other examples of this approach.
The division head of a large international hotel chain hosts a series of small meetings in a hotel suite at their flagship location, which are focused on “owning the sleep market.” A medical doctor who specializes in healthy sleep habits attends to help prompt new ideas.
Every year on March 4 the leader of a creative consulting firm closes shop so his employees can dedicate themselves to an idea that they find personally inspiring. They are encouraged to “march forth” toward their idea.
The leader of a company that's aiming to transform its culture hosts a meeting at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta. A world-renowned cultural anthropologist speaks to the attendees about what strengthens and weakens cultures.
Every other month, the director of career development at a large Chicago-based company hosts a small meeting to deepen the impact of the company's leadership-development program. The gathering is held at the Catalyst Ranch, a creative venue designed for ideation and brainstorming meetings. Catalyst Ranch is like a Warholian psychedelic curio shop, but with flipcharts! The groovy atmosphere promotes imaginative “whatif” thinking.
For a Better Result, Shift the Language
Shifting people's thinking doesn't require grandiose gestures on the part of the open-door leader. Sometimes just making small language shifts affect how people defi themselves. Take, for example, the owner of a $4 billion construction company, who wanted his division heads to do less managing and more leading. For decades, the division heads had been called business group managers.Was it really any wonder then that their focus was on managing their divisions? However, they really needed to focus less on internal operational issues (management) and more on external opportunities, such as developing business with clients (leadership). So the owner did something simple but important. He changed the job title and, by defi the expectation and focus of their job. Now the division heads are called business group leaders.
Part of your job as an open-door leader is to keep people from thinking in ways that are counterproductive to themselves and the organization. You need to open the thought-shifting door. Catch people off guard, disrupt their mental routines, use symbols, and make small changes in language. These are great tools for shifting thinking. There are countless other ways, too. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you get people to think positively, constructively, and productively.
Open-Door Actions and Reflections
1. What symbol or metaphor best resembles what your organization is trying to achieve?
• How could you use this symbolic reference to communicate in a powerful or compelling way? Be specific in explaining how you'll use the symbol/metaphor.
2. What are some ways that your organization typically tries to inspire creative ideas?
• What about this approach works well?
• What opportunities for improvement exist?
3. Use the framework on the next page to assess your goals.
• Identify a few one-word examples of unproductive or outdated thinking (apathetic, fearful) in the first column.
• List the healthier and more productive words you'd like reflected in people's attitudes (initiative, courageous) in the second column.
• In the third column, list the actions you could take to shift people from the fi column to the second column (jointly set ambitious goals, institute temporary job rotations).
• Finally, and most importantly, set a deadline for finishing each action!