Expert Advice: Bernard Yeung, Dean NUS Business School: Lead a Collective Change in Attitude

Bernard YeungFrom my work to bring innovation to National University of Singapore Business School I have learned a few things.

The most important thing leaders can do to spur innovation is to lead a collective change in attitude. A boss cannot order up innovation. Innovations are initiated by employees who have a desire for excellence, who are confident that they can make positive changes and who care for their institution.

Corporate leaders’ first step to spur innovation is to break down a hierarchical mind-set. Just remember that we are “servant leaders” to spur collective ownership and advancement.

Second, build among your employees a collective sense of pride and a desire for excellence.

Third, empower employees to make changes. Innovation happens when people channel dissatisfaction into positive energy. Encourage risk-taking, forgive honest mistakes, and most importantly create the environment that employees can make changes in directly.

Fourth, effective innovation relies on cooperation. That means no silos; different departments must adopt and buy into a corporate perspective. To foster this mind-set, leaders need to do more than simply give directives; they must also take the time to explain the purposes and rationale of decisions.

Fostering team-based innovation is exhausting. Corporate politics and jealousies can often get in the way. Leaders have to develop an environment where employees act not for themselves but for the institution’s common good. We want employees to ask what good things they can bring to the institution. To foster that, leaders have to ask what the institution they lead can do for each individual member’s goals and aspiration. Ultimately, there will be a happy mutual sense of ownership of a community.

As a wise friend once told me: We cannot control the outcome but we can influence the attitude.

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