He started out by building motorbikes in an old rundown building. He struggled, along with many others, to scrape by for enough to feed his family. He was determined to be a leader and an innovator. Even his nickname, Mr. Thunderstorm, exuded the many talents and characteristics he possessed.
After World War II he saw the need for some form of transportation that was faster than a bicycle, something that was not a major consumer of gasoline due to the scarcity of fuel in Japan. He discovered an excess supply of small military motors, saw the opportunity to utilize them and set about attaching them to bicycles, meeting the transportation needs of the time. Wherever he went with his motorbike people wanted one, so he knew he had something.
His leadership abilities allowed him to see the need for motorbikes, but he was unable to capitalize on the opportunity until he came up with an innovative way to obtain financing for his fledgling enterprise. He reached out to the more than 18,000 owners of bike shops in Japan. It was a two pronged strategy; he would ask them to invest in his company and by doing so, he also created a distribution network at the same time. More than 3,000 shop owners invested. The business continued to grow. It is many of those leadership and innovative talents from the early days, that have resulted in the one of the biggest vehicle companies in the world, thanks to Soichiro Honda.
As a world renowned writer, author, speaker, and president of the Table Group Patrick Lencioni has said “New ideas are essential, but bringing them to life requires the hard work of leadership.” In the frenetic pace of the global markets of today and ever changing technology, those words ring true with most leaders. Soichiro Honda is but one of many examples of company leaders who don’t just lead, they lead with innovation. Lencioni, in an article for Inc magazine goes on to say there are three areas that make the difference, when it comes to not only leading, but leading in innovation.
Vulnerability-based trust– Obviously, trust is a huge component of leadership. If the people in your business do not trust their leadership, studies show, your company is pretty well doomed for failure. It is the ‘vulnerability-trust’ aspect of the area Lencioni stresses. “It’s the powerful, irreplaceable foundation that you create when you, the leader, readily admit your faults, mistakes, and relative deficiencies to the people who will make the great leaps for your company.” he says. It is the concept of ‘everyone is human and makes mistakes’ that is being communicated in this particular area. It only goes to show that subordinates will not have an acceptable level of confidence in their leadership, it the leaders of the company fail to admit or worse, refuse to acknowledge, their weaknesses. Without vulnerability, there cannot be trust.
Conflict– Lencioni’s position in this area is significant. He proceeds to point out and reinforce the need for vulnerability type trust, as previously mentioned, as one of the key ingredients for when conflict arises, because conflict is necessary for there to be innovation. He says “Good conflict is critical to innovation, whether your employees are building a new app, developing a fresh marketing campaign, or figuring out a better way to get oil out of the ground. The fact is, employees cannot make breakthroughs if they can’t openly and honestly disagree with their peers and their leader. Indeed, great leaders don’t just permit conflict; they actively try to elicit it from reluctant employees as well.
Commitment– Once you have the building block of trust, followed by the further cornerstone of conflict, your business leadership and innovation components are ready for commitment. Just generating an idea is not even close to achieving a successful innovation. New ideas and opportunities are everywhere. The key to pulling it all together is the execution or implementation phase of taking the innovation to fruition. Mathematician Howard Aiken, the developer of the Harvard Mark 1, a forerunner of the modern computer once said “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” That is where Lencioni’s area of commitment comes into play. Once innovations are thoroughly vetted, everyone needs to leave their meetings fully committed to the decision for a successful implementation.
If you want to achieve growth in your company, be certain your approach to leadership and innovation includes these three components.
Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.