Why CEOs shouldn’t be afraid to ask for outside help

An oven-overlooked factor in assessing the success of a leader, according to organizational development consultant Brook Manville, is his or her ability to go far outside the organization to get help in solving problems. SPONSORED CONTENT

September 13, 2014 |
Steven Burns

Photo: nongpimmy via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An oven-overlooked factor in assessing the success of a leader, according to organizational development consultant Brook Manville, is his or her ability to go far outside the organization to get help in solving problems.

“A growing number of organizations now routinely draw on timely assistance beyond their own boundaries to pursue innovation, solve business or social problems, or expand ventures,” he writes in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post

Sometimes the experts are freelancers or employees in other businesses; sometimes they’re in governments, NGOs or academia. If the challenge at hand is industrywide, they might even be competitors. As a result, leaders need to be good at building connections with a variety of outsiders.

But making contacts is just the first—and often the least important—step in tapping experts. 

“In my observations over the past several years, I’ve seen that effective CEOs don’t just sign up contractors; they lead in a way that mobilizes a network,” Manville writes. “They create energy, a sense of purpose and even something of a community among people over whom they have no control. These groups of experts blur the distinctions between insiders and outsiders.” 

How do they do it?

According to Manville, it often starts with greater humility. “Compared with internally focused leaders, mobilizers simply have to be more humble. Even paid outsiders usually have plenty of other projects to work on, so mobilizers can’t just issue demands. They need to show much more respect and at times even deference toward these outsiders. But they can’t be shrinking violets either; they must have a confident, positive outlook and provide a strong sense of purpose and direction,” he continues.

This humility often leads mobilizers to be more imaginative about what’s possible and who can help. 

“Like good chess players, mobilizers think a few moves ahead. That means not just identifying network contributors who might help a project, but also looking to see what networks each network might bring along.” 

Read more from Harvard Business Review

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, and during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After founding his own software company, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development for the company’s groundbreaking project accounting solution, BQE Core.

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