A fear-driven corporate culture is what Steve Sadove encountered when he took over as president of Clairol in 1991.
“I remember going to a very creative person, who did all the packaging and creative development and saying, ‘Why don’t we do anything creative?’ He opened some drawers in his desk and started showing me all of this wonderful work that he’d done,” recalls Sadove.
“Nobody was asking for it; people kept their head down in that culture. So part of my role as the leader was to create an environment that was going to allow innovation and creativity and make it OK to fail.”
Sadove found ways to stimulate creativity. He actively explored opposing points of view in discussions with colleagues, and over time, he convinced others that speaking up wasn’t merely tolerated—it was encouraged. In doing so, he helped colleagues reframe the way they reacted to dissent, forging a less defensive and ultimately more innovative culture. Thus began a golden period of growth for Clairol, punctuated by the introduction of the wildly successful Herbal Essences brand.
Lesson: Become aware of what triggers your fears, and try positively reframing your outlook. Once you’ve mastered reframing, help others learn the skill. A safe environment inspires people to give their best.
— Adapted from “How centered leaders achieve extraordinary results,” Joanna Barsh, Josephine Mogelof and Caroline Webb, McKinsey Quarterly.
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