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Friday, January 27, 2012

Positive Leadership: Follow Your Instincts

This interview with Bill Kling, founder and president emeritus of the American Public Media Group, was conducted by The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/business/bill-kling-of-american-public-media-on-valuing-creativity.html ). 

Q. If you were teaching a class to business school students, what lessons would you impart to them?
A. Follow your instincts. If your instincts for the job are good, you will be successful. If your instincts are bad, it’s the wrong job and you should get out early and try something else. Textbook learning can take you only so far. It can give you tools that will help you analyse things. But don’t do it the way other C.E.O.’s that you read about have done it. Don’t follow the case studies if your instinct tells you otherwise.
The great leaders, I think, are people who were smart enough to gather all of the tools that they needed, all the information, all the peer mentoring that they could get and then just tucked that away somewhere as extra fuel and followed their instincts to do what they had a passion for, what they thought they knew how to do.
Too often, leaders fail because someone told them they can’t do it. If you don’t know what you can’t do, then you may well achieve it. That is so important. Look at our great companies. Almost all of them shouldn’t have succeeded the way they did. Often it’s accidental, opportunistic, it’s luck, it’s something else. But it’s being open to falling into that success. And you can see it in some of our most innovative companies.
As soon as you get overly tied to the lessons you were taught in business school or elsewhere, I think you’re going to start doing it the way it’s been done in the past. And then you’re going to have a company that’s like those that existed in the past. You’re not going to see that new technologies could offer possibilities that no one has even thought of. You have to be willing to go into a room and say, “Why can’t this happen?” And then have someone look at you and say, “That’s the dumbest question anybody ever asked.”
Even though you are the C.E.O., you have to allow and encourage that kind of feedback. Because you can sink a company if you come in with a load of ideas and innovation and creativity that’s bigger than the company can carry. So you’ve got to have people coming back and saying, “We know that,” or “We understand where you’re going with it, but it’s not something we can do at this point.”