UNCG Campus Weekly

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Career Services’ Patrick Madsen tells Staff Senate of a new breed of leader – and gives tips

Photo of Patrick MadsenThese days, maybe it’s time to break the rules. Or if not break them, change them.

Effective leaders look for new ways to do new things, Patrick Madsen, director of UNCG Career Services, told the Staff Senate at its Aug. 14 meeting.

Those types of leaders employ lateral thinking – defined as solving problems through an indirect and creative approach. They are natural mavericks, he said.

Often, people are stuck looking at things in the same way, which is difficult in a time of budget cuts. “Most strive to make the current model more efficient when what they need to do is throw it out the window,” Madsen said.

Look at how Netflix and amazon.com changed the way we watch movies and shop, he said. Years ago, those ideas would have seemed crazy.

Lateral leaders share certain characteristics. They empower their employees, look for ideas from anywhere, share exposure and prestige with their team, and lead from alongside, Madsen said. Conventional leaders instruct; promote themselves as the figurehead; look for ideas from their own experience; cherish results first, people second; and lead from the front.

To become a lateral leader, try these five things.

Challenge assumptions. Become open-minded, flexible and creative with your questions.

Ask searching questions. Ask things like ‘What if we reversed the problem? How can we look at this differently?’ Case in point – grocery stores. In the 1800s people would go to stores with their list and the clerk would gather the customer’s items. At some point, someone had to stop and say, ‘Wait a minute – why am I doing all the work? Why can’t we have them get the groceries and bring them to the front?’

Combine the unusual. Weird combinations can be strong.

Adopt, adapt, improve. Discuss your problem with people from different backgrounds or different groups. Change your patterns. Read something different or take a new path. Place yourself in a different environment.

Break the rules. Most rules were set up at a different time. Don’t do something because it’s always been done that way.

And just as there are ways to become a lateral thinker, there are ways to kill innovation, he said. Watch out for: criticizing ideas, neglecting brainstorming, hoarding problems, valuing efficiency over innovation, overworking, staying with the plan, laying blame, offering wrong rewards, outsourcing change, promoting from within, giving innovation projects to those without passion, and neglecting to offer training.

Finally, Madsen reminded senators every person on this campus is a leader. Leadership is not a position or related to age or tenure.

By Beth English