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Video: The Leader’s Choice

Dylan had it right: the times, they are a a changin’. The business landscape today has fostered widespread disruption and change at unprecedented scale—how will you choose to react? What steps can leaders take to help their teams embrace change as a driver of creativity and innovation?

New Kind Director of Brand Exploration Elise Dorsett sits down with Founder and CEO David Burney to discuss The Leader’s Choice, and explore how leaders of organizations big and small can help their team thrive in times of change and ambiguity.

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Elise Dorsett: Hello, my name is Elise Dorsett. I am the Director of Brand Exploration here at New Kind. I’m here with the founder, one of the founders, and the CEO of New Kind, David Burney. David has also started a coaching business out of New Kind recently, working with executives and also emerging leaders and designers.

We’re here today to talk about ambiguity, and change, and how leaders can help their teams thrive during times of ambiguity. David, can you tell us why this is important today?

David Burney: Sure, I’ll try. We live in a time of immense disruption, Elise, and ambiguity is something that often organizations are trying to remove from their organizations. They want clarity, and they want focus. Clarity and focus are great, but if you throw out ambiguity, you’re throwing out a key to potential innovation, because ambiguity creates a place for creativity and innovation. Really, we live in a time now where ambiguity is strategic, and leaders have to understand, not how to get rid of ambiguity, but how to help their people thrive in times of ambiguity.

Elise Dorsett: Ambiguity is strategic for innovation, but it’s also really scary. Thinking about, if your company’s going through a rebrand, or if leadership is changing, and you’re not sure what’s going to happen to your job, or even just trying to learn a new tool, it can be frightening to not have all the answers and to not know what’s coming next. How can leaders help their teams thrive instead of feel this fear that is inherent?

David Burney: Yeah, there’s a lot of fear out there. Again, we live in this time of this immense disruption. Change happens so often, and that turmoil, that continuing churn, creates fear and unease. There are positives to this. The problem is how, as a leader, do you get your people to thrive in that place? You’re not trying to get rid of the ambiguity. You’re trying your people so they can thrive in the case of it.

This is what we call the leader’s choice. I can continue to lead, using those traditional methods, which are really fear based—structure, control, making sure nobody makes a mistake, trying to know everything. That just doesn’t work anymore. Or you can choose to be more open, transparent, in the way that you work, and more curious. That is what we call the leader’s choice.

Elise Dorsett: Interesting, so the leader’s choice is that choice of leading with fear-based methods or leading with an open, curious mindset. That seems like a really big shift and something that you might not be able to do overnight. But what are some things that leaders can take away and some specific actions that you can take tomorrow?

David Burney: There are three things that I would advise leaders to think about. Number one, really your main raison d’être, the reason you exist as a leader, is to create that vision of the future and to create the story that tells people why this organization matters, who you are, and why it matters, so creating that compelling vision of the future and coming back to that over, and over, and over again. That is your job, really, as a leader, is to create a vision of the future.

Then how do you engage with the people that you’re leading? You want to ask a lot of questions. Number two, ask powerful questions. Stay curious. You’re not just asking questions so that they’re confirming your bias. This isn’t a game you’re playing. You’re really trying to listen and continue to focus on curiosity. Why? Tell me about that. Help me understand that better. When you’re leading through the asking of these sorts of questions, then you will begin to see that your organization is generating more creative and innovative solutions, when you’re opening the door and allowing them to do that.

The third thing, I should say, is you want to then open up the whole process of decision-making to the community of these people. You want to bring them together. The ideas they’ll share with each other can be very valuable, very innovative, very creative. It also sparks their engagement. They become very engaged when they are generating ideas, when they’re seeing that their ideas are being acted on. They may even see that some of the ideas they had aren’t being accepted by the other people that they’re working with, and they let it go, and they get on to board on what is being done. Engagement picks up, passion picks up. It’s a huge, huge competitive advantage for organizations who need to be more creative and more innovative. It’s learning to thrive in the face of ambiguity, to not create a place of fear, where people shut down.

Elise Dorsett: Interesting. This is a high-level overview, and what we want to explore more of is, what are those symptoms of fear in an organization, so you can recognize those. We also want to talk about, specifically, what an exercise is that you can do with your entire team to get them involved in decision making. We’re going to be diving in, in future videos, and we’re really excited to share.

Thank you for your time, David, and for your insights.

David Burney: Thanks, Elise.

Elise Dorsett: And stay tuned.

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