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3 Ways Leaders Can Foster Innovation in a Challenging Environment

Author: Alvaro Vaselli, President and CEO, SKYDEX As leaders, it’s up to us to foster innovation among our teams even in the most difficult of contexts—including a global pandemic and an election year. As the new CEO at SKYDEX, I’ve made it a priority to ensure the team is innovating and pushing the boundaries of […]

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Author: Alvaro Vaselli, President and CEO, SKYDEX

As leaders, it’s up to us to foster innovation among our teams even in the most difficult of contexts—including a global pandemic and an election year. As the new CEO at SKYDEX, I’ve made it a priority to ensure the team is innovating and pushing the boundaries of possibilities in the protection industry. Because when it comes down to it, leadership plays a critical, dynamic role in growing business through innovation, no matter the circumstances. Six months after joining the company, like most of us, I was smacked in the face with a global pandemic. Here are some of the principles I’ve been applying to keep driving innovation and executing our strategy with discipline in these challenging times:

1. Identify your common purpose and unite around it.

Great leaders inspire trust, creativity and innovative thinking towards a common goal and purpose. When the world feels volatile, a common purpose serves as a guiding principle for your teams to focus on and rally around.

It’s the role of leadership to unleash team members’ untapped potential and help them operate at their maximum ability, and in times of crisis, a big part of that is helping your employees connect the dots to the bigger picture of purpose, productivity, impact and results. It’s critical to inspire a specific sense of direction: this gives your teams an avenue to channel their collective, creative energy toward overcoming business and personal challenges.

2. Encourage your teams to see disruption and hardship as opportunity.

I’ve always had a growth mindset and an appetite for continuous learning. Every bump in the road of my career has served as a learning opportunity, and as we face the collective challenges of 2020, I’ve found it incredibly important to re-frame these hurdles as chances to learn and grow.

Modeling this kind of mindset will help your teams see difficult circumstances as opportunities to innovate and push creative boundaries. This is the time to take risks and think outside the box: not only does risk-taking make things more exciting, it increases your business’s chances for success. And if you do fail, there will be learning associated with it—which, in my opinion, is equally or even more important. Risks either propel you forward, or strengthen you.

Instilling this spirit of innovative risk-taking in your teams will give them the freedom to explore innovative ways of working even when the marketplace feels daunting. Encourage creativity and curiosity to reinvent processes, transform the usual approach and become more agile and adaptable. Disruption and hardship are key opportunities for prioritization, focus and transformation: they have the potential to make organizations stronger and bring long-term, sustainable growth and success to all stakeholders.

3. Open yourself up to vulnerability and transparency—and encourage your teams to do the same.

Crises force us to become more inquisitive, agile and humble. They push us to learn more and faster. The global pandemic, in particular, pushed me to become more human and opened me up to vulnerability and transparency. The reality is, when challenges like those presented in 2020 come along, your teams are going to be scared. Getting vulnerable and connecting with them on a human level is critical.

This requires courage, self-awareness and authenticity. Be grounded in your own humanity while you work to execute strategy and drive results. This will bring your teams together in a collaborative approach that enables creativity and innovative thinking. For me, the pandemic has blurred the lines of business and society and pushed me to open up more—to be transparently more human in the workplace.

An important part of operating on this authentic level is being a leader your team trusts. Since the beginning of COVID-19, we’ve prioritized employee health and well-being at SKYDEX. Ensuring your employees know they are safe and cared for will lead to improved communication, transparency and the development of an empowered system with more delegation and less control. In turn, this inspires higher levels of trust, collaboration, innovation and ultimately drives results despite adversity.

In times of incredible stress and uncertainty, always prioritize your employees’ health and well-being. Be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. Be more tolerant, patient and don’t lose sight of your purpose and end result. Express gratitude. Keep inspiring trust, and trust your team in return. Take the right risks, invest in people and be comfortable being human.

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Short bio/about the author:

Alvaro Vaselli is the President and CEO of SKYDEX, a global leader in advanced impact mitigation and energy absorption solutions. Vaselli started his career with Dow Chemical in Brazil. He then led the development of ARCO’s business in South America. After moving to the U.S. with ARCO/Lyondell, he was appointed SVP at Foamex/FXI and later the President of Personal Care at Tredegar Corporation and Founder of Nuvanna. Vaselli has spent his career working with advanced materials and consumer products. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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