When CEOs Need Outside Help

By Tonita Proulx, Business Partnerships

Published: July 10, 2014

A recent article in Harvard Business Review stated it well:Outside In

“We know we want leaders who are smart, decisive, transformative, and possessed of a singular vision. But there’s an often-overlooked factor that can make the difference between success and failure: a leader’s ability to go far outside the organization—mobilizing networks of critical expertise—to get help in solving problems.”

Before you question the harshness of claiming success or failure is hinged on outside help, consider this: Your customers see your company, your brands, and your products from outside your corporate structure, your internal silos, and company-centric focus. They see you differently than you see yourself. In any organization it is easy to get caught up in internal issues and lose sight of trends in the market. The customers’ perspective is often the very opposite.

The same is true for outside partners. One of the advantages the outside expert brings is perspective. And one of the hallmarks of creativity is the ability to see problems differently, and thus find solutions others cannot see. When you’re caught up in day-to-day corporate efforts, it can be hard to step away and try to look at your products, processes, and people without bias; honestly criticizing where things need to change.

Yet, this exercise is necessary to propel leading companies forward.

What About Your Teams?

Turning to an external partner with a niche focus and targeted expertise does not mean you devalue the capabilities and talents within your organization. It simply means there is much to be gained in a new perspective. Taking time to really see the organization as customers see it and understand from the outside-in should be seen as one of the core activities of business. Knowing and understanding the actors and factors that drive customers’ behavior is invaluable. Organizations that embrace an outside in perspective are the ones that adapt and thrive.

“The reality today is that businesses, governments, and nonprofits are so complex and often must move so quickly that in many cases, finding answers to difficult questions requires tapping experts, service providers, and innovators scattered all over the world.”

Building A Network of Value

“A growing number of organizations now routinely draw on timely assistance beyond their own boundaries to pursue innovation, solve business or social problems, or expand ventures. These initiatives go well beyond the largely transactional exchanges promoted through crowd-sourcing approaches.”

It all starts with building connections across a wide range of areas – whether its agencies, freelancers, government or academia. And while meeting experts and introducing yourself to new contacts is the starting point, the success of leveraging outside help and an external perspective is hinged on your leadership style.

When successful CEOs look outside their organization, it is crucial they take on a servant leader approach. It is not enough to hire out and be disengaged. Good leaders don’t just sign up contractors, they “lead in a way that mobilizes a network.”

“They create energy, a sense of purpose, and even something of a community among people over whom they have no control.” As a result, the distinction between outside experts and internal teams becomes blurred and in this way, you leverage the knowledge and experience of subject matter experts with your internal capabilities to inspire growth no one can stand in the way of.