Ted Colbert, chief information officer and senior vice president at Boeing, has a morning routine that isn't for everyone.

First, he wakes up at 4, every morning.

He works out, every morning.

And he reads, every morning.

If you're like me, you're lucky if you can do just one of those three.

It's clear that he's a man on a mission, and in many respects he is an entrepreneur leading change within a large organization.

I reached out to Colbert, because I have always been curious how leaders of large companies approach leadership. Time and time again, I've seen that the best leaders are entrepreneurs within their organizations, and we have a lot to learn from them. Here is what I learned from him.

1. The best way to change the culture of a company is to let the data do the talking

How many times have you presented the vision for your company and gotten blank stares? You spent nights and weekends on this beautiful presentation, and it fell flat.

Well, chances are the reason it fell flat is that no one believed you.

I became curious. How do you convince hundreds of thousands of people to act on your grand vision? More meetings and town halls can only go so far.

Colbert has an answer to that problem:

"I knew from day one that the best way to make positive change within an organization was to empower our teams to collect data through projects in specific business units, and use that data to guide us to better decisions. If you unlock the power of data, you unlock the capabilities of your team to make better decisions."

For entrepreneurs, the best way is to launch early and get market feedback. If you're waiting for a big launch and no one has seen your product, you're going to have a hard time. You and your team should be confident that what you're building is actually needed. You only have so many executive decisions in you before things start to fall apart.

2. Don't try to change the world overnight. Find the real challenges and implement solutions to them one step at a time

The one common theme during my interview with Colbert was that he focused on demonstrating value and empowering "pathfinders" to enable real innovation to happen within the organization.

It seems like an obvious point to make, but from my experience of working for many organizations, large and small, demonstrating value was never achieved, because the focus was on big-bang projects with big launches that sometimes failed the day they launched.

Becoming a pathfinder and being on the frontlines of what you're creating allows you to build trust with your team. If your team doesn't trust that what you're building is going to work, then you're going to have a tough time scaling.

3. What's the best way to recruit great talent? Do great work

"There is no magic trick to hiring great people. Great people want to work for companies doing great things. So the best way to hire great people is to naturally create great, world-changing products," says Colbert.

Incidentally, the morning of my interview with Colbert, Boeing announced it was working on a hypersonic jet that would allow you to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo in three hours.

Of course, many of us are not able to create a hypersonic jet, but we are capable of creating things that will make an impact in the world. If you create something you believe in, chances are there will be a lot of other people out there who want to believe in it.

So, don't focus on the "recruiting trick" or the Ping-Pong table and video game room. Want to attract and hire great people? Create something people can be proud of.

4. Aspire to do great things, but always focus on core values

Entrepreneurs are forced to adapt to their surroundings. We have to sniff out opportunities. 

"Always focus on core values, and let those values guide you through the noise around you. It's easy to get distracted, but I always lead to my true north values. I believe in them, and therefore I lead by them. Don't let your aspirations get in the way of your core values," says Colbert.

Aspire to do great things. Just let the data do the talking, lead by example, and if you have to get up at 4 o'clock every morning, then maybe you should start one day at a time.

Published on: Jul 27, 2018
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