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Dora Cheatham- 90 in 90

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Educate – Innovate – Collaborate

Never be satisfied with the status quo

Keep looking for the problem that needs to be solved. It seems counter-intuitive to “look for problems,” but while doing more of the same may be comfortable, it can also be deadly. Time and time again we’ve seen companies revel in past success and glory, only to see themselves gradually disappear into obscurity because they’ve failed to anticipate and adapt to the future. Whether it’s developing new products, reaching new markets, finding new ways of servicing your customers, or improving operations, never be satisfied with “more of the same.” Everything has a life-cycle, and as technology changes, life-cycles — especially product life-cycles — are becoming shorter than ever.

Lifelong learning

In the words of the great polymath Leonardo da Vinci, I am “sempre amparando.” For younger people, learn about the company starting from Day One, not just what you were hired to do. Learn about the entire value chain and everyone’s role in that chain. How does purchasing impact manufacturing? How does inventory impact costs and accounting? How does market knowledge impact new product development? As you grow into management and leadership, that learning becomes more externally focused: your industry; the economy; the regulatory environment; new technologies.

Mentor, Listen, Empower

As a leader, it’s not only important to educate yourself, it’s also important to help the people who work for you to do the same, and to empower them to use that knowledge. Help them understand “the bigger picture.” Look for and listen to the staff who say things like “I know we’ve always done it that way, but what if we did this?”

Articulate a vision for the future

One of the most powerful and challenging jobs in leadership is articulating a vision for the future and making sure your whole team is behind it. Give them something to be passionate and engaged about. Let your team know the importance of hitting their monthly numbers and reaching a greater — often less tangible — goal that goes beyond the dollars and cents. If your employees are not passionate and engaged, and they don’t believe in your vision, neither will your customer.

Embrace diversity

True innovation comes from a diversity of thought processes, backgrounds and skill sets. Make sure that your team includes this kind of diversity. People with diverse backgrounds approach problems — and solutions — differently. Diversity of thought can create connections, links, and opportunities that could be otherwise invisible, and pre-empt problems before they arise.

Collaboration and Teamwork

The idea of diversity applies to collaboration and teamwork. Too often, we seek out collaborators with whom we feel an immediate connection because we feel the collaboration process will be easier. But while things may “get done,” it also means that we miss out on knowledge and expertise that could make the difference between a good result and a great result. Some of the best sales meetings and conferences I ever made were with our R&D Director. He spoke the language of the scientists. I spoke the language of the business team. Between the two of us we developed a huge level of credibility among our customers.

Find the win-win

I have worked primarily with cross-functional teams throughout my career. Whether it’s external (with a vendor relationship or client relationship) or internal (as with cross-functional teams), approach any negotiation, team project or collaboration from the angle of both yourself and the other party. The key to finding the win-win is to let go of the “my way or the highway” approach.

Be passionate about what you do

Especially if you’re an entrepreneur. People can sense whether you truly believe in your message or if you’re just going through the motions.

Give more than you receive

Whether it’s going the extra step at work, helping to cover for a sick employee, helping someone else succeed, or making an introduction, do something for which there is no personal reward other than the knowledge that you have helped someone else.

Get out of your daily bubble

We get so tied up in our work and home routines that we tend to focus on activities that we feel comfortable with. I challenge you today to get out of your business and activity bubble: Einstein played the violin; Warren Buffett plays the ukulele. Some of my best ideas have come while I was reading about history or 19th century literature.

Dora Cheatham

Austen Marketing & Executive Director, DESCA

Dora was named executive director of the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance in December 2019, after helping DESCA build its presence and validate its hypotheses through Austen Marketing & Communications, an organization she founded in 2013. Dora recently led the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Council and Emerging Enterprise Center. Dora is also on the Kent County Workforce Task force and works with FAME Inc., the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering.

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