The Importance of Resourcefulness

With the recession forcing us to make do with what we have, being resourceful is now a necessary skill for today's generation of leaders. It is not simply a matter of doing more with less — companies have preached this for at least a generation. Rather, what's important is the realization that you can do more with less because you and your colleagues are more capable than you first believed.

Resourcefulness is not a means of coping with deprivation; it can be a virtue that opens the door to greater accomplishment. Based on my observations of what resourceful leaders do, here are some suggestions for being resourceful.

You must first start with an open mind. "Redefine the possible." This is line is attributed to Nandan Nilekani, a co-founder of InfoSys, India's $2 billion IT services company. According to The Economist, Nilekani used this statement to encourage fellow Indians to realize how they could leverage their talents and resources to empower themselves to fulfill their goals. Being open minded about new possibilities is critical to putting resourcefulness into action. The leader who steps up and says "yes we can do this" is one who can push colleagues to do things that some might consider impractical.

Turn innovation inward. Resourcefulness is about optimizing what you have to work with. Innovation is not just about creating something new; it also applies to making old things work better. An experienced mechanic can do wonders in car repair with a combination of after-market parts and his own resourcefulness. We see this same spirit in maintenance of large facilities — factories, buildings, even ships. Those who service them may not always follow a manual; they diagnose problems and figure out what tools and materials there are at hand to fix them. Call it resourceful innovation.

Choose specifics. If you're thinking of the bigger picture of the downturn, it may be tempting to consider ways to re-invent how your company does business. Adopting a realistic attitude about what you can do in the short term might be more productive. That is, think revising specific tasks as well as specific roles and responsibilities. Processes and procedures can be revamped with an eye toward simplicity and cost savings.

Lean on your staff. Conventional thinking in frugal times says stop spending, but sometimes managers conflate that mantra with "stop doing." A resourceful leader doesn't stand still and encourages staff to follow her example. Have discussions about what the team and individuals can do to turn doing more with less into a pragmatic process for improvement.

Celebrate the lessons. As evidenced by the popularity of frugality in consumerism lately, people feel good about exercising their resourcefulness. But to encourage the spread of resourcefulness, leaders must make certain that this pride in accomplishments is publicized and praised. Those who are resourceful need to be recognized and rewarded, and in turn, teach their lessons to others.

Resourcefulness, while critical now, should not be reserved just for hard times. When prosperity returns, relying on one's ability to do more with existing resources and lead people to do the same will be a virtuous behavior.

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