Wednesday 13th January 2016

The start of a new year is a time to reflect on the prior year’s successes and challenges, and planning ahead for new opportunities.

For the Solar Impulse team, 2015 was a year of triumph and learning. We succeeded in crossing the Pacific Ocean on the first-ever, solar-powered plane: It took five days, a single pilot, efforts of hundreds of team members and partners, and countless hours to achieve this milestone. However, we also learned from our limitations and the role outside forces play in our mission. Despite having larger goals, we were only able to complete half of the journey, as the weather simply was not in our favor.

In 2016, as our team prepares to complete the journey that began in 2015, I reflect on my role as an explorer and CEO of the project – a role all leaders must play in their organization. 



It is easy to become mired down in daily responsibilities – budgeting, staff planning – all things that are necessary to run a successful operation. However, teams look to their leader for more than just an operational roadmap – they wish to be inspired and reminded of the greater purpose. Leaders should take time to immerse themselves in their team, reconnecting with those who make the vision possible: host town hall meetings, join a customer service call, attend a client briefing with the sales team, and make time to meet with other industry leaders to discuss broader challenges and opportunities. And the end of the day it’s all about listening and taking part in the team’s daily routine, in order to provide the opportunity for everyone to safely express their thoughts without the fear of being penalized.



Remaining curious and keeping a sense of adventure can stimulate thinking and bring new ideas. Business leaders are responsible for operational excellence and must think about the implications of each decision – but they are also empowered to consider possibilities. Imagine what could be done for the business if there were no limitations? If a leader were to start with what cannot be accomplished due to limitations, only a small number of projects would be left to consider. Instead, give teams the space and permission to think of any idea, and only then consider how to operationalize the best ones. This creates a place for innovation to flourish. 



Building teams is both art and science. Many organizations rely on personality tests to assess cultural fit, often to the detriment of diversity. The value of talent is created through differences, not similarities. Commit to hire with diversity as a priority, identifying those with differing professional and personal backgrounds, and complementary talents and skills. Look at General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Mary was an engineer hired to lead HR, before being named head of product development. The degree one holds or traditional career path should be considered alongside both technical and personal capabilities and the passion of the individual. While diversity can be more difficult to manage as it potentially leads to more conflict; successful leaders view conflict as transformation by aligning the energy of everyone in the organization.



Companies of all sizes begin endless initiatives and have limitless conversations to address problems. In the course of the year, they will assign dozens of “project groups” or “work streams” that become bogged down due to lack of concrete end goals, endless approval processes, and often, too many stakeholders. Good ideas and intentions without concrete action offer no meaningful change to an organization. Promise to establish small work groups who are empowered to target specific, actionable projects that optimize existing work, offer incremental improvements, or address a specific new paradigm in the business landscape. 

André Borschberg