After more than a year of dealing with unprecedented challenges around the world, CEOs ranked “innovative thinking” as the most important skill to lead change in the future according to a recent Conference Board report. In a post pandemic world executives need to implement innovative strategies by collaborating with external partners while attracting, retaining, and inspiring their human talent.
The next two most important skills according to the report were the “ability to execute” and “team leadership”. In my experience leaders need to utilize all three skills together when dealing with difficult or adverse situations which require innovative solutions. While “innovative thinking” was first on the list it will not lead to success unless it is accompanied by great execution and teamwork.
We need to make sure we equip young people with the skills necessary to succeed in a post pandemic world where innovation, collaboration, and teamwork will be keys to success. Recently I was able to see these principles in action during a visit to my alma matter, Northern Illinois University (NIU). I was there to cut the ribbon on the “De La Vega Innovation Lab” a facility designed to be a hub for students to collaborate, explore new ideas, and nurture a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship across the NIU campus.
The facility has been a dream come true for me and my family. I will always remember the early discussions with Dean Balaji Rajagopalan and the many innovative ideas he used to make the lab a reality. It could not have happened without the support of NIU President Lisa Freeman and former NIU Board Chair Dennis Barsema. In essence, the lab itself is a testament to the power of innovation, collaboration, and teamwork.
In addition to being a hub for innovation, the lab is also a source of inspiration. The lab will feature a small section devoted to explaining my story about coming to the U.S. as a Cuban immigrant at the age of 10, without my parents, without speaking a word of English, and without a penny in my pocket. I believe it will inspire young people to achieve their dreams regardless of their backgrounds.
During my career I have had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the world’s most innovative leaders such as Steve Jobs and Tim Cook from Apple, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook, Jeff Bezos from Amazon, and Elon Musk from Tesla to name a few. All made possible by the opportunities provided by my education at NIU and my career at a great company like AT&T.
I know that in the post pandemic future there will be young entrepreneurs and innovators from NIU that will dream big, believe in themselves, and never let anyone put limitations on what they can achieve. I know they will take on our most difficult challenges and succeed by using the innovative thinking, collaboration, and teamwork skills they learned on campus.
In doing so I know Huskies will make the world a better place.
 C Suite Challenge 2021- Leading in a Post-COVID-19 Recovery – Conference Board Report