The Innovative Leader: Skills and Strategies
Challenging circumstances and complex issues face every leader today, no matter the organization or environment. These circumstances and issues give rise to ever-increasing demands for leaders who have the capability to innovate.
Leaders who innovate see the bigger picture, grasp the entire situation including all the variables that may come their way. This means they have the capacity to think differently about their organization, they have the skills which allow them to bring new ideas and energy to their role, to address challenging situations and find solutions to complex issues. As a result, they bring more innovation into the entire organization.
Innovative leaders have powerful imaginations, they challenge everything, looking where others have not looked. They constantly ask, ‘What if?’ And because they do, they find new opportunities and take reasonable and appropriate risks. An XBInsight survey of over 5,000 CEOs worldwide found innovative leaders are more successful than non-innovative leaders as a result of five key competencies. The survey found innovative leaders are better able to manage risk and seize opportunities. They demonstrate curiosity, lead courageously, and maximize a strategic business perspective.
Because they have excellent communication skills, innovative leaders generate enthusiasm for opportunities, motivating and inspiring others to collaborate with them and take the needed risks. They apply emotional intelligence to their everyday lives, continually building relationships with team members, colleagues, and bosses. They have confidence in their team, recognize and support creativity in the team, and the ability of them to work together effectively on implementation strategies.
Finally, innovative leaders are tuned in to the details of a situation and its effect on the organization. They dig down to seek out new patterns and consider new points of view. They are willing to change their perspective, challenging their own previously held convictions.
Innovation is about implementation. Without implementation, innovation is creativity – the generation of new ideas, something new without the application – non quantifiable, minimal risk, and no investment. Kouzes and Posner, in their book, The Leadership Challenge, encourage leaders to challenge the status quo by searching for opportunities, experimenting, and taking risks. They suggest leaders ask themselves:
- What can be challenged?
- What needs to be improved?
- What can I learn?
To drive innovation in your organization, consider applying the following five strategies.
1. Increase your knowledge from a variety of sources.
Innovation is based on knowledge. Therefore, you need to continually expand your knowledge base. Read things you don’t normally read. Think about your personal experiences. Is there knowledge or skills you can apply to being innovative at work? What are your interests, hobbies, or volunteer activities? Do you play the piano, are you a gourmet chef, do you write short stories? Thinking about personal experiences may help you to tap into other knowledge and expertise and leverage them at work.
2. Treat patterns as part of the problem.
Sometimes we rely on previous experience to determine our next steps and we fall into a pattern of behaviour. Reach out to team members, colleagues, and bosses to test out your innovation plans. Are you relying on previous experience only to develop your solution? Are you spending time to reflect on the justification of your assumptions, beliefs and values?
3. Turn off idea generation and work on implementation.
Creativity is the process for generating ideas, lots of ideas. But at some point, you need to stop, step back, and decide on which idea to implement. Innovation is about actually working the idea, implementing and executing in order to bring the idea to life.
4. Foster an innovative environment.
Involve your team in your innovation decisions. Communicate and collaborate with them. Part of your role as a leader is to encourage the creativity of those who report to you. Make sure they have the tools they need to create and adapt to change. You do not need to, or should you, do this alone. That is why you have a team. Be a courageous change agent by trusting yourself to trust and lean on others. As you build your innovation skills and expertise, your team should be building theirs as well.
5. Evaluate, revise, repeat.
As with any change, it’s critical to evaluate the result. Ask yourself, and your team, what has been learned from the experience? Did anything occur that was not expected? What would we do differently? What could we have done better? Document your findings and apply them to the next situation that needs innovative thinking.
Innovation is not about the past but rather, visualizing a desired future state. The goal of innovation is to find a better way.