Innovators listen to what leaders say, but most of all, they watch what leaders do. Day-to-day actions and decisions show whether leaders are actually committed to innovation or whether it’s simply a popular tagline that sounds good but has no real support.
Become a living example
Managers who embrace all of the other nine roles so far will have gone a very long way to showing their commitment to innovation. However, there is one more very important aspect to innovation leadership. Beyond these other nine roles, people can sense when a leader has a real personal passion for innovation. Innovation is not easy. Almost any new idea and project eventually hits major obstacles or encounters people who say it could never work. Innovators need their own inner drive to continue through these difficult moments. Innovation champions are the ones who wake up at 3:00 am with the solution that could work—they find a way through. Leaders with a deep belief that innovation is essential and who care about the value it can deliver to their customers—and perhaps to society at large—help elicit that extra spark of inspiration that innovators need.
Being a role model means you are able to
- Convey a sense of passion for new ideas and inspire others to contribute.
- Easily utilize the tools and techniques of the innovation process to create value.
- Recognize and quickly adopt new ideas within your own team or business unit.
- Ask, “What can we learn?” when projects do not turn out as expected.
- Communicate and celebrate successes.
You are already a role model… the question is, what kind?
How a leader spends his or her time is always noticed by others. Innovation cannot be fully delegated to others—it will only be considered an important effort in a team or company when the leader is actively engaged.
As an innovation leader, you might
- Convene special strategy sessions just for generating ideas and exploring options.
- Contribute ideas of your own, don’t just sit back and judge the ideas of others.
- Have an “open office” policy where you invite people to share their ideas and value propositions.
- Offer balanced feedback on new ideas (e.g., what you like about the idea and what could be stronger).
- Approve experiments and encourage Lean prototyping.
- Be willing to collaborate with other units and promote your team members’ ideas to others in the organization.
- Be inquisitive. Ask open-ended questions that challenge common wisdom (e.g., ask “Why?” “Why not?” “What if?” and “How could we?”).
- Invite cross-disciplinary participation and encourage different perspectives.
- Admit when you are wrong and capture the learning from failed inventions.
- Assign some of your best people to innovation projects.
- Promote the best innovators in your staff.
Being a role model is not always easy to do. Listen to the feedback of others to get a measure of your effectiveness. If you are involved in a 360-assessment process you will gain a clear snapshot of your performance as an innovation role model. You’ll know you need to improve if you start receiving feedback that says you are too cautious and don’t seek to be bold or different, prefer the tried and true, bring too narrow and tactical a perspective, don’t connect with ideas outside your own area, use old solutions on new problems, or stifle the creativity of others. Being a good role model for innovation, or any other key leadership competence, means being conscious of your own behavior and recognizing where you are on your own developmental journey.
Overall, a positive attitude is infectious. If the leader is passionate and excited about the company’s vision and the projects being pitched, others will catch the enthusiasm as well.
There is no Innovation without leadership
Companies looking to aggressively boost their innovation capabilities need leaders who know which role to play at which time to ensure a healthy pipeline of high-potential ideas and a highly engaged workforce. They need a committed leadership team with an entrepreneurial mind-set. They need to be forward-looking and to inspire the organization about what is possible. They need to set direction, clarify priorities, and define the boundaries around the type of innovation required for the company to thrive. As they make the potential future visible and foster an environment of creative collaboration, leaders form a kind of “innovation sandbox” where employees throughout the enterprise are invited to play, with the goal of generating new business value.
Businesses don’t fail—leaders do. Leaders who don’t treat innovation as a priority simply cede opportunity to those who do. Effectively playing all 10 roles helps leaders ensure their teams consistently delight their customers and outthink, outcreate, and outperform the competition.
This was the final installment of the Leading Innovation series. If you have any feedback, or would like to discuss the roles, or want to explore how to bring the mindset and practices to your organization, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You are welcome to download the entire chapter of Leading Innovation: Ten Essential Roles for Harnessing the Creative Talent of your Enterprise.
The blog posts are authored by Laszlo Gyorffy, MS. Laszlo is president of the Enterprise Development Group, an international consulting firm specializing in business strategy and innovation. He also is an accomplished speaker, certified instructional designer and trainer, and co-author of Creating Value with CO-STAR: An Innovation Tool for Perfecting and Pitching your Brilliant Ideas and The Global Innovation Science Handbook. Laszlo recently developed the One Hour Innovator a cloud-based toolkit that teaches people how to successfully generate and champion bigger, bolder, and better ideas.