Harnessing the innovative talent within your organization is no easy feat. The good news is that employees naturally want to develop and implement new ideas. When you teach the right skills, nurture an innovative culture, and establish a holistic leadership model, you set the foundation that allows innovation to thrive.
Decoding Innovation Leadership
According to Goran Ekvall, Professor Emeritus of Organizational Psychology at the University of Lund in Sweden, 67 percent of the variance in the creativity in an organization is directly related to leaders’ behavior. He found that when people were producing creative solutions and products, when they found joy and meaning in their job, and when they were willing to invest energy in their work, 67 percent of the time, this was attributed to leaders’ behavior as well.
But, what makes a great innovation leader? We answer that question in our Leading Innovation series. Over the next several weeks, we’ll work to decode innovation leadership as we explore the ten different roles that set the great innovation leaders apart from the rest. If you’d rather take a deep-dive today, download “Leading Innovation: Ten Essential Roles for Harnessing the Creative Talent of Your Enterprise.” This free chapter is an excerpt from the Global Innovation Science Handbook.
Innovation Leaders Wear Many Hats
It’s likely that you wear many hats throughout the day. Perhaps you’re a busy parent who plays the role of soccer mom or dance dad after you hang your work hat up for the day. It is easy to recognize the roles we play in our private lives, but which roles are most important when it comes to leading innovation?
It should come as no surprise that there’s a significant distinction between managing and leading. Both roles play a key part in business success, but innovation is largely a leadership activity. Management focuses on efficiency, predictability, quality improvement for existing products and services, and effective control. This orientation and skill set can be valuable at the back end of the innovation process where the primary focus is cost-effective, rapid implementation. However, this kind of management is often a significant inhibitor at the front end of innovation.
Playing the role of leader requires building comfort with risk, seeing routes that others avoid as potential opportunities for advantage, happily testing new ideas, and finding ways around obstacles to accomplish complex tasks that might never have been done before. Leadership demands a future-oriented perspective that often challenges the very predictability that managers try to maintain.
Ten Leadership Roles to Harness Innovative Talent
Leading innovation requires ten essential, and very different roles. Your ability to switch hats as needed is critical, but first, you must be able to recognize which hat is needed, why it is needed and when you need to wear it. The ten roles include:
- Futurist: Looks toward the future, scouts new opportunities, and brings future possibilities out of the fog so that everyone can see them and their potential. The futurist enables people throughout the organization to discover the emerging trends that most impact their work.
- Direction setter: Creates and communicates vision and business strategy in a compelling manner, and ensures innovation priorities are clear.
- Customer advocate: Keeps the voice of the customer alive in the hearts, minds, and actions of innovators and teams.
- Architect: Designs (or authorizes others to design) an end-to-end, integrated innovation process, and also promotes organization design for innovation, where each function contributes to innovation capability.
- Venture capitalist: Secures funding for innovation, evaluates and selects projects to receive resources, and guides implementation.
- Mentor: Coaches and guides innovation champions and teams.
- Barrier buster: Helps navigate political landmines and removes organizational obstacles.
- Networker: Works across organizational boundaries to engage stakeholders, promotes connections across boundaries, and secures widespread support.
- Culture creator: Ensures the spirit of innovation is understood, celebrated, and aligned with the strategy of the organization.
- Role model: Provides a living example of innovation through attention and language, as well as through personal choices and actions. Key stakeholders often test the leader’s words, to see if these are real. For innovation to move forward, the leader must pass these inevitable tests—to show that he or she is committed to innovation as essential to success.
Leaders need to inspire others about what is possible; ensure the importance of innovation is recognized by all; and by creating what may at first sound like an impossible paradox establishing a discipline of innovation. Innovation is a leadership activity, not a management activity, and the ability to wear the right hats at the right time will set your organization up for innovation success.
In the second installment of the Leading Innovation series, we’ll share the key traits of the Futurist role. If you’d rather not wait, you can download the entire chapter today.
This blog post is part of the Leading Innovation series 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.