Leadership required to foster Innovation

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Innovation leadership is a philosophy and technique that combines different leadership styles to influence employees to produce creative ideas, products, and services. The key role in the practice of innovation leadership is the innovation leader. Without innovation leadership, organizations are likely to struggle.

Trend research done by the Talent Management Expert DDI provided interesting insights related to Innovation leadership. While organizations vary widely in their approach to innovation, there is one common thread. The ability to consistently conceive of, create and bring to market new innovations is highly dependent on the quality of talent and the environment in which they work. And, in turn, responsibility for the quality of talent and a culture highly conducive to innovation squarely falls on leaders at all levels. In fact, the research on behavior of leaders spotlights them as one of the most, if not the most, important drivers of innovation. In a recent IBM study, over 60 percent of a sample of 1,500 CEOs cited creativity as the most important leadership quality over the next five years. According to the research, “CEOs now realize that creativity trumps other leadership characteristics. Creative leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and experimentation. To connect with and inspire a new generation, they lead and interact in entirely new ways.”

Yet, a full 50 percent of the leaders in the sample considered themselves ineffective at doing it, more than any of the other critical skills! A leader’s impact on employee innovation cannot be overstated: Teresa Amabile, a pioneer in research on the role of leadership in inspiring creativity, demonstrated how leaders can either nurture or destroy innovative behaviors based on their behaviors.

And, nowhere is this point about the role of leadership made more compellingly than in a recent work by Gary Hamel. In a widely-read 2009 Harvard Business Review article, Hamel stresses the need to innovate the role of management itself. Working with Hamel as part of our Global Leadership Forecast 2011, we found leaders themselves often describing their organizations as rigid, restricting the opportunity to innovate to only a select few, or tending to value those who value the status quo more than the renegades. With nearly 1 in 3 employees who participated in the forecast feeling that their own creative ideas are squashed by organizational bureaucracy, it’s time for a wakeup call for many organizations today.

The leader behaviors mentioned below are crucial to creating and sustaining an environment in which associates are motivated and enabled to innovate.

(1) Inspire Curiosity – Innovation leaders encourage employees to expand their understanding of both internal and external stakeholders: who they are, how they are interdependent, and the unique contexts in which each one operates.
(2) Challenge Current Perspectives – Innovation leaders help employees view problems and opportunities differently and envision alternative possibilities.
(3) Create Freedom – Innovation leaders empower experimentation, risk taking, learning from mistakes, and valuing effort over perfection.
(4) Drive Discipline – Innovation leaders help employees identify execution implications early and often and align efforts to ensure successful implementation of innovative solutions.

Leaders should be actively engaged and personally invested in driving innovation. Leaders need to be innovative, but much of the onus for driving innovation lies with the organizations for which they work. So what is the role of the organization’s culture of innovation (or lack thereof)? The short answer is: the stronger the culture of innovation is, the more both leaders and their teams will report that innovation behaviors are demonstrated.

A leader’s negative impact on employee innovation—by destroying or starving it—can be extremely damaging to an organization’s pursuit of innovation as a strategic goal. As the first reviewers of ideas generated by individual employees, leaders are the make-or-break deciders on what ideas are pursued, and which ones are not. From the perspective of an employee who has taken the personal initiative and risk to develop and propose a radical idea, poor leader openness can severely inhibit innovation motivation—possibly permanently—to the company’s detriment. While this effect is relevant for leaders of any level, the scope of a leader’s poisoning influence on employee innovation grows as he or she climbs the organizational hierarchy.

Encouraging new approaches to leadership, involving employees and customers in all innovation-related processes, rewarding creative effort, learning from failure—all are elements of an organizational culture that is 100 percent supportive of innovation.

Is your organization’s commitment towards innovation inline with the innovation leadership? Please let me know your thoughts through comments.



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One Response to Leadership required to foster Innovation

  1. Thank you Guntash and Jill!


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