Leaders must make a concerted effort to be innovative.
Leadership and innovation are inextricably tied together. Being creative and innovative are not abilities equally shared by everyone. Some people are natural creators. About a fourth of people in the workplace are those that you could classify as naturally creative who have ideas. Some organizations attract more creators than others, like marketing and arts related organizations. Some organizations lack creators such as those organizations that tend to be more analytic or regulatory – their focus tends to be on implementation not creation.
Individuals are creative. Teams are innovative. Being innovative is the ability to create a never thought of use for a product, service or idea. In business that means the application of an idea in a novel way. Innovations can be a product, its use, its delivery method, how it may be combined or re-purposed. For example, the microwave oven grew out of an invention during World War II. The innovation was the development, manufacturing and marketing of microwaves for residential use.
It takes leaders who know how to work with creators to create a work culture open to creativity and innovation. Leaders must be able to spot ideas that can be transformed into innovative products, solutions or services. Leaders must nurture and drive the changes that can lead to innovation.
Many years ago when I interned at NASA, I spent 3 months working with the technology transfer unit at Carnegie Mellon University. The sole purpose was to catalog technological inventions used in outer space for practical application. I remember Velcro was one such innovation – invented for space suits. You may recall the wide application of the use of Velcro to fasten sneakers during the 1980’s. There are many adults today who are not great at tying shoe laces because they grew up on Velcro sneakers!
Wikipedia defines innovative leadership as a philosophy and technique that combines different leadership styles to influence employees to produce creative ideas, products, and services. Innovative leaders must skillfully tap into the creative ideas of their teams and guide them toward the process of innovation.
Of course, it almost goes without saying, that innovative leaders value diversity and inclusion, creative thinking and unconventional approaches of their teams which stimulates the flow of ideas. It takes the combination of many great ideas along with creative thinking to produce innovation.
Businesses that last don’t create, they innovate. From large businesses to microenterprises, innovative leadership is a long term survival strategy. Here are 5 ways to develop your innovative leadership abilities:
- Seek opportunities to be more creative at work and outside of work.
- Develop your leadership qualities (volunteer to lead projects in your business, at your place of work, or in the community).
- Experiment with different leadership approaches and styles of communication.
- Keep a journal of what you learn about yourself and what behaviors are most successful in motivating others and achieving results.
- Nurture ideas – test your openness to ideas and willingness to experiment and take risks.
They greatest challenge for very small businesses is the lack of sufficient personnel to develop ideas. If you fit in this category, you can:
- Make a conscious effort to capture novel ideas.
- Find or create a safe business group to discuss or grow your idea.
- Build and lead a team to move your idea into innovative applications.