Innovation Leadership

Innovation Leadership is the ability to inspire productive action in yourself and others during times of creation, invention, uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk. It is a necessary competency for organizations that hope to develop truly innovative products and services.[1]

Innovation Leadership Components[2]

Innovation Leadership Has Two Components

  • An innovative approach to leadership. This means to bring new thinking and different actions to how you lead, manage, and go about your work. How can you think differently about your role and the challenges you and your organization face? What can you do to break open entrenched, intractable problems? How can you be agile and quick in the absence of information or predictability?
  • Leadership for innovation. Leaders must learn how to create an organizational climate where others apply innovative thinking to solve problems and develop new products and services. It is about growing a culture of innovation, not just hiring a few creative outliers. How can you help others to think differently and work in new ways to face challenges? What can be done to innovate when all resources are stressed and constrained? How can you stay alive and stay ahead of the competition?

This two-tiered approach generates the kind of innovation that can produce the next new product or design, but it goes well beyond. It can spur the development of programs, services, and tools, including Innovation Leadership initiatives to build leadership capacity within and beyond the organization.

Innovation Leadership
source: CCL.Org

Business Thinking Versus Innovative Thinking[3]

Today’s managers are not lacking ideas, theories, or information. They have extraordinary knowledge and expertise. They are skilled practitioners of traditional business thinking. Business thinking is based on deep research, formulas, and logical facts. Deductive and inductive reasoning are favored tools, as we look for proof or precedent to inform decisions. Business thinkers are often quick to make decisions, looking for the right answer among the wrong answers. Business thinking is about removing ambiguity and driving results.

But ambiguity cannot be managed away. Driving results is impossible when the situation is unstable or the challenge is complex or the direction is unclear. Many of today’s leadership problems are critical and pressing; they demand quick and decisive action. But at the same time, they are so complex that we can’t just dive in. Because the organization, team, or individual does not know how to act, there is a need to slow down, reflect, and approach the situation in an unconventional way— using innovative thinking. Innovative thinking is not reliant on past experience or known facts. It imagines a desired future state and figures out how to get there. It is intuitive and open to possibility. Rather than identifying right answers or wrong answers, the goal is to find a better way and explore multiple possibilities. Ambiguity is an advantage, not a problem. It allows you to ask “what if?” Innovative thinking is a crucial addition to traditional business thinking. It allows you to bring new ideas and energy to your role as leader and to solve your challenges. It also paves the way to bring more innovation into your organization.

Business Thinking Vs Innovative Thinking
source: CCL.Org

Characteristics of the Innovative Leader[4]

  • Visionary: Visionary leaders can take a “powerful vision” and break it down. Creating a culture of “innovation”, it takes small steps forward towards a greater vision, not a gigantic leap to the top of the summit. Innovative leaders help people continuously grow with small steps that build both confidence and competence, so they are more willing to become more innovative themselves.
  • Empathetic – Along the lines of design thinking, new ideas start with understanding the people they are created for.
  • Models Learning: Leaders need to be “elbows deep in learning." It is simple to fall into the trap of doing things that have always been done, or simply going with what is known. Leaders need to immerse ourselves into new learning opportunities. We rarely create something different until we experience something different.
  • Open Risk Taker – This building upon the previous point. The term “risk-taker” has become quite cliché, as leaders often promote it, but rarely model it. People are less likely to take risks in doing something different unless they see those above them in the hierarchical structure do the same thing. If leaders want people to try new things, they have to openly show, that they are willing to do the same.
  • Networked – Networks are imperative to growth and innovation. Great leaders create networks beyond their orbit. They are not limited by their own ideas but draw upon best practices and the experience and knowledge of other thought leaders.
  • Observant – Great ideas often spark other great ideas. Consortiums, leadership Councils and Leadership Bootcamps are on the rise. The power of the Internet has also led to myriad of information resources.
  • Team Builder – The least innovative organizations often seem to surround themselves with like-minded people. Innovation often comes from conflict and disagreement, not in an adversarial way, but in a way that promotes divergent thinking. The idea is not to go with the idea of one person over another, but to actually create a better idea. Innovate Leaders do not surround themselves with yes men.
  • Focused on Relationships – The focus only on Innovation makes one forget that it is ultimately a human endeavor. For example, it isn't the smartphone that is innovative, but the thinking behind creating a smartphone where the innovation happens. Being an “innovative leader” is not only about creating new and better ideas, but also about developing those who report to you as future leaders.

The Innovation Leadership Map[5]

Systems Growth Consulting of Manchester, UK in their Innovation Leadership Map© tells us about what innovation leaders can do to create better innovation outcomes through managing the inputs to innovation activities, the processes of managing and the firms operating culture. This is diagrammatically illustrated below:

Innovation Leadership Map
source: Systems Growth Consulting

The Importance of Innovation to Leadership[6]

Every successful business innovation starts with idea generation. It’s about developing exceptional ideas that are the base for outstanding innovation success. Therefore, innovation and leadership are becoming more important to business leaders. Managers have to overcome the status quo, think ahead about tomorrow’s products and services, develop new business models and business processes.

The traditional relationship between managers and their subordinates was characterized by authority and obedience. The supervisor commands, the employee executes. Disciplined. Correct. Without contradiction. Hierachies reminiscent of the military. But in contemporary innovation management leadership styles are changing. Companies that want to implement an innovation strategy are required to build an innovation culture. They must be able to implement incremental innovation and continuous improvement as well as radical innovation. Business leaders play an increasingly important role in this process.

It is hard to imagine that ideas can be generated with a traditional management style: “Brainstorm! Ideas now!” Creativity and strong hierarchical approaches are difficult to combine. Accordingly, management approaches are subject to significant change. Leadership concepts of innovation leaders differ fundamentally from those in companies that preserve the existing. A leadership style in which managers act as a promoter for new ideas is becoming increasingly important for innovative companies.

The Innovation Leadership Mindset[7]

Leaders differ much from Laggards. Embedded within their whole being is the Innovation Leadership Mindset.

Innovative Leadership Mindset
source: Flevy

Having an Innovation Leadership Mindset is clicking the future into place. There are 4 core pillars of the Innovation Leadership Mindset.

  • Invest in innovation. Leaders invest more in innovation. Organizations with Innovation Leadership Mindset direct a greater percentage of its IT budget toward innovation. They accelerate investment innovation over the next 5 years. Leaders are far advanced from Laggards when it comes to investing in innovations. Leaders invest 93% on innovation and are expected to increase this to 97% in the next 5 years. On the other hand, laggards invest only 64% on innovation with a planned investment of 74% in the next 5 years.
  • Develop Innovation Systems. Leaders show a consistently higher rate of technology adoption. Organizations with Innovation Leadership Mindset adopt new technologies earlier and develop higher levels of expertise. They prioritize and sequence implementation in optimal ways. Leaders have been found to adopt a fundamental general-purpose technology at a rate of 98%. An example of this is Artificial Intelligence. Laggards, on the other hand, have faith in a fast follower approach. They take technology haphazardly leading to patchwork across the organization.
  • Scale Technology Innovation: Leaders that set their sights on innovating at scale target 3 times more business processes with technologies.
  • Evolve Next-gen Enterprise Systems: Leaders have also drummed up their resources towards building the Next-gen Enterprise Systems. Next-gen Enterprise Systems are systems that are capable of repeatable and scalable innovations. It is Boundaryless, Adaptable, and Radically Human.

Paradoxes of Innovation Leadership[8]

Innovation leadership is complex, as can be seen from the Hunter & Cushenbery (2011) model, and often paradoxes emerge that require leaders to strike a delicate balance between two conflicting roles (e.g. encouraging innovative ideas vs. limiting innovative ideas to include only those that are most viable and useful to the organization). A balance must be struck, not only within the leader and their behaviors, but between conflicting interests of involved parties as well. These include conflicting interests between the leader and the employees/teams, between leaders and situational/contextual factors, and between the employees/teams and the organization. Critical potential paradoxes that are often faced by leaders of innovation have been provided by Hunter, Thoroughgood, Meyer, & Ligon (2011).

  • Internal/Localized Paradox: Internal/Localized paradoxes entail conflicting roles experienced within the leader.
  • Dual Expertise Paradox: The Dual Expertise Paradox postulates that a leader must have or acquire domain expertise while at the same time obtaining the necessary leadership skills to manage his/her employees and resources.
  • Generation Evaluation Paradox: The Generation Evaluation Paradox stipulates that a leader must encourage a supportive climate for the generation of new ideas and thinking outside-the-box while evaluating these ideas and realizing that not all creative ideas are useful and many may even fail (while not being too critical and negative of those ideas).
  • Team-level Paradox: Team-level paradoxes entail conflicting interests between the leader and the employees/teams
  • Creative Personality Cohesion Paradox: Creative Personality Cohesion Paradox is based on the research finding that creative workers generally highly value autonomy and, as a result, often prefer to work alone. This paradox illustrates the difficulty leaders have in providing their employees with the autonomy they must be creative, while fostering team cohesion (or closeness) to facilitate idea sharing. A leader must also be careful not to encourage too much cohesion, as it may discourage group members from disagreeing (even constructively disagreeing) with fellow group members in an effort not to offend them or “rock the boat.”
  • Vision Autonomy Paradox: The Vision Autonomy Paradox highlights the dilemma a leader faces between providing structure and guidance to a team with respect to the vision of the goal, while at the same time stepping back and providing the team with enough autonomy, especially considering the fact that creative workers highly value autonomy. When leading for innovation, providing an overabundance of structure may result in a backlash from employees who feel their autonomy is being taken away from them.
  • Restriction Freedom Paradox: The Restriction Freedom Paradox underscores that innovation leaders need to allow employees enough time to develop creative endeavors and provide the resources to do so. At the same time the leader must take care to provide enough pressure that they are still motivated to complete the task and not provide too many resources that it has a “deadening effect” on creativity.
  • Situational Paradox: Situational Paradoxes entail conflicting interests between leaders and the situations they face.
  • Intrinsic Extrinsic Paradox" The Intrinsic Extrinsic Paradox holds that instead of providing more readily available extrinsic motivation tools such as bonuses and salary increases, leaders must provide intrinsic motivation, which generally comes from within the employee, to their employees. This paradox is based on findings that intrinsic motivation is a key factor in facilitating creativity and extrinsic motivators may either hinder creativity or have an unclear relationship with creativity.
  • Local Long-Term Paradox: The Local Long-Term Paradox posits that leaders of innovation must maintain their innovative edge by keeping an eye out for and capitalizing on potential opportunities, even at the risk of placing those ideas above or even eliminating ideas that he or she had previously inspired in their teams. The leader must also be capable of developing teams that are flexible enough to be passionate about ideas that may have replaced their own idea that was facilitated, inspired, and supported by their leader. This is where the paradox is most clearly visible.
  • Competition Collaboration Paradox: The competition collaboration paradox involves a leader developing open external relationships with other organizations to discover potential innovation opportunities, while ensuring the organization's emerging ideas are protected in a competitive environment.
  • Feedback Rigidity Paradox: The feedback rigidity paradox involves leaders seeking out and using customer and client advice and feedback towards innovative endeavors to a certain extent, while maintaining control of the vision and not letting the feedback dictate to them—as clients and customers often criticize innovations early on.
  • Failure Success Paradox: The Failure Success Paradox is the idea that innovation leaders must ensure a safe organizational culture that is willing to embrace risk and failure, while at the same time making sure that the organization is also producing successful products and services despite embracing risk and errors.
  • Additional Paradoxes: Additional paradoxes identified by Hunter et al. (2011) that do not directly involve the leader but are worth mentioning are the paradoxes that occur between teams and the organization. These include the Insularity Cohesion paradox, the Champion Evaluator paradox, and the Creativity Cost paradox.

See Also