I often hear a great deal about innovation in a variety of contexts. There is a deep desire from leaders, middle managers, and front-line staff for real innovation, whether related to organizational systems or outputs (e.g., product or service) , but what is often absent is the necessary leadership to drive the innovation.
Innovation is deeply connected to the leader who has the following responsibilities:
- Research. S/he must have sufficient, credible evidence to support a particular innovation. No innovative idea should become a strategy without appropriate analysis. Many tools exists to provide the necessary data (e.g., SWOT, PESTLE, Porter’s Five Forces). Don’t make the mistake of being intoxicated by growth just for the sake of numbers. Not every innovation is a worthy investment.
- Believe. S/he must believe deeply in a particular innovation, assuming there is sufficient evidence to support the idea. Any true innovation requires executive buy-in that produces an emotional connection and links to her/his missional – personal or organizational – impulse.
- Communicate. S/he must communicate her/his deeply held belief in a particular innovation and the importance of this innovation for the organization. The public messages from organizational leaders reinforce those subjects that are most important for the leader and the organization.
- Plan. S/he must ensure the development of goals and objectives that will provide the organization with pathways and measure for success. Successful innovations often emerge out of the difficult work of effective project planning.
- Resource. S/he must ensure appropriate resources – both fiscal and human – support the innovation. Great ideas require great commitments. This might be the best time to reconsider how an organization uses its resources; the right innovation may “kill” other less promising initiatives.
- Tend. S/he must continually hold the organization accountable for the execution of the innovation. Even the best ideas and plans are laid to waste when left on their own. Successful innovations require tending and oversight inasmuch as a garden, lest the weed starve your valuable harvest.
- Assess. S/he must review the earlier goals and objectives. Be honest about the state of affairs. Identify the gaps in the plan, resources, and accountability structures. Close the loop and adjust where needed.
- Celebrate. S/he must never fail to celebrate the big and the small. Commit to honor the work of those at all levels. Never underestimate the power of a public comment, thank you note, or recognition. When something does not work, reflect on the breakdown but celebrate the individual contributions. Small celebrations will lead to large wins.
These points are not supported here by an extensive reference list. Rather, these are ideas that I have read along the way (notable mentions include Clayton Christensen and John Kotter), but more importantly, these ideas derive from real practice. I have seen great ideas fall by the wayside, and I have seen idea percolate and become game-changing realities for organizations.
The common denominator is effective leaders who connect with the innovation and ensures its success. While the object may be an effective leader, the individual’s behaviors must be fearless. Understanding and acknowledging risks are important behaviors, but innovative leaders act with confidence. Fearless leaders will enable the organization to move forward.
I am confident that others may identify with other important behaviors of leaders in the innovation lifecycle, so feel free to add to the conversation. I will follow-up at a later date on the importance of an innovative ecosystem. Until then, connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or on this site.