Innovation leadership – lead less, encourage more

group of people looking at computer

Written by Stephen Garber, Founder and CEO of Third Level

Leaders and managers have to change if they want true innovation in their businesses. If the managing process is usurping your time, you will not innovate – nor will your people.

The age of innovation is upon us, ushering in the era of knowledge creation – data, AI, robotics, and more. The emphasis has shifted to continuous growth through market awareness, learning, and executing. Leadership teams at all levels – and in all industries – need to realise how critical it is to enable team creativity.

Teams are needed in the creative process because of the expanded breadth of knowledge required to understand the complexity of modern problems and solutions. Be careful, though. Individuals tend to fixate on how they are being perceived in the group versus focusing on unique ideas. Innovative teams take a culture and leadership shift.

Historical practices for running an effective organisation run counter to creating an innovative environment. Management is about bringing order and structure, while creativity is often about breaking out of what ‘already is’ to explore ‘what could be’. Research shows that traits of innovative people are highly energetic, independent, curious, challenging, and playful. Sounds like a nightmare to traditional managers, who are focused on bringing clarity and order. Adopting a different mindset toward organisational and team leadership is required.

Encouraging leadership can inspire just as quickly as pessimistic leadership can mute risky initiatives. You will need to move from ‘driver’ to ‘catalyst’. Guide people into sharing their insights, exploring things in new and perhaps uncomfortable ways. You will generate ideas far beyond what ‘normal’ conversation would have typically derived.

Autonomy requires releasing control to explore ambiguity. Encourage your team to be curious and to explore. An organisation’s structured norms result in benchmarking competitors and maintaining the status quo. You will never innovate that way.

You cannot wait for executive-level strategies, then ask your teams to ‘execute innovation’. Everyone needs to be involved in identifying problems, opportunities, and innovative ways to solve them – engaging your team into the process. You will leverage the whole organisation’s brainpower.

Be patient. Not every gamble or initiative will pay off. Pfizer’s largest success was an innovation born of patience and failure. Their failed heart and blood pressure drug turned into a 20-year $32 billion revenue run for Viagra. Maintaining patience to see things through to the outcome can pay huge dividends.

Your role as a leader is changing from complexity manager to expert enabler. Encouraging innovative thought provides long-term organizational success. Changing your approach to leadership can make significant gains in building an innovative team.

Innovation is messy, wasteful, and time-consuming. It’s also the difference between surviving (or not!) and thriving. Lead differently. It’s the only way.


Originally published here.

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