Innovation Leadership versus Traditional Leadership

by Paul Sloane

Innovation LeadershipThere are many different ways to lead. CEOs with markedly divergent styles can be successful in different ways. The same leader will often adopt different styles in different circumstances. There is no one correct way to lead or manage. Ultimately the right way is the one that works for you and for the organization in delivering the goals you set out to achieve.

Let’s contrast two extremes of leadership style that I have designated as the command and control leader and the innovative leader. The command and control leader is goal-oriented, authoritative and decisive. He or she is well suited to a structured regime with clear tasks. The innovative leader, on the other hand, is better suited to an ambiguous or fluid situation. He or she is much more focused on creativity, innovation and helping the team to find new ways forward.

The command and control leader… The innovative leader…
Leads from the front. Leads from the side.
Directs. Inspires.
Checks and controls. Trusts and delegates.
Improves effectiveness and efficiency. Finds new approaches.
Thinks he knows best (and often does). Harnesses the abilities of others.
Has a strong sense of direction and purpose. Has a clear vision and communicates it.
Prioritizes operational over strategic issues. Prioritizes strategic over operational issues.
Gives directions and orders. Asks questions and solicits suggestions.
Treats staff as subordinates. Treats staff as colleagues.
Is decisive, often without prior consultation. Ponders and solicits input before making decisions.
Builds a team who can execute policy and implement plans. Builds a team who can create and innovate.
Instructs. Empowers.
Hires based on experience, track record and qualifications. Hires based on attitude, creativity and latent capabilities.
Discourages dissent. Encourages constructive dissent.
Cares about results above all. Cares about ideas, peoples and the vision.
Promotes himself as the leader and figurehead. Shares exposure and prestige with the team.
Encourages action, activity and work. Encourages ideas, innovation and fun.
Rewards performance. Rewards entrepreneurial action.
Is numbers-oriented and analytical. Is ideas-oriented, analytical and intuitive.
Sees technology as a means to do things better, faster and cheaper. Sees technology as a means to do things entirely differently.
Minimizes risk. Takes calculated risks.
Abhors failure. Is comfortable with failure.

It may appear that I am painting one of these characters as a saint and the other as a sinner but it is more complex than that; each has a role to play. There are times when you need take command and there are times when you need to empower. But you cannot micro-manage everything in a large organization – especially in turbulent conditions. You must inspire and delegate.

The command-and-control leader’s approach is fine for improving operational efficiency in a well-defined environment. However, in today’s fast moving, complex situations, we need to supplement conventional approaches with more of the skills of the innovative leader.


Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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