Is Your Leadership Innovative?

by Maureen Metcalf

Is Your Leadership Innovative?Are your leadership actions impeding innovation?  Are your change initiatives successfully implemented and delivering the benefits you expected?  How is YOUR behavior impacting their ability to delivery results?

Innovative Leadership – Critical to Create a Culture of Successful Innovation

Many traditional leaders spend more time perfecting their golf swings than they do updating their ability to lead in this interconnected and dynamic business environment.  The leaders who consistently implement innovative change continue to improve their leadership skills, including the level of self-knowledge and introspection that provides a feedback loop for ongoing improvement.

Innovative leadership is the type of leadership that allows already successful leaders to raise the bar on their performance and the performance of their organizations.

An innovative leader is defined as someone who consistently delivers results using the following:

  • Strategic leadership that inspires individual goals and organizations vision and cultures;
  • Tactical leadership that influences an individual’s actions and the organizations systems and processes.
  • Holistic Leadership that aligns all key dimensions:  Individual, culture, action and systems.

While others differentiate leadership from management this definition includes both because, to fully implement innovative change, the organizational leaders need to both set the strategy and be sufficiently involved in the tactics to ensure innovation and changes happen.  This does not mean micro managing – it means an awareness and involvement in key elements of the innovation and change process. This includes continually growing and evolving leadership capacity and actions, leading and implementing culture and system changes within the organization.  It also means others seeing key leaders involved consistently in meaningful ways.

Let’s look at an example of a leader who faced a change she had not previously faced in her business.  She runs Working Partners, an organization focusing on creating drug free workplaces.  She built a strong successful business and yet, external pressures changed her market.  The government provided many of these services at a lower cost.  Being a very innovative leader, she worked with her immediate team and sought external input on possible options.

As of this writing, she is launching multiple pilot projects that will enhance and/or change her company and its offerings.  They will take the results of the pilots and determine how to refine the course of the business to ensure long term organizational success and customer service.

It is important to note that some of these pilots reflect small changes based on distribution channel and methods of delivery.  Others seem radical and include significant expansion of the organization’s mission.  Because the founder, Dee Mason, is proactive and open to exploring a broad range of changes, she will find a series of innovations that allow the organization to thrive.  Part of her success in making significant change will include looking at the entire system to make holistic changes including how she herself leads the organization.  This is one of the qualities that is unique to innovative leaders, they are continually looking at who they are in the context of the organization and they continue to change and grow as they change their organizations.

What are specific qualities that differentiate an innovative leader from a traditional leader? In our time of rapid business, social and ecological change, a successful leader is a leader who can continually:

  • Clarify and effectively articulate vision
  • Link that vision to attainable strategic initiatives
  • Develop themselves and influence the development of other leaders
  • Build effective teams by helping colleagues enact their own leadership strengths
  • Cultivate alliances and partnerships
  • Anticipate and respond to both challenges and opportunities aggressively
  • Develop robust and resilient solutions
  • Develop and test hypothesis like a scientist
  • Measure, learn, and refine on an ongoing basis

To further illustrate some of the qualities of innovative leadership, we offer this comparison between traditional leadership and innovative leadership:

We keep hearing that the world is changing and it is.  The question for you is what will you do to lead the thinking and changes in these times rather than talking about how tough it is?  Will you be an innovator or a barrier to innovation?  The Innovative Leadership Fieldbook provides easy to use tools and reflection questions that lead you through a six step process to become a more innovative leader.

image credit: worldcup.org
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Is Your Leadership Innovative?Metcalf & Associates is a management consulting, and leadership development firm dedicated to helping leaders, their management teams, and their organizations implement the innovative leadership practices necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.  Included in these offerings is speaking, training, coaching, team building, and organizational transformation.  Her book, Innovative Leadership Fieldbook can be purchased on Amazon.


13 comments

  1. Demetrius Jackson

    I believe you hit the nail on the head with the distinction between “Traditional Leaders” and “Innovative Leaders”. Many traditional leaders were taught they had to know all of the answers and if they did not, they would have a hard time leading a group of people. However, I believe it’s more important to embrace input from the team and then understand how to lead from the discussions that have taken place. As it’s been said before, I leader knows how to lead, but more importantly, they know when to listen.

  2. “leaders need to both set the strategy and be sufficiently involved in the tactics to ensure innovation and changes happen.” I have noticed that this is a behavior that is very frequently overlooked in business. The VP will initiate some new strategy but once she conveys the strategy to her direct reports she moves on and expects her management team to make it happen from there. I think her team should have continuing guidance and support. I have had a manager tell me that his boss is requesting a new initiative to take place but he is not sure of the tactics to use to get there! And maybe the VP, at that point, didn’t have a clear tactical plan, either, but that seems like a discussion that she should have been leading amongst her team.

  3. Hi Demetrius and Anya,

    Thank you for your comments. I agree that leadership has an element of management – it is important to both set the direction and create a mechanism for accountability. Additionally leader as all knowing is pretty risky – in this environment on single person can have all the answers no matter how smart they are. By involving the team, the leader is able to integrate multiple perspectives and create buy-in at the same time.

    Maureen

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