Innovation Leadership Lead Less, Encourage More

Leaders and managers have to change if they want true innovation in their businesses. If 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, artificial intelligence, 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 realize 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.

Management traditionally has been all about bringing order and structure, but creativity is often about exploring “what could be.” Research shows innovative people are highly energetic, independent, curious, challenging and playful, so adopting a different mindset toward organizational and team leadership is required.

Encouraging leaders can inspire just as quickly as pessimistic leaders 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 produces.

Autonomy requires releasing control to encourage your team to be curious and to explore. An organization’s structured norms results 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 the innovative ways to solve them—engaging your team into the process. You will leverage the whole organization’s brainpower.

Be patient. Not every gamble or initiative will pay off. Pfizer’s 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. ♦

Stephen Garber is director of Third Level Ltd. Contact him at 561.752.5505 or [email protected]

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