Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What are the main characteristics of an Innovation Leader

An innovation leader is not only a dreamer and a strategist but also a practitioner.

Innovation in organizations gets encouraged because of the inevitability of competition and the accelerating changes. But is innovation a structure issue or management discipline? A culture thing or a talent matter? The spirit comes from the top, what are the main characteristics of innovation leaders?

Walk the Talk: The true innovative leaders give employees freedom and have the calculated tolerance for failure. A leader who encourages innovation, first of all, shall allow an innovator to bend the rules as long as it is not harmful to the organization. As long as this flexibility is provided with necessary oversight by the management. One very important thing is also the ability to enable the employees to visualize the vision, take risks and above all the ability to tolerate mistakes and the courage to see a spade as a spade. Many leaders 'say' that they are ok with the same but exhibit the contrary. It is very important that employees not only 'hear' but also 'see' that they can actually take risks, question the status quo without any fear of being put down or let go. The true innovative leaders give the freedom to employees to do anything new and even if it fails, they learn from it and grow only to make better products in future and that is where innovation thrived in every little thing they did. The culture of innovation is a gradual process and continuous one in that sense and a leader plays a very important role in ensuring that it is sustained over time.

Open-minded: innovative leaders develop insights and be open to what employees have to say. Leaders who are open, collaborative and willing to listen to employees are more likely to be successful innovators. Create a culture where the sharing of ideas are welcome and innovation is rewarded. Following the program, leaders are able to apply discovery thinking or the skills needed to both develop insights about emotional, economic, or functional customer needs and to create new options for meeting those needs. They are also able to develop execution skills, by managing uncertainty and approaching innovation projects as an experiment, testing ideas, assessing results, and having the fortitude to kill projects. Finally, they are open to what the employees have to say and the way they feel is essential. They are the best resource for what is wrong and what needs to be fixed, versus what is working well already. Involving them in process improvement is key.
(1) LISTENING (and actually HEARING what is being said) by frontline staff.
(2) MIRRORING (repeat it back to make sure you UNDERSTAND).
(3) VALIDATE ideas and suggestions, even if they cannot be implemented.
(4) EMPATHIZE with the problem/issue that brought about the suggestion/comment/idea.
(5) TAKE ACTION if you can; EXPLAIN "WHY" if you cannot.

Hands-on: An innovation leader is not only a dreamer and a strategist but also a practitioner. Innovation leaders face a complex reality, environment plays an important role, every industry is different, enterprise culture is unique, Innovation leaders must be at the right moment (environmental opportunities), develop skills and knowledge, and use the right information available, to take the right decisions, with the right people, using the right methods, to give the best results. So an innovation leader is not only a dreamer but also an action leader with 20% planning 80% action. He/she must be sensitive to hear customers and connect with what a company can offer. They must be strategic leaders and must take a risk in order to find new opportunities that would lead the correct path. Failure is not always well seen when the status quo is threatened. Leaders who encourage innovation have a learning organization and one of the critical factors to having a learning organization is to make sure you have a feedback organization. It is important for a leader to find success in failure and reward risk-taking. A leader should create an environment that allows followers the opportunity to push boundaries and seek out new frontiers. The leader views the whole picture and applies creativity in areas not tried. As a result, either the new application works and the leader adds it to his / her arsenal for future applications or removes the application because it doesn't work and tries another idea.

Encouragement: The innovation management practice comes to mind first is a dedication to time slot to pitch questions to their team, be it a design group or simply a collection of those who would normally contribute to "thought leadership", and not just take down ideas blindly but pitch questions to the group taken from observed directions the business is taking. You build the organization towards innovative working climate by encouraging the curiosity of the individuals, but you as leader skillfully focus it towards the direction required. This is a significant part of issues of group development, of competence development and higher skills in leadership. You must establish a high level of autonomy/ for individuals. Thus, the ability to be self-directed is important as it is to function in groups, allow them to develop their skills and provide a strong sense of purpose for why organizations are doing what they are doing.

Exercise, Discipline, and Affection: Innovation is a structural issue as well. An innovative company has created a method that enables the development of a company's innovation capability. At the core of the program is a customized business simulation, that lets participants experience the comprehensive problems and opportunities associated with creating and executing innovations at the company and develop the critical capabilities to be successful in the future. And the method is translated into what this means for humans:
(1) Exercise: The leader must create an environment that encourages the exercise of the innovators and talents and affords them the chance to use their gifts as the major responsibility of their job.
(2) Discipline. The best innovation leaders are specific about boundaries and limitations, the project design and performance parameters, budget, available resources for the project, timeline, and what success looks like. For the best innovation to occur, knowing what not to do and what resources are available is liberating.
(3) Affection. Innovators of the highest order will get intrinsic rewards from the process but still need validation. The best leaders know what their people need and when they need it.

So the very characteristics of innovation leaders include being a risk taker, challenging the status quo, being fearless, looking at failure as a learning opportunity, and always looking for a better way. And more often, they are the innovator themselves, walk the talk, to build a high-innovative organization.


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