What Turns A Good Leader Into A Great Innovative Leader?

What Turns A Good Leader Into A Great Innovative Leader?

At the end of an amazing first season of my Voice America radio show – Chat With Chicules, I provided my listeners with a snap shot of the ideas they’ve heard over the past few months, framing them into my Leadership Checklist. It is important to recognize that leading is complex and therefore while my leadership checklist will help get you thinking along the right lines, it is certainly not an exhaustive list. The list below is open to customizing based on your ideas and experiences.

So here goes…The Checklist For Innovative Leaders

This list is time-tested when it comes to successfully leading innovation. As you can tell, innovation is a common theme in what I have chatted about in my radio show. So much of being a good leader is about leading an organization through innovation – be it new ideas, new products or new directions. It can be daunting, and it isn’t easy, but here are some leadership items to keep in mind if you are in the midst of this, or even thinking about it: 

  1. Understand your culture before you begin – Is your culture risk adverse, is there a fear of failure or the freedom to fail? This will determine how much work you need to do upfront to ready your organization and open up to innovation. As the leader, you can evolve your culture.
  2. Develop a stakeholder engagement strategy – This is a critical step in bringing innovation to your organization – it is not easy, especially if your culture is risk adverse. And remember it takes time. So take the time and plan it out – don’t just plan the strategy, plan the stakeholder engagement too. It will make the difference between success and failure. Think about: Who do you need to engage with and when? Who are the potential barriers and enablers in your organization? What do they need to see to say yes? What is their fear in saying yes and then how do you overcome it – remember the 9 out of 10 new products fail – or at least that is what someone said to me once – well how do you make sure that you are the 1 of the 10 that succeeds.
  3. Do the work and get the data – People think they can take short cuts, or their position/authority will get people there, but nothing speaks louder than facts. I was challenged on a project and people said that our volunteers wouldn’t like the brand campaign – this would mean that we could not deliver on our goal of integrating the campaign into the fundraising and that was a big part of the strategy so instead of just saying ok we did some focus groups and guess what – the volunteers loved it – those few interviews made all the difference. Facts are powerful. Quotes too. Hearing from your customer or your volunteers makes a difference – it stops becoming opinion and starts becoming a strategy.
  4. Consider different structures to unlock potential barriers – We heard this from Morley Katz when he chatted on my show about organizational behavior and design and how different structures can determine different behaviours – make sure your structure is an enabler, not a barrier to success.
  5. Ideas are fragile, find your cheerleaders – Ideas need to be nurtured – you need people to say how you can make this work, not why it won’t work. You need to find cheerleaders to help you keep going and you need to avoid the dream crushers – you know who I mean by those people. I was on a project for 3 years and it was someone in another province that got me to the finish line. Without him I would have given up long ago…the dream crushers can be anyone – keep an eye out!
  6. Don’t stop until you get to the finish line – Innovation is hard and if you saw the movie Steve Jobs it is clear that it’s hard, and he was not always successful. So get to that finish line. Remember Larry Wiedel’s book titled: “The Serial Winner: 5 Actions to Create Your Cycle of Success”. His 5 Actions were: (1) Don’t Hesitate, Decide (2) Don’t Just Do It, Overdo It (3) Don’t Quit, Adjust, (4) Don’t Just Start, Finish and (5) Don’t Settle, Keep Improving.

These are my 6 truths on leading innovation…follow these and you can turn a good leader into a great innovative leader:

  1. Understand your culture before you begin any innovation
  2. Develop a stakeholder engagement strategy
  3. Do the work and get the data so people can say yes to your ideas
  4. Consider different structures to unlock potential barriers
  5. Remember ideas are fragile, find your cheerleaders
  6. Don’t stop until you get to the finish line

And aside from this list, and what you have been taught in Business School and the experience you get actually leading innovation in your organization, you can learn a lot from the movies, as I have. And not only learn but also be inspired – they are like mini cheerleaders that help you get to the finish line. So, when you need a bit of a boost kick back with one of these movies and enjoy!!

  • Social Network: The kicker for me was when Mark Zuckerberg met Sean Parker who was co-founder of Napster and he said dump that guy he is making your idea small “actually you are making this idea small – you are thinking other campuses…. I’m thinking other continents.”

  • Salmon Fishing in Yemen: When people spend time focusing on the reasons why your idea won’t work, think about this comment from the ever-doubting Ewan McGregor to Emily Blunt, “I can’t think of any reason why this won’t work” – Now pause and think about that statement – that wasn’t yes this is great it will work, let’s go…. Does this make you feel energized? Does this help you to get to the finish line – try and ignore this kind of talk.

  • Lincoln: Think about this movie when you feel your job is hard. Part of being an innovative leader is knowing when to lay down the law, as does Lincoln when he says in the movie, “I hold the highest power in the US and I am telling you to just get it done.

  • 12 Angry Men: The line that stuck with me in this movie was when one jury member said to Henry Fonda “it is not easy to stand against the ridicule of others.” This is what you need to do sometimes when you are leading innovation.

  • Moneyball: If you’re in need of a cheerleader for your ideas, this movie underscores the importance of a cheerleader. In this movie, Peter Brand was Billy Beane’s cheerleader. His approach was innovative and it went against the conventional stats that were being used at the time by the Oakland A’s. And it was a huge success.
  • Spotlight: Struggling with structure or seeing it as a barrier? Remember this movie. The Boston Globe newspaper created a team called “Spotlight”. The focus of the team was to dedicate resources to investigative journalism (an innovative concept at the time). When senior management asked why they had missed an important story years ago they said it was because they didn’t have “Spotlight”, because they didn’t have the right structure.
  • Steve Jobs:  When you need to be reminded that sometimes you need to fail to succeed, watch “Steve Jobs” – famously, his first Mac launch was a failure and his next project “Next – the cube” was also a failure, but he went on to lead an innovation like no other.

Image sourced from: http://www.biomimesis.fr/


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