By: Pearl Zhu
Highly innovative leaders need to share a clear vision, practice effective communication, and make a commitment to roll imagination into reality.
Business success today depends on innovation. Business innovation depends on innovation leadership. The ultimate criterion of “innovation leadership” is to envision the future trends in business, technology, and society, explore emerging opportunities and unleash human potentials, create more and more authentic and creative leaders, and amplify innovation impact. Here are five strengths of innovative leaders.
Due to rapid changes and exponential growth of information, business leaders must realize what has worked in the past isn’t today’s best solution, and demonstrate a clear vision to see what has become now. Open-mindedness is a significant characteristic of innovation leadership. Innovative leaders are forward thinking and capable of predicting trends, managing future and present, delegating the past, perceiving the whole picture and applying creativity in areas not tried before.
Innovation can be a breakthrough—and notice that it requires a “break” to remove the old belief or habit and establish the trust and principles to inspire change. Every business is different, every industry is different, and the environment plays an important role in shaping innovation success. Innovation leaders face a complex reality today; they must be at the right moment, with an explorable mind to catch great opportunities. Innovation leaders inspire creativity, encourage employees to do new things, show the right dose of risk appetite, and present high risk intelligence to push ideas forward.
Innovation leaders are also experimentalists who can experiment with new things, alternative solutions, hypothesize interventions, and iterate them till the right fit is made. They are able to identify key leverage points in which the non-proportional impact can be made to spread innovation. Even if the innovation effort fails, they learn from it and grow to make better products or services in the future.
Innovative leadership is essentially anchored on the leader’s overall multifaceted resourcefulness and multidimensional competencies to formulate creative alternatives or build unconventional solutions to resolve problems, to show versatility and flexibility in response to unpredictable or unanticipated circumstances.
We live in the era of information abundance; as an innovation leader, you need to be informative, but selective. Otherwise, it will drown you; you will lose your identity, and even be swallowed by the whirl of information. How skillfully digital leaders swim in the rough sea of information will decide their leadership effectiveness, innovativeness, and maturity.
With exponential growth of information and shortened knowledge lifecycle, even the top seasoned leaders admit there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Being resourceful provides one angle to show that you have the ability to learn, know how to learn and become learning agile. One day you will have new answers or complete answers to the questions that interest you or the problems you met before.
The digital era upon us is the age of innovation. What keeps leaders successful is their intellectual curiosity and ability to continuously be open to learning and applying these learnings as they move forward. Their inquisitiveness makes them more open to ask the right questions, embrace the other point of view, be empathetic to understand others, and practice leadership without prejudice.
During the leadership interaction, disagreements will arise naturally. So, asking questions means you truly want to know the answers and there is a certain honesty about it, which propels you forward as an innovative leader to spark creativity.
The inquisitive leaders not only ask deep “why” to diagnose the root cause of problems but also ask the positive “why not,” “what if we do things in a new way,” or, “how can I make things better for the whole?” questions to spur creativity, and then follow the courageous routes these questions take you, be prepared to stumble on the way. Like a piece of art, the great question is beautiful and insightful, open and thought-provoking, brings multifaceted perspectives and connects the unusual dots to spark imagination.
Innovation leadership is being flexible enough to adapt to the situation and the players involved. It means doing unexpected or unconventional things to connect with the team, whatever it takes to get the job done, done well, and leave everyone feeling good about it.
Innovation leadership is similar to the situational leadership, in which the leader has flexibility and adaptability to use the wide range of leadership skills available to them and has self-awareness to know when and how to use and develop the skills of those that they lead.
In each business context, an innovation leader is always conscious of the changes needed to connect the past with the future. They have the willingness to take risks, break the rules, push the envelope, and go beyond what is expected, as well as deliver above and beyond the call of duty.
An innovative leader has transdisciplinary knowledge and cross-functional experiences to connect unconventional dots, promotes a healthy climate for innovation, inspires team members to create a portfolio of new ideas, concepts, and scenarios, and coaches team members on innovation management practices to achieve innovation success.
There are two important things that will be important in interdisciplinary innovation management. First, it is about gaining the necessary knowledge to understand and manage holistic digital ecosystems. Secondly, it is to understand how the people factor affects the business system, and then manage the complex system and the people of the complex system.
The interdisciplinary science can be applied to innovation management which involves engineering, design, principle, philosophy, psychology, social norms, and sociology. Innovation leaders can frame bigger thinking boxes and integrate multidisciplinary methodologies to manage innovation technically, scientifically and culturally.
Innovative leadership is in a strong demand to bridge cognitive gaps, amplify collective creativity, inspire the culture of learning, and accelerate digital transformation. More often, innovation leaders are innovators themselves, they are the ones who can both make plans and think out of the box; see things differently, do things in alternative ways and walk the talk to build the highly innovative organization.
About the author
Pearl Zhu is an innovative “Corporate Global Executive” with more than twenty-one years of technical and business working experience in strategic planning, Information Technology, software development, e-commerce and international trading, etc. She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Southern California, and she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15+ years. She is the author of “Digital Master” book series and the “Future of CIO blog.