What makes for a successful leader of innovation efforts?  It is different from what makes for a successful innovator in many crucial ways.  The requirements of a successful innovation leader are different than those of a creative star.  You don’t have to be the rock star, the source of all ideas, the superstar inventor.  You need to be the shepherd of Climate, Thinking and Action, overseeing and guiding all three factors to enhance creativity, enable collaboration, motivate people and teams and allow people to take risks while feeling safe.  Maybe you do have to be a rock star.



A good Climate for Innovation is when people are communicating for openly and honestly.   When people feel safe and trusted.  When everyone feels valued and encouraged to contribute.

Like all successful leaders, you need to motivate people and teams and drive performance. You need to be accessible in all ways – physically, mentally and personally.  People need to feel that you are in it with them.  You need to communicate in an open, honest and transparent way that fosters a productive exchanges of thoughts and ideas.  You need to be make people feel safe and secure, but not complacent.  You need to provide cover during times of organizational change and uncertainty.  You need to allow people the opportunity to do their very best work while providing them with the coaching and support that they need, exactly when they need it.  You are listening to everyone and asking inspiring questions.  You keep everyone engaged in the process, no one is allowed to sit on the bench – uninvolved.


When people are able to think differently about the problems they are facing and the solutions they are proposing.

You assemble diverse teams to work together.  You inspire your team to have the courage to take risks, to look for the transformational rather than the incremental.  You model behaviors that encourage innovation and collaboration – wishing, building on ideas, metaphorical thinking, connection making and connection breaking, courageous selection. You protect the ideas of others from attacks. You are open to ideas from outside – customers, competitors, different sectors, and the seemingly irrelevant.  You give ideas the time and space to develop organically – holding judgment and rigor until they are needed.  Remember, it is easier to build feasibility into a breakthrough idea, than breakthrough into a feasible idea.


When there is an established methodology to generate, develop and implement breakthrough ideas.

You empower the entire team by protecting them from the bureaucracy and clearing a path for their ideas.  You provide space for new ideas to bubble up within the team, you are not the source of all new ideas.  People know what the next steps in the process are going to be and have a reasonable understanding of how to get there. You have to recognize, accept and embrace failure.  We have always been reluctant about the idea of celebrating failure.  When you are pushing for innovation, the possibility of failure is real and can happen to teams who have made their best efforts and done a lot of good work.  Recognize, accept, learn from and move on.  You provide the resources to allow people to get their job(s) done. You help them balance competing priorities and do not allow the innovation efforts to always fall to the bottom of the list – you must resist the pressure of the day to day business.

It is not easy.  It takes a dedicated mindset, a full appreciation that innovation is critical to the organization’s success.  There must be a willingness to sacrifice some incremental gain in the present for the possibility of transformational gain in the future.  You job as a manager is to calculate those probabilities as well as you can and judge the abilities of your team and set your priorities accordingly.

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