Innovation: The role of the leader

Leading innovation graphic

How do you make OTHER people innovate? 

Leading innovation is different from being an innovator. As an architect of innovation, how can you help other people create new value?

As a leader, the reality is that you have to drive innovation as one of several activities, using the people you already have, and facing the challenge that innovation is often a second priority compared to the urgency of the day-to-day business.

By studying innovative leaders in many different industries, Wedell-Wedellsborg identified several actions that can help drive new thinking in a team, department or company:

  • Think like an architect. Leadership is about creating results through other people – and that is true for innovation as well. Instead of focusing on their own ideas, good innovation leaders understand how to build more creative workplaces and paving the road for their team.
  • Focus beats freedom: Set clear and limiting goals for innovation, and make sure people work on problems that matter to the business
  • Don’t think different; act different: Innovation is not so much a mindset as it is a specific set of behaviors. Don’t try to ‘inspire’ people with the usual tales of Silicon Valley wonders. Instead, focus on changing the way they work every day.
  • Reframe the problem: Good innovation leaders help people challenge their own assumptions about the problems they are facing
  • Listen before you leap: Many innovation initiatives fail because the leader has not taken the time to understand his or her own employees. The first step for successful change is to observe and listen to your own people.
  • Help people deal with the politics. Good leaders create space for their innovative employees by dealing with the organizational politics and finding extra resources through established trust networks

More information:

BOOK: The research is detailed in “Innovation as Usual: How to Help your People Bring Great Ideas to Life“, published by Harvard Business Press.

ARTICLES: Read Wedell-Wedellsborg’s HBR pieces about how to focus the search for innovation and how to bring your team out of a rut.

SPEAKING: For events aimed at corporate leaders, consider Wedell-Wedellsborg’s keynote ‘Innovation: The Role of the Leader’

VIDEO: Watch Wedell-Wedellsborg’s interview with HBR’s Sarah Green on how to escape from Brainstorm Island.