The late Steve Jobs said “innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower”. While certainly a simple statement, Jobs struck the core of what makes innovation work…the leader. But it’s not the leader who is innovating yet instead creating and leading the culture of innovation that exists within the business. If a company is not innovating then a quick look at the leader will spotlight the reasons why.
A recent article appearing in Forbes magazine showcased the differences between companies on the “cutting edge” versus those that were surviving or just getting by. In every case reviewed, it boiled down to the leader. It was the leader that fostered a culture of innovation. The leader encouraged, and in many cases pushed, their teams to innovate…to stretch the boundaries. The leader’s ability to effectively instill this type of culture depends on 3 C’s: Collaboration, Courage, and Confidence.
Leaders of innovative companies possess a strong collaboration trait. They understand that developing the winning recipe requires several minds working together – not just their own. While perhaps one of the most brilliant innovators ever, Steve Jobs understood that he still needed his engineers, marketers, and other stakeholders to bring his dream to life. The same can be said of other great innovation leaders from Scott Cook of Intuit, to Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Fred Smith of FedX. All of these leaders knew that to bring their vision, idea, and dream to life required input from other people to refine and build their idea. That’s collaboration.
Courage is another characteristic of strong innovative leaders. It takes courage to think and act differently. We can all dream big dreams. Many companies are developing their BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals – but few will be able to realize them. The challenge with achieving your BHAG is the tremendous amount of courage required to move toward fulfillment. Somewhere in grade school we begin to lose our ability to dream, and worse our belief that anything is possible. While in school we get put into boxes, and typecast, creating our first experience with the concept of “settling”. We begin to believe in ceilings. There is a cap to how far we can go, how much we can do, and big we can dream. Great innovative leaders have the courage to be bold and tackle their BHAGs head on.
The final trait required of all great innovators is confidence. Strong, effective, successful leaders with proven innovation track records are enormously confident. Why is Confidence a necessity for the leader leading innovation? For many leaders they either believe they are the only ones capable of generating a successful idea or they are intimidated by those that have good ideas and feel threatened that their idea will outshine them. Confident leaders know that what is truly important is winning or achieving their BHAG. They spend little to no time worrying about where the ideas come from that help in the successful attainment of the BHAG.
It takes a confident leader, with a passion for collaboration, and a fair amount of courage to develop and lead a culture of innovation. Does your organization innovate? What was the last new innovation you placed in the market? Whose idea was it? Where did it start and how many people were involved in its development? If you’re looking to assess an organizations ability to innovate ask the leader of that organization those questions and see how he or she replies. Their responses may surprise you.