Leadership Skills / Approaches for Successful Innovation

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Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

Leadership Skills / Approaches for Successful Innovation

Innovation leadership requires other approaches than general leadership for the core business. Furr and Dyer (2014) outline some unique leadership skills/approaches required for successful innovation:

1. RATHER THAN DICTATING A VISION, SET A BIG CHALLENGE
In traditional approaches to leadership, creating a vision in the sense that the strategic priorities of the company are outlined implies that the leader is the decision maker and directs the company to comply with those priorities.
In order to be a successful leader in innovation processes, it is important to “carve out the metal space within which the innovation process can be carried out” (ibid.). This means that a leader first need to set the expectation that the particular innovation will push the limits, which means that you transform some of the most important assumptions about your company’s goods, clients and business models. This can be a difficult task that can be shocking for people as it brings uncertainty, therefore it is critical to communicate that some risk and uncertainty can be advantageous and to put some limits around the uncertainty.

2. RATHER THAN MAKING DECISIONS, DESIGN EXPERIMENTS
In innovation processes, it is important not to believe that all decisions about innovative models should ultimately be made by the project’s leader. The project leader knows just as little as all other people when a product has not been launched yet. Because of that, systematically testing critical assumptions with clients is a better way to make tough choices and to decrease the risks of launching innovations on the market. So, innovation leaders should ask questions rather than answering them.

3. RATHER THAN JUST SELLING THE IDEAS TO A FEW PEOPLE, FOCUS ON PREPARING THE ENTIRE ORGANIZATION TO ACCEPT THOSE NEW IDEAS
Leaders often try to sell the idea only to the ‘sell side’ - the developing innovators. However, it is just as important to also focus on educating the idea to the rest of the organization.

4. INSTEAD OF GIVING PEOPLE THE TIME, IT IS BETTER TO PROVIDE THEM WITH THE REQUIRED RESOURCES SO THAT THEY CAN ACT IN A QUICK WAY
In the view of Furr and Dyer, it is a particular type of time that is needed in innovation processes: uninterrupted time. This means time in which the mind can be totally absorbed with one particular issue. Rather than spending about 20 or 30 minutes a day to certain problems, it is more effective to assign for example half day a week to the problem.
Other important tasks for the leader are to minimize organizational barriers, and to provide the innovation developers with the tools and resources they need.

Source: Furr and Dyer (2014) “Leading your Team into the Unknown” HBR December 2014

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