Innovation Leadership: What It Takes to Lead the Way

Becoming an effective innovation leader is a unique journey that demands a blend of creativity, experience, and the ability to navigate uncharted territory.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the qualities and experiences required to excel in the role of an innovation leader.

Do Innovation Leaders Need to Be Creative?

In many cases, leadership is seen as a distinct skill set separate from expertise in a specific field. Just because you excel in a particular area doesn’t automatically make you a great leader. Leadership calls for a different set of abilities than those needed for production or task execution.

Similarly, innovation leadership requires a unique skill set. It involves navigating unintuitive processes, taking risks, and standing firm in the face of the unexpected, even when it goes against the consensus. This means that an innovation leader needs to have a deep-rooted understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship to truly excel in their role. It’s a rarity for an excellent manager to automatically transition into a great innovation leader.

Innovation Leader vs. Inventor

An inventor is often seen as the embodiment of creativity. They tackle unconventional problems and frequently face challenges in convincing others of their solutions or unique problem-solving methods. However, inventors often lack the ability to inspire creativity in others, and they may find problem-solving more enjoyable than fostering collaborative innovation. Consequently, inventors do not necessarily make great innovation leaders.

Can Innovation Leadership Be Standardized?

There is a standard for innovation, ISO 56000, which attempts to describe how innovation processes can work. This standard is valuable in establishing a common foundation and terminology within the innovation landscape, promoting a broader understanding of the subject. However, innovation often thrives on doing things differently, and most groundbreaking innovations do not emerge from rigorous standardization efforts. Innovation leadership relies more on human experiences and processes than mere knowledge. Competent engineers, for example, don’t automatically make great innovation leaders.

Qualities of an Exceptional Innovation Leader

So, who makes an outstanding innovation leader? Let’s explore some key qualities and backgrounds that set individuals up for success in this role:

1. Facilitators and Meeting Leaders

Leaders who have experience working with diverse groups and striving to achieve positive outcomes have a strong foundation for innovation leadership. They understand the dynamics of collaboration and how to harness collective creativity.

2. Generalists

Generalists who embrace diversification as a source of new opportunities are well-positioned to help others grow and recognize the bigger picture of needs and possibilities.

3. Management Consultants with a Creative Flair

Management consultants who combine an interest in creativity with their understanding of leadership and risk-taking can bridge the gap between conventional management and innovative thinking.

How to Become an Exceptional Innovation Leader

If you aspire to become an exceptional innovation leader, consider the following starting points:

1. Develop an Interest in Leadership: Cultivate an interest in leading and inspiring others while also practicing creative thinking.

2. Embrace Chaos: Innovation often thrives in uncertain and chaotic environments. Learn to embrace uncertainty and see it as a natural part of the innovation process.

3. Self-Reflection: Understand your own boundaries and personality traits to effectively manage the chaos without succumbing to stress.

Is Being a Great Innovation Leader Challenging?

Being an exceptional innovation leader isn’t inherently difficult, but becoming one does require experiencing and navigating the sometimes chaotic processes that lead to significant innovations. It’s a journey that demands resilience, creativity, leadership, and a deep understanding of human dynamics.

In conclusion, innovation leadership is about more than just creativity. It’s about cultivating an environment where innovation can thrive, managing uncertainty, and inspiring others to think differently. If you’re up for the challenge and willing to embrace the chaos, you have the potential to become an extraordinary innovation leader.