My last post about “Innovation Influencers” was about stakeholders who hold key pieces of the puzzle that are important for innovation success. Innovation Leader need to influence these stakeholders. Here are the Top 10 characteristics that the leader needs to have to be successful:
- Leadership: Strong leadership is key to innovation success as many decisions that shape innovation need to made along the path by the leader. Information required to innovate is often not available and when available it is often sketchy at best. And there are many challenges along the path which often derail innovation. Hence a strong leadership is key to innovation success, where leader is able to motivate and lead people along the path, making the right decisions and overcoming most challenges.
- Visionary: Leaders need followers who have bought into leader’s vision and are willing to work hard to meet that vision. Hence having a grand and exciting vision and articulating it well is important for innovation success. This vision needs should be big enough to motivate people to work hard and contribute to realizing this vision. But at the same time it should be realistic and believable. For example, eliminating world hunger would be a very grand vision, but it would not be realistic and hence would fail to motivate people. But eliminating hunger related deaths within children of a particular region would be manageable and motivating vision.
- Change Agent: Innovation Leaders primary responsibility is change management and making sure that people within the organization change their current methods/processes and adopt newer innovation. Also making sure that customers change their old ways and adopt newer solutions. This requires extensive change management, making sure that employees and customers are on-board and supportive of the innovation.
- Salesperson: Innovation leader should be very good sales person as the leader needs to sell this idea to many people. First, the leader needs to sell the idea to the executives to secure funding. Then the idea/vision is sold to employees so that they take part. Then this idea is sold to the customers, so that they are on-board and are willing to pay for innovation. And along the way there is much more selling that the leader needs to do.
- Good listener: Innovation Leader needs to have good listening skills to understand customer’s real requirements. It often happens that leaders go into a meeting with a preconceived notion of what the customer wants. And though the customer might be saying something completely different, innovation leaders might be listening what they want to listen. Hence it is very important that innovation leaders develop good listening skills. Leaders should actively listen to what customers and employees are saying and then form an opinion based on what they listen and not the other way around.
- Logical Thinker: Innovation path is prone to biases and leaders often fall prey to these biases. Identifying biases and having a logical approach to making decisions is critical for innovation success. And this discipline needs to be developed and implemented by the leader.
- Team Builder: Innovation cannot be done alone, it requires a team of very talented people who are willing to work hard to make it successful. Hence the leader needs to focus on building the right team, delegating responsibilities to team member and making sure that each team member is successful.
- Even-Keeled: Leading innovation is not for emotional people. Innovation leader needs to have a cool-headed, even-keeled demeanor. People who get emotional about ideas/concepts often form biases which could lead innovation down a wrong path. Also, when confronted with disputes they often do not have the best logical approach to resolving disputes, leading to organizational alienation of the project.
- Passionate: Innovation leader needs to passionate about the idea/concept. Passion acts like the fuel required for changing the landscape through innovation. Passion is contagious and it motivates people to follow the passionate leader. Passion makes customers believe in the solution they are purchasing. Hence innovation leaders need to very passionate about the idea/concept.
- Optimistic: This is very important for success of innovation. The leader needs to be optimistic and needs to deliver positive/optimistic messages at every possible opportunity. This will reduce negativity and fear of failure that resides within the team, motivating them to give to the success of the project.
These are the top characteristics that innovation leaders must have, plus they need to have many more depending on their environment. And much of the characteristics described above can be gained through practice.
Note: “Innovation Leaders” are executives who lead innovation within an organization. They don’t have to be innovative themselves but they are required to be good leaders.