Driven in large part by the many technological advancements of the last decade, the business world is nothing if it is not in a continuous state of change. It has put a considerable amount of strain on companies, especially those who had their roots firmly planted in the traditional way of doing things. 

Some others were more flexible and less tethered to the old business models, meaning that this new technology was not seen as a problem but an opportunity waiting to be exploited. Being able to see things this way, especially when so many others were struggling, requires a set of specific skills that, not only facilitate but also inspire creativity in others. 

It is what’s known as innovation leadership, arguably one of the most important forces that drive the 21st-century business environment. Below are seven characteristics that all innovation leaders have in common.

The Influencer

Authority has always stood at the foundation of running a business. Being the boss requires an individual dose of authority to which employees can look up to.  But to inspire others to be creative, it’s influence, not authority that’s the driving force behind it all. The difference between the two is somewhat straightforward.

On the one hand, authority is strongly linked to command and hierarchy, while influence, on the other side, is akin to character, caring, and risk-taking. In other words, an innovation leader is more about who you are rather than what you do.  

Forward Thinkers, Present-day Doers, and Past Forgetters 

While the day-to-day activities of an organization tend to be urgent and in the now, they have almost nothing to do with innovation. Unlike most other activities within a business, innovation does not fare well in the present, but rather the future. A great innovation leader cannot merely daydream about the future.

They also need to manage the present and selectively forget the past, to invent new business models, optimize those who are already in existence, and eliminate outdated values and practices without looking back. 

Open-mindedness

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that innovation leaders need to have an open mind. It’s only by having this particular mindset that they will be receptive to exploring a new idea whenever one is presented to them. It doesn’t mean that all ideas will be great, but by giving each one the benefit of the doubt, will incentivize an innovative culture within the organization. 

High Emotional Intelligence

Contrary to popular belief, innovation leaders need to have their emotions under control. Not only will this allow them to stay well above office politics and intrigue but it will also safeguard them from negative states of mind such as anxiety and depression – which do not work particularly well with innovation. 

People of Action

Innovation leaders do not usually stand on the sidelines watching things unfold. They feel particularly energized by the action taking place around them and like to get their hands dirty, as it were. They genuinely enjoy leading the charge towards improvement, innovation, and efficiency.  

Observers

One cannot be an innovation leader without being able to see opportunities that others cannot. But to be able to do that, however, they need to spot patterns and details, as well as to make accurate assessments and figure out solutions for various problems. 

Transparency

New ideas are not generated in a vacuum, and innovation leaders are fully aware of this fact. Because of this, they share their knowledge and insight with whoever is interested in listening. As it so happens, individual success and innovation rarely work together because it’s usually through the synergy generated by two or more minds working together towards the same goal that innovation takes root.

Conclusion

While this list here is not exhaustive —I’m working on it—, it does present a pattern which is not like many other leadership positions. All seven entries in this article are, more or less, character traits and not actual skills, per se. These are more of a way of thinking than types of specialized knowledge.

Time to reflect: how many innovation leaders do you know? Are you one of them?

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