The technological transformation of today’s digital age is separating companies into two categories according to their ability to adapt to change: companies with rigid foundations that are not very able to tackle the necessary changes or flexible companies with an innovative culture for which transformation is a challenge they feel comfortable with. This ability to adapt and whether the company belongs to one group or other will depend in large part on the leaders that direct the company and the permeability of this leadership throughout all levels.

But these leaders don’t always have a common vision. Each leader may have a different profile: visionary, methodical, creative, disciplinary, or others. These profiles affect the way leaders take on the challenges of the future. In this article, I’m talking about how innovative leadership arises when these leaders come to an agreement on a shared vision of the company.

The objective: establish a basis of understanding that is shared by all

Innovative leadership requires that all members of the team work in harmony. Companies must know how to work as a colony of bees, in which each bee clearly knows its function within an overarching goal: guarantee the survival of the colony. The drones, the worker bees, and the queen work together in harmony to keep the colony alive, each within the spectrum of its function. Likewise, in companies, each team member must be aligned with the objectives, which are none other than growth and survival itself. This alignment allows companies to advance at the rate of changes that come about or even allows them to effect change in their markets.

However, on occasion, leaders don’t share a single vision of the way to keep their company up and running. For example, some may be more conservative and try to adapt to a known future, whereas others may bet on investing in a totally unknown technology. If this disagreement is not managed, it can stall the process of inspiring and pushing the team towards innovation. In order to drive change and innovative leadership, we need to reach a consensus and share the same vision and strategy.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Unlike bees, humans are more transgressive; we break molds and change things. Innovative leadership may arise precisely from this non-conformity and internal disagreement with the status quo. Fifty years ago, 3M—the creator of the Post-It—created a program called “15%,” which made many throw their hands up in the air: give employees 15% of their time to work on innovative projects. Of course, the idea did not make everyone happy, but it triumphed and today it is one of the key elements that has allowed 3M to own more than 22,000 patents. In addition, this idea that was so transgressive 50 years ago has, in recent years, been adopted by companies such as Google, with results as important as Gmail or Google Earth.

This isn’t about not being able to see things from another point of view, it’s about leaders having the ability to agree on a path to follow and defend it.The success of the 3M program lies not only in the ability to have an open mind about a disruptive idea, but also the ability of the leaders to believe in the idea and take on the risk together.

The collaboration of the entire team is essential and a common vision and space where we all feel comfortable must be established. Knowing where we are and where we intend to go can help us forge a path towards a better company in the future.

Once the idea that not only is conflict normal but that it can be an opportunity to innovate is accepted, how do we work towards coming to an agreement?

What could be the starting point for advancing towards this agreement?

The first step to pinpointing a problem is recognizing that we have a problem. To do so, finding the dilemma and expressing it can be a starting point for becoming aware of the disagreement we face. You have to accept disagreement as normal.

Like in so many other day-to-day situations, the way you try to reach consensus is through dialog. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes not so much, but the dialog and expressing ideas to one another tends to be a starting point for driving change. Pinpointing the divergence in the vision that leaders on a team have can be achieved through a productive dialog in which each member can express their vision and strategy.

Some ideas for moving forward in the search for consensus.

Sometimes, in order to avoid the discomfort of conflict, we don’t take into account that it is necessary to actively participate in the dialog when the goal is for a common good. In order to move forward in this search for consensus through dialog, different tactics can be used:

  • Actively participate. All members must feel that they are part of the conversation.
  • Promote debate. Presenting a series of different ideas to discuss and evaluate encourages people to participate and to dialog.
  • Direct the conversation in a logical, sensible way.
  • Be transparent when it comes to expressing ideas and points of view.
  • Have the possibility to vote on the different opinions expressed.
  • Be assertive when it comes to expressing your opinion on others’ ideas.

In other words, companies and teams of leaders must build a tolerant culture that celebrates and respects differences.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the most effective teams of leaders are those that stand out when facing 3 types of tensions:

  • Risk versus results. These leaders are able to come to an agreement about when it is worth it to take risks and when you have to prioritize a sure result.
  • A balance between internal and external needs. Successful teams of leaders are able to concentrate on what has to be done within the company, but this path is determined by a vision of what happens outside of it. These teams, for example, are focused on clients’ needs in order to promote internal changes.
  • The permeability of innovation. Teams of leaders with the best results share the vision that innovation can be led from above, but the best ideas can come from below, from those in contact with and who receive direct feedback from the market.

In other words: Leaders can have different visions about the specific path the company should follow, but we have to share common ground about what are the minimal characteristics this path must have. From there, what is left is coming to an agreement.

It’s clear that many times we need outside help to come to an agreement. If this is your case, we recommend that you search for a good partner who helps you facilitate meetings and who may even propose a powerful tool in order to make it easier. I’m not going to offer you our services because I know that if you are interested, you’ll contact us. Hire an expert you can trust if you need help, that’s what’s important. If not, try it without help and if it turns out well, all the better 

Innovative leadership is everyone’s job

Creating a strategy in line with long-term growth through innovation is everyone’s responsibility, but the team needs to have well-defined objectives. We can facilitate the task by laying down common values from which we can build debate and clear and logical communication.

Self-reflection question: Can two completely opposite points of view lead to innovation?