Leaders have different roles and challenges in organizational innovation. One way to understand how to pursue innovation — and help people focus — is to distinguish differences among roles at various leader levels.

CCL uses five leader levels to help clarify leadership development priorities — and we’ve looked at how this translates into innovation roles and skills.

5 Leader Levels

Leading self – CREATING: At the level where one doesn’t have direct reports, but serves as a role-model or perhaps leader of project teams, the responsibilities around innovation fall mainly into the realm of knowing how to generate creative solutions and a keen ability to participate on an innovation team made up of diverse participants.

Leading others – FACILITATING: Team leaders or line supervisors need to know how to lead the group innovation process (i.e. Design Thinking, Creative Problem-Solving, TRIZ, etc.), which requires special facilitation skills in addition to those necessary for being an effective team leader/project manager. It also requires an ability to obtain resources from outside their unit.

Leading managers – ADVOCATING/BRIDGING: When one leads people who are leading others, a key role is to create a protective umbrella to ensure that the discomfort, risk and potential disruption of the business don’t cause others to try to shut down the innovation efforts. These leaders also need to ensure there is due diligence in building a case for grass-roots innovations and bridging groups that are working on similar challenges.

Leading functions – DIRECTING/PROTECTING: Leaders of a function or business unit need to provide clear direction for the scope of the innovation efforts. They also need to manage conflicting demands for resources and initiate strategic and structural changes to accommodate promising innovations. These leaders are critical for setting the tone in support of innovation, bridging silos, managing the innovation pipeline and balancing the portfolio “bets” that help determine the future direction of the organization’s innovation.

Leading the organization – MANDATING/FOSTERING: People at top of the organization have the critical job of setting an innovation strategy for the organization and fostering a culture of innovation. Perhaps the hardest job is finding ways to hear and see concepts that are unfiltered from being at the top of the hierarchy.


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