A recent global survey by CCL found that 94% of executives believe that innovation is a key driver of organizational success. And yet, just 14% of those respondents have confidence in their organization’s ability to drive innovation effectively.

For leaders and organizations trying to close that gap, leadership makes all the difference.

In fact, our own extensive experience with helping clients around the world foster innovation – coupled with a growing body of research – convinces us that leadership is the single most important factor for nurturing creativity and fueling innovation at the individual, team and organizational levels.

Simply put, leaders must act in ways that promote and support innovation in their cultures.

In our Driving Results Through Innovation Leadership (DRIL) program, we delve extensively into 5 core practices for developing innovation leadership. Let’s take a quick look at each of them here:

  • Realize that roles and capabilities needed for innovation vary by level: Successful innovation involves every level on the organizational chart, from the individuals who identify novel ideas, to the middle managers who champion them, to the senior executives who shape the overall culture. Understanding the different skills required to drive innovation by level focuses leaders on their responsibilities and helps target training and development.
  • Focus on an innovation process: Innovation in organizations cannot be a random or unstructured activity. It requires people with innovation mindsets who work together to explore, ideate, craft and implement groundbreaking ideas. When leaders understand how this process works, they can spot gaps and develop a strategy for filling them.
  • Identify and leverage different contributions: Since innovation is a process with different steps and stages, varying skills, perspectives and contributions are needed along the way – which means tapping talent across the organization. It’s the role of leaders to ensure that the innovation process involves a wide diversity of thought and experience.
  • Work across boundaries: Innovation requires leaders to influence, connect and collaborate with people who have different innovation styles. Without these capabilities, boundaries and bureaucracy can easily kill innovation. It’s critical to work across organizational boundaries, whether they are vertical, horizontal, geographic, demographic, or stakeholder-related.
  • Embrace polarities: Paradoxes and conflicting priorities must be approached from a stance of Polarity Thinking (as developed by Barry Johnson), which helps leaders determine how to understand and respond to issues that don’t have fixed solutions. For example, from this mindset, there isn’t a clear answer for a first-level manager weighing whether to deliver immediate results or champion a new process. Making a good call requires skill at navigating conflicting viewpoints.

The yawning gap that today’s leaders see between the importance of innovation and the ability of their organizations to engage in it productively doesn’t have to exist. When organizations support leaders at all levels and help employees develop the knowledge, experience and toolsets they need, a leadership culture that sustains innovation will take hold.

David Magellan Horth and Jonathan Vehar are co-authors of the white paper “Innovation: How Leadership Makes the Difference.”

Upcoming CCL Innovation Leadership Roundtables in EMEA

In these interactive innovation leadership roundtables, Bert De Coutere will explore ways to enhance your thinking and assumptions about innovation. He will address the main question: “What is leading for innovation?” and invite the audience to discuss in groups the reasons that are stopping us getting innovation done in our companies. The opportunity will be given to network in a dynamic way thanks to experiential exercises and to get you some innovation leadership concepts to become an innovation leader. For additional information about our upcoming events, please contact events@ccl.org.



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