It’s obvious that leaders in different levels of the organization have to lead differently — think about how different the leadership challenges are for a line supervisor than the CEO.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that leaders who are looking to drive innovation have different challenges depending on their position. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

Given that schedules are too full already, it’s useful to know what to do, and this helps shape what not to do, as well.

Here’s a rundown of the roles and responsibilities by leader level specific to innovation:

Leading Self — Creating

At the level where you don’t have direct reports — but serve as a role model or perhaps a leader of project teams — the responsibilities around innovation fall mainly into the realm of knowing how to generate creative solutions and having a keen interest in participating on a team made up of diverse participants.

Core to this is the ability to find sources of inspiration for new approaches, whether that means looking at other industries, engaging customers and stakeholders, or exploring patent databases for similar challenges that have been solved by others.

Leading Others – Facilitating

Team leaders or line supervisors need to possess additional skills. They must know how to lead the group process, which requires special facilitation skills on top of those necessary for being an effective team leader or project manager.

And for innovation to take root and spread through the organization, these leaders or supervisors need the ability to obtain resources from outside their unit.


Leading Managers — Advocating/Bridging

When you lead people who are leading others, a key value you bring to the challenge of innovation is supporting and protecting the team from superiors or other parts of the organization.

Great leaders create a protective umbrella over their people to ensure that the discomfort, risk, and potential disruption of the business don’t cause others to try to shut down these efforts.  These managers also have to build a case for grassroots innovation and bridge groups that are working on similar challenges to ensure constructive cooperation.


Leading Functions – Directing/Protecting

Leaders of a function or significant silo need to provide clear direction for the scope of the innovation efforts and also need to manage conflicting demands for resources.

They must initiate strategic and structural changes to accommodate promising innovations and establish a strategy that bridges the silos.

As if that’s not enough, they are critical to modeling behavior and driving communication that sets the organizational tone that determines the support of innovation. They’re also critical in the management of innovation pipeline and balancing the portfolio “bets” that help determine the future direction of the organization’s innovation.

Leading the Organization – Mandating/Fostering

Finally, we have the top of the organization. These are the people who have the critical job of setting a strategy to ensure that the organization has clear direction on where it’s going.

More than that, they are the keystone for fostering a culture of innovation, a big part of which is modeling behaviors to ensure that the walk matches the talk, which sometimes means showing support for different, new, or disruptive ideas.

Like other top leadership responsibilities, it’s imperative that they communicate the vision over and over and over again.

Perhaps the hardest job is finding ways to hear and see unfiltered concepts, since the further you go up the hierarchy, the less connected to “what’s really true” you become.

For more on innovation and how your organization can embrace disruption, explore our Trends Report.

Emerging Leadership Trends Report

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