Traits of Innovative Leaders
Every leader likes to come up with more innovative solutions, products and services.
When we ask highly innovative leaders as to what makes them effective, we are likely hear, “Well, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.” Or they will tell something that
sounds convincing. But the fact of the matter is that the people who excel at something are not usually aware of exactly what accounts for their skill. It just happens
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Zenger / Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, conducted a study to probe more in to the situation.
They began by collaborating with an innovative organization whose leaders scored well above average on most managerial competencies. They identified 33 individuals who scored at or above the 99th percentile on innovation, as measured by their peers, subordinates, and bosses in a comprehensive 360-degree feedback
survey. Jack and Joseph believed that these people would have a clear view of what made them stand out from the rest in the organization.
They interviewed each leader by phone, together with the leader’s boss and a number of direct reports and peers, to ask for concrete examples of what the leader did that caused him orher to be perceived as highly innovative.
The colleagues were also asked how thisleader differed from other leaders they had served.
The findings are:
They display excellent strategic vision.
The most effective innovation leaders could vividly describe their vision of the future. They excelled at painting a clear picture of the destination, while others
worked to figure out how to get there.
They have a strong customer focus.
What was merely interesting to the customer became fascinating to these individuals. They sought to get inside
the customer’s shoes, rather mind. They networked with clients and asked incessant questions about their present
needs and future wants.
They create a climate of reciprocal trust.
Innovation often requires some level of risk. Not all innovative ideas are successful. These highly innovative
leaders initiated warm, collaborative relationships with the innovators who worked for them. They made
themselves highly accessible. Colleagues knew that their leader would cover their backs and not throw them under the bus if something went wrong. People were never punished for honest mistakes.
They display fearless loyalty to doingwhat is right for the organization and customer.
Pleasing the boss or some other higher level executive always took a back seat to doing the right thing for
the project or the company.
They put their faith in a culture that magnifies upward communication.
These leaders believed that the best and most innovative ideas bubbled up from underneath. They strived to create a culture that uncorked good ideas from the first level of the organization. They were often described as projecting
optimism, full of energy, and always receptive to new ideas. Grimness was replaced with kidding and laughter.
They are persuasive.
These individuals were highly effective in getting others to accept good ideas. They did not push or force their ideas onto their teams. Instead, they presented ideas with enthusiasm and conviction, and the team willingly followed.
They excel at setting stretch
These goals required people to go far beyond just working harder. These goals required that they find new ways to achieve a high goal.
They emphasize speed.
These leaders believed that speed scraped the barnacles off the hull of the boat. Experiments and rapid prototypes were preferred to lengthy studies by large committees.
They are candid in their communication.
These leaders were described as providing honest, and at times even sometimes blunt, feedback. Subordinates felt they could always count on straight answers from their leader.
They inspire and motivate through action.
One interviewee said, “For innovation to exist you have to feel inspired.” This comes from a clear sense
of purpose and meaning in the work. While this is admittedly an investigation into a single company, this
group’s 360-degree feedback data are consistent with their analysis of highly innovative leaders in other
organizations and in industries as varied as automotive, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products and from all
parts of the globe. This suggests that these conclusions describe highly innovative individuals in all industries,
as well as from different cultures throughout the world.